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Munroc Farm Gordon Setters | Rhonda Cornum


Interview with Rhonda Cornum, Breeder of Munroc Farm Gordon Setters, by Allan Reznik.


Where did you grow up?

Rhonda Cornum: I grew up mostly in East Aurora, New York, about 30 minutes from Buffalo. My big loves were horses, dogs, and being outdoors. Luckily for me, I found it easy to do well in school despite spending most hours at the barn riding and walking my dog in the woods.


Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters


Do you come from a doggy family? And if not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?

Rhonda Cornum: I did not at all come from a doggy family. My dad loved dogs, but had mutts growing up; my mother was a cat person. I had certainly never been to a dog show. I think my love for, and attraction to, purebred dogs came from reading the books by James Kjelgaard (Big Red, Irish Red, Outlaw Red, etc). After reading those as a pre-teen, I went to the library and started researching dogs. I loved the pictures and description of Gordon Setters, and just had to have one. So, immediately before my 13th birthday, my parents bought me “Reba” (Ch. Sangerfield Cameo). She was my constant companion through high school, college, graduate school, and first two years in the Army, and she has been the mental standard by which I judge every other Gordon Setter.


Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.

Rhonda Cornum: When I was in junior high school and starting with my first Gordon Setter, there were three owners of Sangerfield Kennels: Peg Sanger, Jean Look, and Fred Itzenplitz. They were so important that, just this month as I drove up to Buffalo, I took the backway so that I could go past their old place in East Randolph, New York. Beyond these three, there have been some important people from whom I have learned a lot in the 55 years of my dog evolution.

When I started showing seriously in the 2000s, I learned a huge amount about grooming, handling, and even the politics of dog shows from Cheryl Mika. Cheryl is a professional handler who had shown Irish Setters since childhood, and is now big into breeding and showing Brittanys. I am slowly getting her into working in the field with a few.

In terms of field work, it was similar. I started going to field trials in 2006 without any dogs, and because of my riding experience, I started planting birds and scouting for other handlers. I learned a lot just by watching large numbers of judges, handlers, and dogs. The people who have trained my dogs have taught me an incredible amount. These include Jesse Chapman, who recognized talent and took my “Libby” to Derby Dog of the Year in 2014. At the same time, Jean Webb comes to mind.

Jean is a long-term Gordon Setter owner and breeder, and in recent decades a field trial and hunt test trainer. She was particularly instrumental in teaching me patience when trying to breed, train, and campaign dual dogs; patience in the field because they often come along slower than the dogs bred exclusively to field trial, and patience in the ring as they are generally more moderate in both size and coat than dogs bred for conformation alone. They are less likely to be big winners, but represent the Gordons that most people read about and want.

Jean and I co-own and co-breed dogs, and share the philosophy of dual dogs. Most recently, I have worked a lot with Janie Bristow; we now co-own three dogs. Janie started as an accomplished obedience trainer, then migrated to hunt test trainer, and more recently, has become active in field trials. Her insight and consistency make it possible to plan my dogs’ careers realistically and accurately.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters – ‘Libby’ at 9, 2nd in Open Gun and Amateur Gun Dog.

In terms of breeding, however, I can’t really say I have had mentors. Breeding dogs is like parenting; you learn a lot from both a negative example and a positive one—often from the same people. They may do some things really well, but at the same time they do things you would not want to emulate.


Your Gordon Setters are widely known, highly successful in multiple disciplines, and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?

Rhonda Cornum: First and foremost, of course, the dogs I breed must be healthy and long-lived, with temperaments that allow them to fit into a family and do whatever task that family wants to undertake. Philosophically, with setters specifically, I firmly believe that the dogs should look like what the standard describes, and must also demonstrate their ability to work in the hunt field as recorded in their history.

