Young dog handler's success

For most 11-year-old girls hobbies might include experimenting with make-up, learning dance routines to High School Musical and playing on their Nintendo DS.

For most 11-year-old girls hobbies might include experimenting with make-up, learning dance routines to High School Musical and playing on their Nintendo DS.

But for Samantha Reeve it's all about dogs - and the once shy youngster from Scarning has found such a natural affinity with her pets that it has won her dozens of junior handling rosettes in the UK and has just taken her to America, where she won a top award.

Samanthawas just six-years-old when she first showed an interest in dog showing, taking her mum Sally's Bernese Mountain dogs into fun shows and village fetes. But when a friend Tricia Morley let her take one of her Australian shepherd dogs into the ring for a junior handling competition it became clear the pair were a match made in heaven and they went from strength to strength entering and winning at open and Championship shows.

Among their many prizes Samantha and six-year-old Turbo (Can Ch Touchstone Ironhorse) qualified for Crufts 2008, had a fifth place in the Young Kennel Club handling finals and was third in the Richmond Junior handling semi-finals.

But Samantha's toughest challenge took her to Las Vegas last month for the US junior showmanship classes at the Australian shepherd dog national finals, open to all qualified handlers from all over the USA.

She got through to the Best Junior Handler competition against five other top handlers, who had all won their respective age groups and although she was just beaten to the top prize by the winner of the 14-18 year old competition, Samantha took Reserve Best handler, effectively beating 39 other top junior handlers, and came home with an enormous rosette.

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Mrs Reeve said: This was fantastic as she was the only overseas competitor there and she was also one of the youngest. We were all very proud of her and Turbo especially as we were told after the competition that this was the first time a non US handler had won this award.

“It is funny because Sam used to be so shy but now when she is in the ring there are no nerves at all and it has given her so much confidence. It is totally down to how she handles the dog. The dog does not have to be the best in show, it could have three legs, but it is up to her to show it to the best of her ability and show that they are a complete unit.”

Turbo, now aged eight, has retired and returned to his co-owner in America but Samantha, a pupil at Northgate High School, Dereham, now has three new Australian shepherd dogs to handle - Rocky, Houston and Magic - and has already qualified for Crufts 2009. She is also hoping to compete in Europe next year.

“I was really upset when Turbo went back to his owner because I realised I had lost a very special dog and I would not get many like him in my lifetime,” said Samantha.

“But I love training the dogs and teaching them to be in the ring, and I love getting the rosettes when we do well. It is a lot of work when we have got a show coming up because it takes about three hours to groom one dog and I practice handling every night after school. I used to do horse-riding as well but I could not really do both so I gave that up - but I still get some time to hang out with my friends and go shopping.”