Derby teenager wins National Junior Handler of the Year title

A teenager from Derby has been awarded the title of National Junior Handler of the Year, making her the first in 11 years to win handling a Siberian Husky.

Paige Hughes, aged 15, was awarded the top spot by judge, Alex Paisey, at the prestigious final, organised by the Junior Handling Association (JHA), alongside her Siberian Husky Lexie (Ch Siberiadrift Keep Forever JW SHCM SHCEX OSW). Abbie Stoutt was the last competitor to win the National Junior Handler of the Year final with the breed in 2012.

The event took place alongside The Kennel Club’s Junior Warrant of the Year semi-final, both held for the first time at The Kennel Club Building in Warwickshire on Sunday 22 October 2023. Paige, who has been a Young Kennel Club (YKC) member for nine years, will now represent the UK at the Joe Cartledge Memorial International Junior Handling Final held at Crufts 2024, on Friday 8 March, where the judge will be Rony Doedijns from The Netherlands.

More than 150 junior handlers competed in the JHA semi-final heats during 2023 with their chosen breeds, each attempting to win one of 14 places in the National Junior Handler of the Year final. In the second part of the competition, the top six competitors were then all given a Border Terrier to handle.

The final results of the National Junior Handler of the Year 2023 were:

Winner: Paige Hughes, aged 15, handling Lexie, a Siberian Husky

Runner-up: Edward Eddery, aged 17, handling Bianca, a Labrador Retriever (GCH/Ch Tampa Bay And Eagle Ponds Kisses Sweeter Than Wine)

3rd: Megan Slack, aged 15, handling Darcie, a Standard Poodle (Kamarri Born To Be Wild At Achara)

4th: Maisie Allenby, aged 14, handling Rory, a Borzoi (Ch Ryazan Viceroy Of Radost At Menigma ShCEx)

5th: Izzy King, aged 17, handling Etta, a Briard (Ch Barronoaks Etta Bagel)

6th: Jess Smith, aged 17, handling Buffy, a Parson Russell Terrier (Alncroft Foxtrot)

Commenting on her win, Paige said: “Leading up to the event, I was extremely nervous but excited to be in the final again as I was lucky enough to be competing for the fourth time and it was my second time in the final with Lexie. Knowing Lexie would be foot perfect did help me to calm down.

“When the judge pointed at me, it felt incredible and it’s still sinking in! I thought I was dreaming and I am still smiling from ear to ear. My performance on the day felt like it was going well as Lexie was just being the best dog I could ever ask for. Lexie loved all the cheering from the audience and she loves competing with me.”

Paige won her spot in the final by winning first place at the JHA semi-final heat in July 2023 at the National Working and Pastoral Breeds Society, held at Three Counties Showground in Malvern, under judge, Helen Taylor-Morris.

Paige is currently studying for her GCSEs and is considering a career in the police force as a dog handler. In addition to competing in breed and handling competitions with her 14 Siberian Huskies and Dalmatian, in her spare time she also runs her Siberian Huskies in racing trials in the winter months. Last year, she competed in her first trek covering 30 miles over two days with seven of her Siberian Huskies.

The National Junior Handler of the Year final, organised by the Junior Handling Association, has been running since the 1970s and is one of the most hotly contested junior handling finals in the country. The semi-final heats for the 2023 competition took place between December 2022 and August 2023 at the national group championship shows.

For more information about Junior Handling, please visit the Junior Handling Association’s Facebook page here.

For up-to-date information about Crufts 2024, visit the Crufts website