A dog that enters the Munroc breeding program must have “talent,” that innate ability to find and point game birds for their handler, using terrain, vegetation, and wind to their best advantage. Of course, that dog must also conform as closely as possible to the standard in terms of structure and movement. Realizing that NO dog is perfect, there is always a balance. We look at the pedigree first, and eliminate from consideration even outstanding individuals if there are genes that we just don’t want to infuse into our program due to health or temperament issues. If the pedigree is acceptable, we proceed to step two.

And here, breeding dogs is like breeding racehorses, cows, or any other animal that has both conformational and functional ideals. I take the bitch I am considering, examine her critically, then look for potential stud dogs that complement her faults; structural as well as performance faults. So, let’s look at “Pixie.” She definitely has talent; she has a beautiful point, always finds birds, runs well in front but listens to her handler (won a 3-point major in her first field trial as an adult). Her pedigree has good looks and talent on both sides. But, she is on the small side, even for a girl, and though she has attractive angles both in front and rear, and plenty of sternum, she definitely has wide shoulders that result in a less pleasing line from neck to back.

So, I am looking for a dog that is:
  • Not related, which will help with size;
  • Is in the upper half of the standard;
  • Has really good shoulders.

I have found him, he is our “Marlon.” Marlon was a stud fee puppy from Keith Whiting, using our Vito on his bitch in the UK. Originally, I was not too excited about this puppy because, despite his good looks, there isn’t a significant hunting title anywhere in that pedigree. But, following Crufts 2020 where Marlon won his class of eight in stiff competition, I brought him back to the US in March to earn his American championship. He is really handsome, so this should have been quick.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters – ‘Marlon’ CH

Our plan was to return him to Europe in October, but the advent of the COVID frenzy prevented him from showing for a long time, as shows were cancelled. Even after getting his title, overseas travel was very restricted; he was essentially “stuck” here. So, though I did not have great hope, I sent him to train with Janie Bristow, mostly to give him something to do. Well, sometimes dogs surprise me!

Janie reported he was a natural, got his Senior Hunter title very quickly and needs two more passes for his Master. And her report is that he has enough run and style to run field trials. So, we are going to try this. We go through this sort of analysis and decision-making with every breeding. And I am fortunate to have my breeding partner Silvia Timmerman living in Europe. We both travel back and forth several times a year, and have the opportunity to watch and compete against dogs in the US, UK, and continental Europe. We are not constrained by borders when selecting dogs that we think will be advantageous, and we do not have to rely on websites and online photos when making the selections.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
‘Marlon’ on Point 2021

There are, to my mind, two significant mistakes made in breeding dogs. The first is breeding to the “dog of the day.” People will breed to a top-winning dog (in the field or the ring) with seemingly no regard to whether his pedigree, temperament, conformation, and talent actually complement their bitch’s faults. The other mistake I see is being so kennel blind that they refuse to breed to any dog that is not related to what they already have. No matter how good your dogs are, there is always a way to make them better.


How many Gordons do you typically house? Tell us about your current facilities and how the dogs are maintained.

Rhonda Cornum: I have a 700-acre farm in central Kentucky, so I have room for dogs. But obviously, nobody can give a large number of dogs all the attention they want and deserve. Our secret, which enables us to keep dogs to sufficient maturity to truly evaluate, has been to find really good custodial co-owners for some of our most promising puppies. We make sure that the people know how to raise and train young dogs, but we may place them in families that might just want to love them. We keep track of them every six months or so. Depending on how they are maturing, we agree on when it is time to show. I don’t care whether the family does it or I do it as long as it gets done.

When it comes time for training and competing in the field, we have already agreed on who’s going to do it (them or a professional), and who’s going to pay for it. And when it comes to breeding, we have already agreed on the goals, which are always to produce healthy dogs, with good temperaments, that have potential to be successful in the show ring and in the field. If we decide not to breed, they are already in a forever home where they are loved and valued.

