Laddie has been running marks with the gunners hidden for most of his career. Of course all guns are hidden in hunt tests, so he never had the gunner visible as he earned his Junior, Senior, and Master Hunter titles. In addition, many of the field trial stakes he has run in had retired guns, and whether he finished them or not, my memory is that he showed no particular difficulty with retired marks. In fact, in one stake a few years ago, they scrapped the first series because only one of the first fourteen or so dogs who had run it had been able to pick up the retired mark without a handle, and that dog was Laddie.
Also, as readers of these posts know, I often set up retired marks for Laddie, as do other people we train with. It's not unusual for Laddie to nail those marks, or, if not, take a good line and find them with a reasonable hunt.
Of course he's far from perfect and has had difficult with them at times, as he has with other challenging aspects of various setups. But my impression is that he has a solid understanding of what retired marks are and how to run them.
Yet the pros we trained with the last few weeks were both convinced that Laddie didn't understand retired marks at all. They pretty much regarded any attempt on my part at discussion as "arguing," but when I expressed surprise that they thought that and outlined my reasons, they said that Master marks are so much easier than field trial marks that Laddie's hunt test success was meaningless, and that any FT retired marks he had had success with must have been too easy, because in their estimation I probably didn't know how to incorporate factors into our training that would make the marks difficult.
So now I really don't know. Laddie did have more trouble with some of their retired marks than I expected, but he also nailed some of them, which they chalked up to the idea that he was making progress.
Now that we're not training with them any more, I'm not sure how to get a handle on the question. I guess it's just something I'll have to watch for as we continue to train and compete. Maybe I'll find that it really is an area of weakness in Laddie's training, and I've just had a blind spot in my observations and memory. Or maybe, for one reason or another, I won't.