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.

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