Mike Clement, California
talking to Jim Emmerton
1. Please tell us all about your involvement with the noble racing pigeon:
Since 1958 I've been fascinated with racing pigeons. For family, financial, time and health reasons I haven't raced but a few years. I enjoy learning. There is always something new. I'm constantly trying new approaches, formulating systems and schemes. Thru my obsession a universe of new perceptions and learning has opened to me. A couple of decades ago I saw that the future of racing pigeon success, does and will, reside in the bird's "Naturally" derived health status. I pursued this more "Natural" approach to health and performance, being for a time involved in a business started by Felix Khan and along with Bob Rowland, we provided health and nutritional products. That experience formed a foundation upon which I continue. "Natural" health is a main focus of interest. Now I'm finishing/upgrading my loft in prep for racing in the near future, if the pigeon gods allow.
2. Where are you situated Mike?
I'm located in central Northern California, USA. To the east, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to the west a costal range of mountains with the Pacific Ocean further west. The organizations in my area race from the north up thru Northern California, into Oregon and Washington, another from the east over the Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Nevada Desert then angling north into Southern Idaho for the longer races, other organizations go south into southern California. Particularly the eastern course over the Sierras is challenging. This course is mostly desert, the Temps are often 100+ F with head and side winds. Then the birds must negotiate mountain peaks and passes thousands of feet from the floor of the desert. If they pick the wrong path they are at least out of contention if not at risk of losing their way. A lot of pigeons cannot handle this course.
3. What is the nature of the pigeon racing sport in your Country?
Club Racing is taking a back seat to One Loft Racing: Long Distance to Short Distance. Imported birds are continuing to be brought in. More information is available, the sport is becoming more sophisticated. My local club is a good template for the future, is proactive, provides Benzing clocks for rent, owns a clubhouse, has money in the bank, requires a high level of commitment from members to maintain financial stability. Most other local clubs no longer exist.
4. How would you condition a champion pigeon?
Define terms: What is a Champion? What is Condition? I would identify the qualities required to be a Champion, by my definition, and how to allow those qualities to flurish. This would require that Conditioning be seen in context of the entire racing/breeding program. Conditioning a Champion, along with other related issues, is a challenge, for pigeon breeders/flyers who have a long-term flying/breeding plan. There is a tension or conflict between providing the best conditions for an individual bird to perform at his best today and the long-term effects of selecting/forming the genetics of future birds. The most important flyer function is that of evaluating his birds. The fewer variables involved in that evaluation, the better. To get the most out of individual birds today may require specific individual treatment; treating birds differently, as individuals, introduces more variables, making evaluating more complicated, particularly for long term goals. Generally, movement toward preparation simplification and consistency is preferred for long term genetic selection.
5. Do you study the art/science/psychology or philosophy of the sport or other intellectual considerations?
Yes. Pigeon Racing can open up new universes of learning; has done for me.
6. Is the essence of distance racing a spiritual one to the human psyche?
I think it can be. My thoughts are not intended to offend, if I understand your question. Long distance racing, particularly for those with long term breeding programs, presents challenges that are more easily met by short distance racing: The most important of those challenges has to do with time and information. A short distance racer may acquire more objective info. on his birds, in one season, then a long-distance flyer may obtain in an entire career of long-distance birds. This stretched timeline with less info. encourages non-objective ways of evaluating pigeons. Subjective interpretations allow for, may encourage intuition, special sense or knowledge, personal connection, unique insights. Subjectivity spawns’ deep dives into esoteric theories. A spiritual connection may be one of those subjective results.
7. Who do you rate as great fanciers or writers on the sport?
I really appreciated BILCO's writings. For decades, Ad Schaerlaeckens has been explaining, exploring, encouraging, chastising, commenting on racing pigeon issues for flyers all over the world. I don't agree with all his ideas, but I have learned a lot from him. Schaerlaeckens is one all-time great flyer. I think he's the best, particularly as a Racing Champion and as a dedicated scribe combo. Unfortunately, I'm limited in my experience, beyond local champions. I'm certain that there are super stars, flying under the radar, in many locations around the world.
8. Have you read my pigeon books or others Mike?
I have not read your books Jim. In past years, I read all I could get my hands on. At this point, I'm really into my own thoughts, experiments and experiences. I read some from this Canadian publication by Brad and Mike, and Schaerlaecken's thoughts and a couple things on u-tube, but that's about it. Generally, I'm drawn to "non medication" approaches, nutrition, environment related subjects.
9. How will the sport evolve say in the next 10 years?
Each location is different, but generally: Continued money infusion (as long as China or a similar market drives prices and One Loft Races offer tempting money). Continued move toward One Loft Racing
10. What is your perception of The Barcelona International?
A legitimate, great challenge. Offers competition on a wider scale which is needed in areas where flyers are sparse and spread out. It often means more birds and more time required by the fancier. An age-old argument continues: what is more valuable, long distance or short distance? Each discipline is just as legitimate as the other, in my view.
11. Do you have extreme distance racing over there?
Don't know about the rest of the country but my local club is struggling to keep the 500- and 600-mile races on the schedule. I suspect this is not unique to our area.
