Meet the Pros: Marcy Wright, Horsetooth Retriever Kennel, Fort Collins, CO

Marcy Wright, Horsetooth Retriever Kennel, Fort Collins, CO

Can you introduce yourself and your kennel and what you do in the sporting world? 

My name is Marcy Wright. My husband Kenny Trott and I own and operate Horsetooth Retriever Kennel based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. We do AKC field trials for retrievers. 

Can you talk about the size of your kennel over the years? 

Horsetooth Retriever Kennel was founded by my husband back in the nineties. I joined in about 12 or 13 years ago. We have approximately 30 dogs in the kennel. There are three trainers at our facility; myself, my husband, and our assistant trainer, and we're all working with the dogs daily. We train from six months old all the way up to retirement. So oftentimes dogs come into our kennel at six months and they don't leave until they're nine years old. So we have these extraordinary relationships with these dogs that spend most of their adult lives living with us. I try to give them the best life they can have over and above the training.  

Talk about some of your proudest achievements. 

Being a woman handler in the sport of retriever field trials. It's not easy. Also following in the shadow of my husband who's very successful. So when I show up and my husband doesn't, at first people looked at me like I was second string. And now I think I have a lot more respect in the sport from my male peers. I've been a finalist in the Canadian National multiple times. I've been a finalist in the Derby National. I've run the U.S. National multiple times, so lots of things to be proud of. 

Being a woman in sporting is still somewhat unique and it sounds like you've worked really hard to get where you are. Can you talk a little bit about some of those challenges and how you've been able to overcome them or address them? 

It is difficult being a woman in the sporting world because not as common as seeing a man achieve great success. Really proud to see my friend Amie Henninger win the U.S. National last year. That was really fun.  

Can you give some advice to other women who might be considering entering the sport? 

Just be yourself. Be prepared to work hard. You're going to earn respect. You're not going to force respect from anybody in the industry, so act like a professional. Just go toe to toe with these guys and show them that you're meant to be there. 

I've been hearing a lot of stories about people who have had mentors in the field. Have you had any mentors, and if so, can you talk a little bit about them and their impact on your career? 

Oh, I've had a number of mentors. First being my husband, obviously. He's taught me almost everything I know. Danny Farmer has been a mentor of mine. Judy Aycock has been a mentor of mine. Mike Lardy and Ray Voigt and Pat Burns have been huge influences to me as a dog person. Bill Eckett, who sadly passed away, really taught me how to act like a professional and be respected. That meant a lot to me. He's a big loss to the sport.  

How important do you think nutrition is? 

I think nutrition is vital, if not close to everything in our working dogs. You wouldn't see an Olympic athlete eating junk food, training every day and expected to compete at the level of other Olympic athletes. And I believe the same with our working dogs. 

How do you think nutrition affects your dog's performance? 

I think nutrition affects our dog's performance in a lot of different ways with energy, with stamina, with the initial bursts of energy that they need. With cognitive health, for sure. All the way from birth to retirement, I think it has everything to do with their performance and their health. 

Can you talk a little bit about what you feed? 

I feed Purina Pro Plan Sport 30/20 to our dogs that are 12 months to retirement. It's a great food. A lot of people don't understand, and I didn't understand early on, that unlike marathon runners who need carbohydrates for endurance, our dogs actually need fat. And Pro Plan Sport has the right amount of fat for our dogs to help keep the level of weight that they need to compete for a whole weekend, sometimes running eight series in an AKC Retriever Field Trial. They need that stamina. And I don't find it anywhere else, but Purina Pro Plan Sport 30/20. 

Can you talk about some of the differences and benefits you see in your dogs by feeding Pro Plan? 

I see their coats look amazing. It's easy to keep good weight on these dogs. I'm not feeding an exorbitant amount of food. The teeth on my dogs looks great. I'm really happy with that.  

I find that the puppies on the Purina Pro Plan Large Breed Puppy are growing at an adequate rate. They're not growing too fast, they're not having skeletal issues. I find that their stools are really good and the dogs really like the food. 

Can you talk a little bit about how you talk to your clients about nutrition and what you recommend? 

I talk to my clients about nutrition, and I get really excited about it. So they get passionate as well when they see my passion. They trust my knowledge in what's best for their dog. And they know I spend the time to find out what suits our working dogs best. So they know that I've visited the Purina Pro Plan plant. They know I've talked to board certified nutritionists. They know that I've done the research to feed their dogs the best. So they trust my opinion and I know that they feed their dogs at home Purina Pro Plan as well, based on my recommendation. 

What motivates you to do what you do? 

What motivates me? The dogs, first and foremost. Seeing a dog overcome adversity really motivates me. It's not about the blue ribbons, it's about the relationship that we have with our dogs. 

Can you talk about the best dog or dogs you've had? 

I can talk about a great dog by the name of Canadian Field Champion Backwaters Boomer. I know a couple other pros passed on him and he was wild and crazy and my husband even sort of wondered what his future would hold. And so I took him on as a project. He and I were finalists at the Canadian National together. He went to a couple US Nationals. He taught me way more than I taught him. 

What are some things that he taught you? 

