Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Reflections on the WAO Team England Trial

Having just returned with Evie from 2 days and 7 runs at the England trial its time to review the performances and reflect on the whole experience .

At the beginning of the year as we were planning our training program Evie had two main aims, firstly to compete at Olympia and secondly to become part of a WAO development squad, if there was to be one. ( She benefited greatly from inclusion in 2012 but there was none last year). This was hopefully to lead to making the team in 2016 when we both felt  her and Ace would be ready. We had worked on the skills we thought would be required in training but I felt Evie and Ace would probably suffer from lack of exposure to the types of courses that would be set as she has only done 3 x Grade 6/7 shows and a Friday afternoon at Dog Vegas hardly warrants sufficient preparation to compete with the best in alien conditions. Our main aim was to see if the pairing were competitive with the best and review our training accordingly.

The first jumping run was messy on a course more typical of a British show but with speed needed at the end. This speed wasnt needed as Evie made perhaps her only handling error of the weekend and was eliminated moving off too early on a relatively simple push round . Snooker was the next run as part of the games competition and we held little hope as Evie had never worked in such a class. She selected her options with help from Jayne Widdess who was familiar with the rules and my only question was whether there was a back up plan if she missed one of the red jumps. Her answer " there is no way i should miss the red jumps" said it all. To be fair I have seen harder snooker challenges but Evies option of going for the maximum points, each of which consisted of 2 sets of 6 weaves plus a jump,emhasised our weave training prior to the trials and a faultless clear resulted. To win against such competition was a bonus but more importantly ,I think, gave Evie the confidence that she could compete. The games class gave a slight relief from the pressure of the overall competition but still showed the selectors the relative merits of the competitors abilities and favourites were starting to emerge. The first agility round ended the day and this was really well run until Evie over worked the weave entrance 2 from home resulting in a missed entry and 5 faults. Even with the re entry and added time there were only 6 faster dogs so thoughts about not being competitive quickly vanished and we reflected on a fairly successful day even though the overall placings of 21st didnt reflect this.

Day 2 began walking the Gamblers course at 7.45 prior to the second jumping round. Ace ran well but what we thought was a decent score was quite low resulting in a 10th place overall in games. However Ace had looked good as we moved onto the jumping round judged by Martin Cavill. I have always enjoyed watching people run Martins tests as they usually involve close control at speed with lots of obsticle discrimination.This was no different and after Evie opted for the more difficult but faster start Ace decided to ignore her for the lure of the floppy tunnel and yet another elimination. This was the sort of error I expected and we sometimes forget how young Ace is and he has yet to sometimes curb his initial enthusiasm for the equipment that would have been learnt had we competed more at this level. It left me thinking Evie needed at least one good round from the last 2 to impress.

One look at the Agility course proved this to be the point, it was difficult but the lines were good and I felt if they got past 5 they could do well. In the end they did and my concerns regarding the course were confirmed as there were only 4 clears from 40 runs. Evie finished 2nd 0.17 seconds behind. That put us into a trickier than usual Speedstakes with a real chance of attracting the selectors eye. Evie for once admitted to being a little nervous  but that comes with expectancy and until now her only aim was to run well and show her talents. My advice was merely to ignore what could go wrong, focus on the line we had decided and think of nothing else. She opted for the tighter serpentine start and front cross before the a frame that I had concerns about. I am rapidly, however, leaving such decisions to Evie who executed both parts perfectly and combined with a superb second entry into the weaves completed her best run of the competition. It was only when after the show I checked the times that I realised she had won beating current internationals and previous WAO medal winners.

Having reviewed the performances and relative times etc it is pleasing to see that despite their youth, Evie and Ace are competitive on these courses and the occasional lack of consistency is IMO merely lack of experience. From my point it is pleasing to know that we have worked on the things that matter and her trust in the dog to do what he does hundreds of times in training showed in those two final pressured runs. We rarely run courses , tending to make the simple handling skill " world class" and I think we are on the right track.Doing the simple things well and ingraining the correct behaviour to an early cue is our mainstay work.

