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In Memoriam: Robin Gates


Handler Robin Gates, scout and son Hunter Gates, with 2010 National Champion In the Shadow and owner Carl Bowman at the Ames Manor House.

Scout Hunter Gates and handler Robin Gates with Shadow Oak Bo at his 2013 National Championship win.

Handler Robin Gates and scout Luke Eisenhart on the steps of the Ames Manor House with National Champion Shadow Oak Bo in February 2014, the year Bo won his second National Championship in a row.
By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

The field trial world lost one of its prominent bird dog handlers on February 19, 2020, just as the 121st National Championship was nearing its conclusion: Robin Gates. Robert C. “Robin” Gates (63) of Lee County, Georgia died at his residence. He was the son of John S. Gates, also a prominent field trial bird dog trainer and handler.

A highlight of Robin’s career came in 2013 when he handled champion setter Shadow Oak Bo to the National Championship.  This was the first time since 1970 that a setter had won the coveted title. Gates and his son Hunter Gates, who scouted, were decidedly delighted with the win. In an interview after the ceremony, Gates quipped, “After the fourth find, we really got serious.” He described how the dog ran the course. “What impressed me about him was his endurance. He had a find off the breakaway, and then at pick-up time, I went in there and found him pointed again. I knew we had done a really good job and it would take a quality dog to beat him. This is the greatest honor that’s ever happened to me!” Gates concluded his remarks, saying he would like to do this again next year.

And indeed, he did. Gates handled Bo to a repeat National Championship win in 2014, with Luke Eisenhart scouting that year.

On the steps of the Ames Manor House, before the winner of the 2020 National Championship was announced, Dr. Rick Carlisle, Director of Ames Plantation, asked for a moment of silence and said a prayer for the Gates family. Carlisle later told me that it was all he could do to hold back the tears. “Robin was a true, good friend. He was a superb dog handler, dog trainer, and handled horses well. He was willing to help anybody with anything they needed and was very complimentary of the people working with him. He was good at educating people, especially owners, about the nuances of bird dog handling without sounding condescending. He was just a really nice human being.”

Carlisle recalled the year 2010 when Gates won the National Championship with Carl Bowman’s In The Shadow. “Carl Bowman [of Louisville, KY] is a Thoroughbred horse trainer by trade, but bird dogs are his passion. In The Shadow lived part of the year as a house dog with Carl. He was a well-trained house dog and even rode in the car to the bank with Carl’s wife, where the tellers gave him dog treats. During these times, he wore a leather collar. But when field trialing season came and Robin took off the leather collar and put on the orange collar, the dog’s whole demeanor changed; he knew it was time to get to work. Robin and the dog had a special connection.”

In his article for the 2020 Field Trial Review on “Fathers, Sons, and Brothers,” National Championship reporter William S. Smith wrote: “Robin was 28 years old when he entered his first National in 1984 with Flush’s Reedy Rogue. He is one of only a very few to win in his second attempt, when the black and white pointer, Flatwood Hank, carried them both to the top of the heap in his first appearance at the championship [1985].

“Robin was in his twenty-first year of contending for the National in 2010 when the Carl Bowman’s Pointer, In The Shadow, won over the thirty-eight other competitors.

“Robin’s third victory would come only three years later, 2013, when the setter, Shadow Oak Bo, was the first setter in 43 years to win the title. When Bo was a very young dog, Robin made the statement that he had a Setter in summer camp that was capable of winning the National. The next year, 2014, Bo topped the field of forty-one to again take the garland.

“Robin has been a part of the National for thirty years. He has competed every year since 1989. In those thirty-one appearances, he has entered 32 different dogs and has handled in 88 braces.

“Hunter Gates went to work for his father, Robin, and scouted for him for 13 years. The last year he scouted was 2013, Shadow Oak Bo’s first win of the National. He is the third generation to train out of the camp his grandfather established in Broomhill, Manitoba in the 1940s.”

Vera Courtney, long-time field trial enthusiast and photographer wrote of Gates:

“As his family and friends lay Robin Gates to rest, my thoughts are moved to the prairies of Canada. A few years ago I made my first trip to the prairies and took that opportunity to visit Robin at his camp for a few minutes.

“He was a man of ‘Big’ stature, but a man with a soft heart. On my visit I was greeted with a warm welcome and short tour of the ‘Gates Camp.’  I didn't know Robin well, but he just made me feel like I was an old friend.

 “I know he loved his family with all his heart and was so proud of his son’s, Hunter, success as a sportsman. He loved and was proud of his grandsons’ accomplishments. On the one occasion I met his wife, Mary Ann, he introduced her with great pride and love.

“Robin will never be forgotten for all his accomplishments in the Bird Dog Field Trial world, but his biggest feat and success will be the family he created.

“Fly High Robin. We will all meet again on the Prairies of Heaven.”

Robin’s surviving family members include his wife Mary Ann Wood Gates, his son Hunter and wife Amanda, and Hunter’s two sons Branson and Ryland Gates. He also leaves a brother John Rex Gates and his wife Diane of Bolivar, TN.

Those desiring may make contributions in memory of Robin to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at and/or the Lee County Humane Society, 101 Mossy Dell Rd., Leesburg, GA, 31763.
Read an interesting 2016 interview with Robin Gates on “Preparing Dogs to Compete in the National Championship” at Strideaway:  

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