It is most unusual, especially these days, for me to be at someone elseís loft waiting for pigeons to arrive. I never really was one for visiting other lofts too often, and these days with my current domestic position, itís even more unlikely. However there is always an open invitation to my young novice friendís house and considering his recent run of good form, and his latest exuberant invitation. I made arrangements to spare a few hours to join him for the race. Having made a habit of being close to the top of the Federation results in the last few weeks, Vanís confidence was sky high for the forthcoming Combine race, of which I was to be privy.
Saturday morning and my mobile phone bleeped with a message telling me that the birds were released at 7o'clock. With a north east wind blowing and the promise of a fast race, I made my calculations and made sure that I was there in plenty of time. Vanís preferred position is to sit what seems like miles from the loft, at a table shaded by a giant umbrella. Not the place to be if you are one to worry about loosing valuable seconds. Personally I feel uncomfortable if my eyes are not scanning the sky for the slightest sign of movement, but he explained that if he stands up and wanders around, just like I was doing, he gets too excited and is a nervous wreck before the birds even arrive. I understood his point and sat down encase I was making him feel anymore nervous than he already was.
We sat at the table with our mugs of tea, discussing pigeon behaviour in general and as the time drifted by we decided that our attention was best directed to the race in hand. Van had pencilled in an ETA of around 10:50AM roughly a mile a minute, and on seeing the clouds rushing by, I had to agree.
The star of Vanís loft, a yearling cock, already has two club wins, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd Federation and 10th Combine under his belt and needless to say, was his fancied bird. So much so that he had dreamt of nothing else dropping on to the loft other than him. He had neglected to realize that one or two other pigeons, in his very small team of pigeons, were flying quite well, but his starís performances had clouded his vision.
It had just eased past our ETA when a pigeon arrived, did half a circle and pitched on top of the loft. I turned in the direction of Van who by then was already on his way to the loft like a bat out of hell. Hearing the sound of the clock being struck I glanced at my watch to see that it wasnít too far away from the time that we had predicted.
I imagined that Vanís face would be a picture of happiness, but as he emerged from the loft, instead it carried a look of bitter disappointment. I had seen this look a thousand times before, and as he walked up the garden path towards me, I felt sorry for him that it had already started. Suddenly he was in danger of moving from the ranks of someone who was enjoying the challenge of racing pigeons, to putting expectations on both himself and his pigeons. He had timed, in my opinion, at a respectable time and whilst he should have been savouring every enjoyable minute of it, unfortunately it was lost because it was not his star to arrive first. I could see that he considered, because his big performer had not lived up to his expectations then he must be late. You may well ask, why am I so concerned for Vanís enjoyment? Simple, because I have been through it all myself. Watching pigeons drop exhausted from flying hours and hours on the wing and being disappointed because they had gone over the time I had expected, or getting an unfancied bird first. Loosing sight and respect for the effort and the fact that some will fly themselves to skin and bone just to reach home. I am well aware that when we enter the sport of pigeon racing then that is exactly what it is Ė Racing, but it is a matter of attitude whether we enjoy it or not. That can already be seen on the faces of a lot of fanciers in my area, who have already given up hope for the rest of the old bird season. They hardly seem to be enjoying their hobby at this precise moment.
Disappointment, negative energy, lack of confidence can all be sensed by our pets, and by putting too much expectation on them we do ourselves no favours.
Ninety percent of fanciers are full of confidence and positive energy in the winter months, and if it wasnít for the cold weather conditions I am sure most would enjoy their pigeons even more than in the summer months. They can dream their dreams, imagine their races and visit their lofts without expectation for a few months. They can enjoy their pigeons exercising and being pigeons without worrying if they are flying properly, training properly or acting like their owner expects them to.
So how do we race pigeons and enjoy it without putting expectation on our pigeons and ourselves? Well I am afraid the answer to that borders on psychology and only those who race purely for themselves with their own agendaís will know the answer.
Van my novice friend on the other hand has learnt a few valuable lessons. Predicting and expecting a pigeon to be first to the loft is only a fancierís judgement and that is all it is. It has no bearing on what is really going to happen. Being with and getting enjoyment from our pigeons is paramount, what follows is their reward to us. They put no expectation on us, we put it on them.
We should always try to remember our novice days to remember what enjoyment should be. Pigeons in a cardboard box on the back of a push bike for a three mile toss. A young bird team all bred from strays we knew nothing about. Just waiting for Friday and club night, so we could sit and listen to the ace fliers tell their stories. Pigeon lofts made of old wooden pallets. Swapping eggs from our best cock (the one with the biggest whattles), only to find out later that your friend has given you a wood pigeonís egg for a joke. Being given your first important job like cleaning and sealing the baskets. Going to the Federation meeting, frightened to say a word. Sending to your very first race, and the excitement and anticipation of timing in, how ever late you might be. Leave expectation and judgement on the shelf for a week or two.
Fortunately Vanís judgment had no bearing on what his first arrival had decided to do, he was 1st club, 3rd Fed, and 5th Combine 3,200 birds!