But to your question of “how many.” How many I house at any given time is definitely a moving target. There are five Gordon Setters that live with me full-time, and will never leave. But even “never leave” is a relative term. They all leave for field training with Jean or Jesse or Janie for months at a time. Then, depending upon their performance, they either compete with me or with one of them handling, so they can be gone for a lot of the year. Additionally, I often have someone else whelp our puppies.

My farm has an extremely virulent strain of parvovirus on it, and we don’t know where they might be able to pick it up. Having puppies that are unprotected at my house means they and their mother have to live in virtual isolation. Much better for the puppies to live somewhere where they can just tumble out of the kitchen door into the yard as they mature. In addition to the “full-time” Gordons, there is one “full-time” Irish Red and White Setter, and three “full-time” Miniature Pinschers. The rest of the group comes and goes, either from Europe or from their American co-owners. They come for various numbers of weeks or months and they leave for various lengths of time.


How do I keep them?

Rhonda Cornum: Some dogs live in the house, some dogs live in a log cabin in my backyard, and some in the actual kennel about a quarter mile from the house. But every dog gets at least two runs in a big field every day, and if getting in shape for field trials, we put a lot of miles on the ATV.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters


Who were/are some of your most significant dogs, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?

Rhonda Cornum: The most significant dog that I have been involved with was “Hunter,” Silvia’s first Gordon Setter. I bred to this dog, I showed this dog, and I loved this dog. Hunter was the epitome of what I believe a Gordon Setter should be. Since meeting him in 2004, we are on our seventh generation.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Munroc Farm Gordon Setters – ‘Hunter’ and Girls

Perhaps the most significant one since then is “Seymour” (GCH Munroc the Black Watch, MH). Born in 2013, Seymour again epitomizes what a Gordon Setter should be: Grand Champion, Master Hunter, nine points in Gun Dogs stakes, including a major in an Amateur stake and a win at a retrieving stake. Had I been more experienced and entered him more strategically, he would no doubt have earned his FC. He was bred 10 times over four years to a wide spectrum of bitches; some dual dogs, some “show only” dogs, and three times to people who wanted purely hunting dogs.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
‘Seymour,’ March 2020

He has produced very successful puppies regardless of the owners’ goals (seven show champions and eight more on the way, eight field pointed with two Derby Dogs of the Year, one Master Hunter, and many great family pets and personal hunting companions). From each litter, reports on the puppies are that they have great dispositions, are easily trained, they all point, and they look like Gordon Setters! Seymour retired to a wonderful pet home where he can be the only dog, and his new “mom” says he is the smartest Gordon Setter she has ever met while he sleeps on the couch with his box of toys. Seymour is proof that they can do it all.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
‘Seymour,’ Field Trials December 2017

His grandmother “Amber” was clearly the matriarch of Munroc. She was the product of “Hunter” and “Grey.” Initially sold as a puppy to an owner in Austria, she earned every hunting title available. Like her father, she found and pointed game birds, searched for and retrieved ducks in the water, and followed a trail and retrieved furred game in the woods. I was able to show her at the World Show in Poland at two years of age, and was so impressed I tried to buy her back. I failed at that time, but circumstances allowed us to get her back at age four. We immediately bred her to a very fine Australian dog that had been imported into Germany. I flew over and brought her to America to whelp; I believe all the dogs we have bred since then have her somewhere in the pedigree.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters – ‘Amber,’ Crufts 2012
Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
‘Brando’ and Ludo at the World Show

Other significant dogs?

Rhonda Cornum: I imported “Allard” (Ch. Allard Aristokrat SH) in 2007. With Cheryl Mika and Jean & Rob Webb as co-owners, Allard was the first Irish Red and White Setter to earn a Senior Hunter, and had multiple Gun Dog placements in all-breed field trials. His puppies are demonstrating that same dual potential. He just recently died at the age of 15, but will be an important influence on this breed for years to come. With Cheryl and Brooke Burlingame, I “dabble” in Brittanys. We did have the winner of the Brittany National Specialty in 2017 with GCH Dogwood Hollow Bengal Zero Zero, at the ripe old age of 11 and a half.

