When we first became involved with Ryman-Type setters in the late 1980’s they were generally considered to be large English Setters which hunted very slow and close, matching the type of at least some of the dogs coming out of the late Ryman Kennels under Carl Calkins. Breeders who based their programs on these dogs had often continued to breed very sizable setters, with some dogs over 100 lbs! This is not the type of dog George Ryman bred.
The dogs we have seen listed for sale in Ryman brochures from the late 40’s and early 50’s would be considered small for Rymans today. Males were typically 50 to 60 lbs, females 45 to 50 lbs. There were dogs outside of these ranges, but not many.
Dogs for sale were described as “short coupled”, “fast but close”, “stylish”, “fast trotter”, “snappy”, “tireless”, and “bold”. Others are close, old fashioned grouse dogs, quiet in the woods. In various places Ryman complains about small dogs of “poor type”, but also of over-sized setters that were “birdless”, “clumsy”, and “as an ox in the field”. It is clear from the brochures that setters from the heyday of George Ryman’s kennel were smaller, more athletic dogs than those produced by the end of the Calkins era.
A critical aspect of George Ryman’s breeding program is that he actually hunted his dogs on wild birds. They were not simply worked on planted birds or at a preserve, which is child’s play for even a mediocre dog. Ryman knew you can’t evaluate a dog’s ability to handle wild birds, or their potential as breeding dogs, unless you prove them on wild birds.
The same is true for size. Larger dogs tend to have less athleticism, stamina, and heat tolerance, which becomes more likely as size increases, especially above 70 lbs. Smaller, lighter setters tend to have much more speed and range. Ryman’s dogs were a happy medium between over-size and the small, wide ranging field trial types. Having owned and hunted dogs of various sizes, it’s obvious to us that the size Ryman bred for was based on performance. Hunting the dogs is what led him to the correct size.
John Taylor, in his book “A Gentleman’s Shooting Dog”, wrote about “The Ryman Standard”, which calls for males 60 to 75 lbs and was erroneously presented as a quote from George Ryman. Although Ryman did produce some bigger dogs this was not a typical size range during the height of the kennel, and the style of the “Standard” is not like Ryman’s known writings. He was never so eloquent or grammatically correct, and he did not write it. The standard was based on Ken Alexander’s best interpretation of what Ellen Calkins told him, combined with notes he has that Ryman made. We believe George Ryman’s sales lists are a true accounting of the size of his dogs.