Posted by: allstaragility | October 18, 2011

Exceeding Expectations!

Solei posing with her 1st place ribbon from the Play It Again Grand Prix class

What a great trip and an amazing group of handlers and dogs from our area that included Ann with Skylar, Lorraine with Nike and Edge, Tammie with Buzz and Frenzy, Susan with Gator, Patti with Bailey, Nancy with Pilot, Jan with Murphe, Nancy with Cosmo, Cassie with Roxy, Ami with Neelah and Tazer, Cheryl with Keegan and Karma and Jami with Meena and Mira, plus other friends from the St. Louis area! While it was a chore, I was able to see everybody run at least once and can say without a doubt that our corner of KS, NE, IA and MO was well represented.

I say every year that Cynosport is the best agility party you will find in the USA and has the highest number of outstanding dog/handler teams, I believe, in the world. Watching dog after amazing dog is a little overwhelming. This year, the influence of European-style handling in our country was evident with some spectacular blind crosses on flat-out runs (or as I have also heard called ass-passes- LOL), to cue wraps, or landing sides of serps. To see us finally start to adapt and grow more collectively as handlers is fun to watch and makes me really want to start applying those skills regularly in daily use. Those sexy moves aren’t a novelty anymore!

I knew going into this event that it was all gravy for Solei and I. With this really being the start of our competitive career, I really wanted to focus on supporting her mentally and seeing how our teamwork measures up at that level. It also dawned on me that it was my first USDAA nationals running an open dog (jumping 22 or 26”). Neither of us are very patient to play, so walking a course at 8am and having to wait until 2-5pm for our first or only run of the day was a huge challenge and unique to this event! She took it in stride and was not affected negatively at all by the wait. In fact, I think the hardest part for her was walking by the rings and not being able to see what was going on inside them (the “fencing” was solid curtains in the main arena). The other challenge was that Solei is usually the first dog in her class (or the only dog) locally, so having to time when to get ringside and not have her wait too long with all of the energy being conducted by handlers and dogs running before us was a newer concept. Pair that with crowds cheering, oooing and awwwing was also a factor she took in stride. I was overall very pleased with how she processed all of the stimuli and didn’t take it into the ring with her.

We started the event off with the “Play it again” Grand Prix class on Tuesday. This is pretty much a warm-up for the event and we got to run the Grand Prix finals course from last year. For us, I knew it was an ideal set-up to get on the rubberized dogwalk and A-frame with our running contacts (side note: we are long overdue to get rubberized contacts in our area!). We had a very solid run and ended up winning the class! Granted, some of the top dogs/handlers didn’t enter as they were just returning from the IFC World Championships, but it was a perfect start to the competition.

The next day was our team gambler’s run. This course was not typical for gamblers with some different rules, and since we haven’t had much experience in gamblers (Solei is just in advanced, after all), we decided to take it pretty easy. A bar in one of the jokers cost us some points, but it was a good run overall.

Thursday brought team standard which we didn’t run until after 5pm so I had a lot of time to watch and see all of the problem areas. This can be an advantage, but also a huge minus as it can cause you to really doubt your handling strategy (can I really get there for that front cross without losing time like most everybody else is doing?). I got caught up on some Zzzzs napping with Solei in her tent and then we had a very nice run. We were called on the AF contact as I got too far ahead and started to decelerate as she was coming over it. I do have to say it was one of the better dogwalks she has had in competition- especially since I was so far behind her! Her time would have easily put her in the placements, but we contributed a nice run to our team score.

On Friday we finally had 2 runs (team snooker and Steeplechase semifinals)! Alas, again we didn’t run until after 2pm and then 4pm. It was a great snooker set-up and very easy to get 3 7’s. I was surprised that many of the top teams did not even attempt all 7’s, so when we got clear through it clean and finished in 2nd place, I was ecstatic. I think I used up all of my mental reserves in that run, because I made a silly error in steeplechase semis and pulled Solei off of a jump.

Saturday was a big day. It brought my earliest run and one of the most important in Grand Prix Semifinals. Of course that would be the class I had to run first thing and not be able to watch a lot of dogs. It offered several options that I was debating even as I walked into the ring. The set-up at the end of the dogwalk was something I hadn’t done with Solei (layering a tunnel and pulling off the end to a jump or running on the other side and pushing to the jump). I wasn’t 100% comfortable with either option. I did watch a few dogs lose footing with the handlers layering the tunnel and one dog had a spectacular fall so it really made me reconsider my decision. I went to the line tossing a coin in my head (never a good thing) and choose what was safest for my dog- even if it wasn’t the best for her contact. I needn’t have worried as she ran like a champ. I came off the course thinking we had just made it into the finals only to discover that the judge had called our upside teeter contact. Of all the flukey things, good grief! Her time would have placed her as the second seed going into the finals so that knowledge helped ease the bummer of our fault.

In the afternoon we had our final run- team jumpers. It was a killer course for many. I would like to go back and see just how many dogs had E’s on it as I heard the whistle blow way too often. You could try to play it safe (which wasn’t very successful with so many off course options) or just go for it. I ran later in the afternoon with an opening handling plan that I didn’t see anybody else execute (a tad worrisome). It worked and I was in control the entire course- a great feeling and confidence booster in our teamwork. The reward was a 5th place finish in the class! Our team (including Ann with Skylar and Jennifer McDonald with Effen) ended a very respectable 29 out of over 130 teams. Not too shabby with baby dogs Effen and Solei being anchored by veteran Skylar.

We just missed making the relay finals on Sunday morning so Ann and I packed up Saturday night to get an early start on the road Sunday. Other highlights of the week were cheering on Tammie with Buzz and Cheryl with Keegan in the PGP Finals on Friday night and again Tammie/Buzz and Cheryl with Karma in the Speed Jumping finals on Saturday night! I would have loved to watch all of the steeplechase finals, but the 26” dogs weren’t done until after 10pm! Talk about late nights and early mornings…

Looking back, I could not be any more thrilled with Solei’s performance. She looked and felt like a very experienced dog for it being her first national competition. I learned that she can easily hold her own with the other “big” dogs, and can’t wait to see how we compare with more runs under our belt and even better teamwork in the future. It gave me great confidence in her skills and showed us some things that we need to work on and implement more at local trials. Not once did I feel I wasn’t exactly where I needed to be to handle her and that was a huge boost to my mental game.

On the flip side, this was my first nationals not running Skye or Bode and that was bittersweet. I did not miss running Bode with his jumping issues where you couldn’t really push for speed because you had to work the jumps, but it was weird not having a mini dog there. Nationals will be in Colorado next year; outdoors on grass/turf so I have hopes to Q Bode in a few events so he can play again. Hopefully, we can get even more of our local agility enthusiasts out there for the event!

Solei and I have 2 weekends of local trials coming up before we head to the inaugural US Open in California in November. We are going for the experience of flying and traveling solo together, but I have a very good feeling about what we could possibly accomplish out there…

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