Boomer taught me patience. He taught me to think outside the box. Boomer's passion for retrieving was second to none, but we had to figure out a way that Boomer could still enjoy his love of retrieving at his own speed with his own style, but he also needed to do it in a controlled, team player manner. It took time and patience, but it worked. 

What does that day-to-day look like as a field trial trainer? 

Day-to-day of a Retriever field trial trainer is long days. A typical day in our kennel is somebody's out in the kennel 6-6:30 in the morning, letting the dogs out. We let the dogs out in groups of friends that they get out with every day. They all go to the bathroom. They all have a good stretch. They get loaded on the truck for the day. We have two trucks that go out for training.  

We go out to the field, we let the dogs go to the bathroom again. We work the young dogs first. Usually we only have a couple of those in the kennel. And then we move on to retrieving setups. And every dog on the truck, we say we want them to have at least a minimum of two setups a day by the end of the day.  

So the dogs get off the truck after they've run. After they've run, there's bowls of water out. They can go to the bathroom, they can roll in the grass, they can watch training. We usually have 10 dogs out at any given time watching so they can have a nice cool down, which is good for their physical health. So after two setups, we usually by 5:00 PM we're rolling back in the kennel. We feed them on the truck, they air again, which is going to the bathroom, and having to stretch in the yards. And then they go up in the kennels 6-6:30 at night. I turn on the classical music in the kennel and say goodnight. 

What are the key differences for you training younger dogs versus senior dogs? 

We are one of the few kennels that actually does young dogs all the way up to retirement. So it takes really good time management to do that. And it takes really knowledgeable trainers. You can't treat a six-month-old like you treat a six-year-old. You can't treat a two-year-old like you treat a nine-year-old. So having that knowledge amongst the trainers and how to treat those dogs’ individual needs and what they need that day takes, I think, special people to run a kennel that is literally from basic training all the way to retirement. And we're very proud that we do it well. 

Can you touch on that retirement training a little bit?  

So training an older field trial dog is its own set of challenges. They know their job, but you have to keep them physically fit and they also have to be kept mentally sharp. So we train them enough that they're still able to perform at the level we want them to perform at. But we don't train them as much as we do a younger dog for their physical health. So it's a tight line to walk. What they need and what's too much. 

You're an expert in your area of training. What kind of experts do you lean on when you're looking for information? 

People will think that professional trainers don't speak to one another, that we're competitors. What they don't realize is a lot of us are really good friends. So while we are out on the weekend competing, we are also cheering each other on. And those are who I lean on for advice, for feedback, for help at any given day. 

What qualities do you think help make a dog a top competitor? 

I do work with a lot of different types of dogs for sure. Being a top competitor, it kind of boils down to four things for me. If I really look at it hard and fast, one, the dog's a team player. The dog wants to work with the handler and do the right thing. Two, the dog's good in the water. They need to be excellent water dogs to be good field trial competitors. The dog needs to be a good marking dog. He needs to know where the birds are and find the birds more efficiently than the average dog. And four, the dog needs to be highly intelligent. And I always say if you have three of these four things, you're going to be a pretty good dog. Have four of these four things, you're just going to be a great dog. 

Can you talk a little bit about the titles that you've won and those accomplishments? 

I've been a finalist at the Canadian National a couple of times. I was a finalist at the Derby National a couple years ago. I've run the US National, qualified dogs for and run the US National couple of times I've been the top woman handler in the country, top one or two more than once. Yeah, there's a lot of things I'm proud of. Sometimes I'm just proud of winning the local derby with a difficult dog. Those are my biggest accomplishments. 

So can you talk a little bit about the challenges that come with being on the road a lot, having the dogs to take care of, but kind of what makes it all worth it in the end? 

As a professional retriever trainer, I am on the road a lot. I'm very lucky that both my husband and I do this. So oftentimes only one of us goes to the field trial and the other one stays home with the dogs still at home in the kennel. Traveling on the road, we have a custom-made truck. We have dogs that are used to traveling, but there's still challenges on these dogs need to go to the bathroom every three to four hours while we're traveling. Dogs can get car sick. Dogs feel the stress of travel, they can get dehydration. So these are all challenges that we face, but it's really worth it when you travel a long distance to a field trial and then come away successful or see a dog do something you've been working really hard for that dog to do, finally accomplish. It makes it all worthwhile. 

Why do you choose to work with Retrievers? 

I work with retrievers specifically because they were a breed that chose me. I had search and rescue dogs and when I was looking for a new search and rescue dog back in the day, I wanted a really good working dog that could also be my friend. And I see that in a Labrador Retriever. 

Can you talk a little bit about your breeding program? 

I am a breeder of Labrador Retrievers. I don't have very many litters. I have one every year or two. I've been breeding for 15 plus years now. My most recent litter was just born not that long ago, and I've had people buying puppies from this most recent litter that bought puppies from me 15 years ago. So that's really special to me that they're coming back to me for their next dog. 

How did you get into breeding?  

I became a breeder because I'm interested in genetics. I'm interested in animal husbandry. I generally don't breed for pets, although it is my goal to breed a dog. If it's not a great field trial dog and it doesn't make that game, it will be a great pet. So that's my goal. And I think finding the genetics of what makes a field trail dog great and what makes them tick and matching those genetics to maybe create a better version of their parents is what interests me more than anything.