And lastly, because I believe so strongly that dual dogs are essential to support in all the setter breeds, I got involved when the 13th-ever dual champion English Setter arrived on the scene. I told Frank Luksa when he finished “Tessa” (DC AFC Windsors Field Harvester) that if she ever has a litter I want one of those puppies. I promised him that the puppy would get every opportunity to be successful.

About a year later he did call me with a litter. I immediately drove to New Jersey from Kentucky to see those puppies, and picked out “Tesla” (FC Windsor’s Lightning over Munroc). Tesla has been everything I thought she could become. Although clearly not bred from “field type” English Setters, she finished her field championship at 18 months. She is a bird-finding machine, and runs like the wind; you definitely do need a horse to keep up with her. She has not quite finished her show championship, but she’s well on the way.


Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.

Rhonda Cornum: Overall, Gordon Setters have changed for the better since I started in the late 1960s. Their temperaments are more reliably good, and definitely the rears are stronger, with better angulation and sweep of stifle. Otherwise the dogs are similar, although they seem to be bigger (at least the ones you see at dog shows) and have more coat. I believe that this has to do with our judging, which tends to reward extremes. So, if “most substantial of the setters” is the standard, then the theory must be that bigger is better.

Unfortunately, I see a bigger split between the dogs that are at the top of the game at field trials and the dogs that are the big winners at dog shows. I try very hard not to say “field dogs” versus “show dogs.” I think that’s an important distinction because I think that what we really are seeing is people interested solely in dog shows versus people interested solely in field trials. And while I believe individual dog owners don’t need to do both sports, I believe breeders have the responsibility to future generations to produce dogs that are able to participate successfully in both sports.


The sport has changed greatly since you first began as a breeder-exhibitor. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?

Rhonda Cornum: There are many things that could be done to attract more people to the sport of purebred dogs, and these could be done at the individual level as well as at the level of the American Kennel Club. We must admit that huge clusters discourage everyone except retired people and professional participants. This is a big problem when what we need is young people to participate. But young people with children have jobs, and kids go to school; they can only show on weekends. So, they start off at a big disadvantage, as they can only show two out of four or five days. In addition, the scarcity of local shows (kennel clubs in different cities, and often in different states, now join clusters) means hotels and long-distance driving, making an already expensive sport even
more expensive.

The American Kennel Club could offer an amateur conformation championship, just like it does an amateur field championship. The dog would not need to be owned by the person showing, it would just need to be an amateur, like field trials. This is essentially how dog showing is done in Europe and, there is no doubt, amateur owners are the vast majority of participants, and definitely more
young people are showing. I would suggest every kennel club that participates in a cluster should be required to hold a weekend “Amateur Show” for each cluster the AKC approves. It could be much less expensive than “Open” shows; there could be more outdoor shows and we could eliminate the requirement for electricity. When I started showing dogs, we brought them clean and groomed; we did not require acres of air-conditioned grooming space with outlets for blow dryers. I truly believe we could fill these shows with younger, amateur participants. And these people would be the basis for the breeders of the future.

I think the limited registration concept has decreased participation in the sport of purebred dogs. I feel sure it has contributed to the profusion of “designer” dogs because people are actually able to buy a “something-poo” without strings attached. I know some purebred breeders who are selling all of their puppies with limited registration. They supposedly don’t want “unworthy” dogs to
be bred. But I don’t know anyone who started off their lives in purebred dogs with the best dog in America, unless their parents were already into dogs. I am sure I did not, but I had a wonderful dog, had a wonderful time, and strived to improve upon where I started. I believe breeders should actually sell the puppies. Breeders can then help the few buyers who later want to breed to have one “just like her.

We can help those owners evaluate the dogs, and remind them that the most important things about having a litter of puppies are:
  • Improving upon what you have, and;
  • Finding appropriate homes for all these little dogs.

This is how I have gotten new people into the sport.


Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?

Rhonda Cornum: Well, I hope to continue what we are doing. Again, I think what Munroc can contribute is the emphasis on dual dogs and the opportunity to bring excellent genes into the US gene pool from overseas and vice versa.

While preparing for this interview, I reviewed the stud dogs we have used:
  • Hunter – Bred in England and Lived in Germany;
  • Skipper – Bred in Australia, Lived in Germany;
  • Shadow – Bred in Scotland, Lived in Germany;
  • Arnie – Bred in Scotland, Lived in Scotland;
  • Linel – Bred in France, Lives in France;
  • Truman – Bred in Scotland, Lives in Germany;
  • Duncan – Bred in Scotland, Lives in US;
  • Vito – Bred in Italy, Lived in Germany;
  • Skye – Bred in US, Lived in US;
  • Rowdy – Bred in US, Lived in US;
  • Cruiser – Bred in US, Lives in US;
  • Koenig – Bred in US, Lives in US;
  • Reno – Bred in US, Lives in US.

Although not used at stud yet, Silvia and I (and James Newton in the UK) recently imported “Stevie G” from the Carnustie Kennel in Australia. We are very pleased with him, and will bring him to America to show and hunt test when he is fully mature. Just in March, I imported two dual-potential Irish Red and White puppies from Old Crudsand Harbour Kennel in Germany, and sent them a beautiful young bitch (Am. Ch. Munroc American Beauty for Old Crudsand Harbour) that earned two BOBs and a Group 3 at her first weekend showing in Belgium.

We have also brought in some girls. “Quest” was a stud fee puppy from Belgium, and “Belle” was a stud fee puppy from France.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters – Am. Ch. Bournefield Quest For Munroc, finishing.


Finally, tell us a little about Rhonda outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.

Rhonda Cornum: The short version is that I got out of high school at 16, college at 20, and graduate school at 23. I joined the Army and did biomedical research for four years. Then the Army sent me to medical school and, as a physician, I did more research and then deployed to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990. I was shot down and captured by the Iraqi forces while attempting a search and rescue mission. Despite some very serious injuries, I was fortunate to survive and be repatriated after the war was over.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters

Following multiple surgeries, I went on to a five-year residency in Urology. After graduating from that, I went on to command two hospitals, and traveled widely while serving in Bosnia and Germany. My Army career culminated in promotion to Brigadier General and assignment to the Pentagon. Following my retirement from the Army in 2012, I moved to Kentucky to run a beef farm, and developed a psychological fitness consulting business.

My life is based on three principles:
  1. Never waste an opportunity (because you may not have another chance);
  2. If you wait until you “have time” to do it, you’ll never do it;
  3. You can sleep when you are dead.

These principles explain, for example, how I became a steeplechase jockey while in medical school. I had thought about it when exercising young horses in New York while growing up. So, when I found myself in Maryland for med school, I was in the prime of hunt country. I found a guy who was the owner, trainer, and rider of his horses, and worked for him on weekends.

I learned a lot, got my apprentice and then full license. I never made much money, but I had a lot of fun and made good memories. It also explains how I found time to write research grants and pursue science (my real passion) while a surgery resident. I will never forget a staff guy telling me that I could not do both. I tried to be respectful, but finally said that the fact that he didn’t think he could do it was not going to limit my expectations of myself.

And it explains how, though I was very busy as the Commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany during the height of the War on Terror (2003-2005) and we had 26,000 evacuations through the facility, I found time to show my Gordon Setter “Grey” (Ch. Celtic Arlyss Scott’s Grey) to her German championship. I bred that first litter of puppies with Silvia, and Munroc was launched.

Munroc Farm Gordon Setters
Rhonda Cornum – Munroc Farm Gordon Setters – ‘Grey’ and ‘Mikele’



Are you looking for a Gordon Setter puppy?

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder?

Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.


Want to help rescue and re-home a Gordon Setter dog?

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