12 Would you prefer higher standards of human sportsmanship/conduct, morals and ethics in the game?
Yes. Particularly, I don't like the conflict that sometimes occurs in racing organizations or online; the disrespect and sometime outright targeting of individuals for verbal abuse or worse; it’s so corrosive of good will. Fortunately, my club is filled with positive, contributing members. I sometimes get high minded/huffy at the disrespectful attacks. But then I remember that I've let people down which reminds me to moderate in my responses and not be condescending. I frankly get outraged when deserving people are the subject of petty jealousy or mindless aggression, rumours, innuendo etc. For myself, I can take it, even like the combat, but, particularly when friends are attacked, I find it hard to watch without getting involved. Dishonesty is always going to exist; call it out, impose penalties, move on. Continually convulsing over corruption is corrosive. Don't dwell on it, deal with it; focus on positive stuff.
13 Is money a dirty word in pigeon sales?
Not necessarily. By definition selling, transaction, requires some form of compensation. Selling, in principle, is a positive thing. It allows for flyers to obtain wanted birds. Money isn't inherently a dirty word, but when sales hype becomes the dominant value, in one's mind, it's a misplaced value. Money priority is wrong when, by comparison, true performance-based accomplishment takes a back seat. With the hoopla surrounding pigeon sales, there's the temptation to believe that more status is found in selling/buying/owning a bird than in creating and flying that bird. Sales can be an easy way to obtain status/attention while living off the reputation of the one who created the bird in the first place. It’s sort of an unearned sense of accomplishment. This misplaced value, distorts flyers perceptions. Rather than making personal performance the standard, financial value becomes the standard. It is often assumed that all the best birds are high priced, and/or are unavailable because they cost too much; that buying and selling expensive birds is the only way to success. This frustrates those who can't afford to get into the fray. It can cause flyers to adjust their goals in ways that divert from actual performance based, racing and breeding, accomplishment. Selling and buying is a means to an end. When that end is anything other than performance related, it distorts the meaning and satisfactions that are available thru legitimate, earned accomplishment. If buying/selling makes you happy, fine. If it frustrates you, fine. But if racing performance is your goal, don't let either state of mind diverts your focus.
14. What do you think of slick and shrewd advertising in pigeons-the fast -buck syndrome?
Let the buyer beware. The solution to "The Fast Buck Syndrome" is for fanciers to know what they want. Flyers need to be knowledgeable, sophisticated buyers. The implication in your question is that buyers are being, if not lied to, at least presented a distorted view. A buyer should be offered facts, accurate, verifiable information with which to make a purchase decision. The buyer must determine what information is important to him and not rely upon the seller to tell him what he needs/ wants. It is the buyer's job to know what is important to him, what he wants; everything else is distraction.
15. Do you like concentrated inbreeding in a colony?
It depends. Concentrated inbreeding is a tool. If it is used to bring a flyer toward his goals, then it is a useful tool. If not, then it is form over substance.
16 Are you close and empathic with your birds?
I try to be. A big part of pigeon racing is being able to see what is right in front of you. Being able to see requires understanding. The more empathy, the more understanding. However, for me, close association brings with it the seeds of heartache. Requiring your friends to face the requirements of their lives: daunting tasks, difficult challenges, death, can be hard on me.
17 What is in the psyche of a champion fancier?
I don't rightly know. My guess: that each Champion creates/discovers his own path to success. There are many variables in pigeon racing; variables that can be successfully mixed and matched in combinations/compensations, so being categorical about success is a trap. I like to look for principles of success that can perhaps have various expressions. Some flyers are more naturally disposed to the requirements of being a Champion Pigeon Racer, others must grind on it, polish over extended time, learn by smaller increments, progress with abundant patience and perseverance. But all must learn from their experience and think for themselves. Successful flyers do not make excuses but take responsibility for their failure and success.
18 Describe the internal qualities of a good racing pigeon?
High level immunity/ health, naturally/genetically/environmentally derived. High functioning internal organs; heart, lungs, liver, eyes, brain etc. Intelligence, quick learner, courage, confidence, orientation, drive/motivation, understanding of what is expected of it, what it must do to get what it wants/needs. A good racing pigeon is able to meet the requirements of its environment, the context within which it must function. Those requirements may be different for each: location, loft, individual bird.
19 How can we enlighten the fancy on a global level Mike?
Tuff one. Institutions must encourage qualities in flyers that create success, they must reward success. Flyers should work for internal as well as external rewards. Charities, for example, other organizations that benefit from associations with pigeon racing, should step up publicly and promote the sport. The mystique, fun and fascination of Pigeon Racing needs to somehow break thru the prejudices and preoccupations of the population; I don't know how to do that. But ultimately the solution is to be found in the heart and mind of each individual flyer. The individual must stand on his own as an example of what is needed in the sport. Just as the pigeons in one's loft reflect the character of the flyer, that standard, as expressed in each flyer's life: his/her goodness, passion, honesty, courage, intelligence, will draw people to the sport. People need examples, hero’s. If pigeon flyers don't provide an example, that people want to be part of, the sport will dwindle. Pigeon flyers each have their own reasons for involvement in the sport. Even though the wave of One Loft Racing breaking over the sport, isn't my thing, that shouldn't stop others from enjoying that aspect of flying. Competing with honour, which has taken hits in recent years, requires something more from us than allowing our ambitions and passions to drive us to run amok. As someone once said: "We must not let our passions destroy our dreams".