For the record and for the statisticians Evies 2nd placed agility run was beaten by only 2 standard dogs,the awesome Puzzle with Gold Medal winner Karen Marriott and the ultra consistent  Jess Clarehugh,again a medal winner last year, both by less than 0.6 seconds and the Speedstakes win beaten only again by Karen this time by a mere 0.23 secs. As both these dogs were jumping at a lower height it gives me confidence that next years ambition of being competitive with the "big boys" is realistic.

My overall view of the selection weekend was of a very well run and professional event but I would expect no less,my only concern now,not just on a personal note , is how the selectors judge performance. The top 3 maxi height dogs owed their placings much to the fact that they didnt suffer eliminations that the majority further down the list did,however these combinations were 2-3 seconds behind the fastest times of the class in Agility and 3-6 seconds behind Aces winning Speed stakes time. The Standard class was remarkably strong with Jess Clarehugh,Alan Wildman and Jo Tristram almost faultless and Karen Marriott quickest in all classes with the exeption of one elimination. As we go further down the heights the variance between speed and accuracy enters a whole new area with the higher placed dogs going clear but some 10-15 seconds behind Steven Richardson and Libby. On the World stage there is little reward for accuracy at such a cost to speed and highlights to me the ridiculous situation we have with KC grading system and minute numbers of small dogs in classes leading to promotion to grades well above their ability. There were some quick exciting smaller breeds but like their larger counterparts,speed comes at a cost and one elimination ,that is par for the course put some of these way out of contention if overall placings are any guide.

In the end it was a very enjoyable weekend and we more than achieved our objectives,like many we will have to wait until December to see if the session brings the ultimate prize but we have at least ruffled a few feathers and got the partnership noticed. Evies attitude has been exemplary and despite healthy differences in opinions we work well together . I would like to thank Greg for his help when needed and Evie will no doubt point to the benefits of working with Shaun ,Jo and Anthony at the Clear Q summer camp. We couldnt have won the snooker without help from Jayne Widdess and we couldnt have been as successful with out the weekly challenges and time comparisons offered by the Lamberts,Hannah and Ann Hinz ( agility trainer extrodinaire).

The next two months are geared to Olympia and re enforcing the contact criteria in the ring. If we manage a jumping win to G7 that will be a bonus.

Friday, 12 September 2014

UKA successes

We are now beginning a month of UKA shows to practice for the WAO Team GB trials starting at Bakewell on the 6th. This is quite a small show but the inclusion of the "Masters" class means a few of the countrys top UKA handlers venture in search of points that will take them to either the Grand Final or automatic qualification into the England team.

Evie continued her aim of making as many finals as possible this year ,thats 11 at the moment with all dogs,and unable to run Ace because of a slight injury she qualified Blaze and Roxy for the "Agility for Juniors " Final sanwiching Amy Pearce who came 2nd with Calli. This is yet another junior final for Amy, a popular member of the Thursday night sessions and she is now looking like the "Ice Queen " seemingly unaffected by nerves as she produced a faultless clear agility round to go with her 5 faults in the jumping leg.Mum ,not so confident,still hides behind the tent until the end.

Sarah Peall continued her successes with wins for Megan and Tilly as did Suzanne MacLennan with both George and Clyde,the latter running superbly until boyfriend Steve became more attractive than her handler and he ran past the lat two jumps ,twice, thus consigning .Steve to a weekend in the caravan. It is so rewarding to see the progress these two handlers have made this year and we watch expecting fast clear rounds and are surprised if either dont. As both are still in their first year of competing it is quite remarkable.

Suzanne however excelled all expectation and achieved her 4th place  in the UKA National finasl by finishing runner up in the Circular Knockout. Apart from qualifying 2 dogs for the Beginners steeplechase final Suzanne has qualified in the pairs ,with Helen Jones and Knock Out beating handlers who on paper, work much higher levels. This latest success saw her finish only 0.2 seconds behind England International,Stephen Richardson and multi Championship Winner Libby. We now have 6 handlers and 9 dogs competing in 6 classes at the finals and for all but Evie this will be their first appearance, so what a brilliant achievement for all.

Finally on par with Suzannes success is Helen Jones run with Mac her young rescue dog. Helen doesnt do it the easy way and has worked so hard to take Belle to grade 6 and has worked even harder with Mac. It was therefore brilliant to see him go clear and finish 3rd in his first ever run beaten only by 2 Veteran dogs with solid agility pedigree. Dianne Beresfords Wookie,a grade 7 dog until last year,and Evie with Moss.Helen has worked so hard on his focus and this is the start of a successful career.

A quiet weekend for most I think but we make a 5 o clock start for Cambridgeshire on Sunday where I will be judging

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Here is my first blog which I intend to update on a regular basis. Its purpose is 3 fold. Firstly to highlight all the successes our handlers are achieving and as there are so many this will have to be updated weekly, secondly to promote any events of interest to our members, and thirdly to allow my thoughts on Agility to reach a wider audience. In the past I have been very controversial in print and I havent mellowed with age but I will also try to be constructive with any criticism I make on a sport/activity that I have been seriously involved in for 12 years now.

To those new to agility the highlight for most ambitious handlers is to reach the finals at Olympia. This IMO surpasses Crufts particularly as finalists will be running in front of  10000 noisy spectators at the Horse of the Year Show in December. We are delighted that two of our girls have made it to this prestigious event. Evie Coyne with Ace in the Novice class and Hannah Houldsworth with Ann Hinzs Belle at the top level, Senior class. Both are exceptional achievements and Evie would have had two dogs there but for Roxy falling of the sub standard dogwalk in the semi final ( I will comment more at a later date).These two girls train together every Tuesday afternoon along with the Lamberts who we mention later and I am convinced the support each handler gives to each other has helped them achieve their success

The largest most prestigious dog show in the world and we have two handlers competing in the most important 2 classes of the event and to top it all they are husband and wife. Jenny Lambert  qualified for the British Open recently at the KC festival with Wizz, an event open to all g6/7 dogs from all over Europe. She did this with an injury that meant husband Ray ran Wizz at the Northern Championship show where his win qualified him for the Championship Final. Both have trained with me for about 4 years now and there success is thoroughly deserved.

Of  less standing in the overall picture but of no less importance to one of our longest standing members is the Qualification by Veronica Wilson and Ice for next years Laser Pairs final,a fitting end to a year of frustration for Veronica and also Evie and Jayne Widdess ,whom I train in Norfolk turned " professional " recently ,Evie winning the Dog Vegas Final along with £100 ,whilst Jayne won a similar sum taking the UKA National final from Nikki Collins who also used to train here.

There are too many wins here to mention but firstly huge congratulations to handlers in their first year of competition. Hayley Tindall and Fifi reached Grade 6 with numerous wins ,as did Sarah Peall who reached Grade 5 with Megan. Both compete with small dogs and we are developing quite a few of these now so the competition will be interesting over the next couple of years. Im sure these handlers welcome each others input and certainly provide the competitive edge in classes where quite often the competitive element is lacking. Similarly Suzanne MacLennan with medium sized working Cockers had 8 wins over the past 2 weeks and Clyde has progressed to grade 2. Suzanne I predict will be running at Grade 6 next year whilst the other two will be Grade 7.
We must also mention Amy Pearce who comes from Rotherham each week reaching Grade 3 with Calli, Kirsty Ann Mitchell finally believing in herself winning into Grade 2 and Laura Wilson taking Misty to Grade 7 almost in a weekend not forgetting Shky Austin reaching Grade 4 with Oki.

There have been many other highlights particularly Irene Ward our oldest handler who had two second places with the lovely Rosie despite almost quitting competition the previous week and this brings me onto my final note as we go from one age extreme to the other. We have already mentioned Evie aged 14 and Amy15 ,but we now have 15 year old Ryan,8 year old Rees and 5 year old Mia training regularly on Monday nights and it is so rewarding to see the enthusiasm and understanding develop in these youngsters,

There ends my success catch up, future blogs will be shorter and more current but my first major Agility posting will be on what I feel is the ridiculous current grading system