A wet wet wet introduction to agility

When Chris Bradley started agility training two years ago, she simply wanted to do it for fun. Being completely non-competitive and with a life-long horror of performing anything solo in front of others, she had no ambition to compete.

Our trainer, Marion Holt, is keen to promote the idea that any type of dog and owners of any age can do agility and have fun together. She trains dogs and owners for competition, and we all have to aim for competition standard.

Poppy, my hitherto completely wild rescue dog, took to it immediately and loves it although she didn't take it all that seriously at first. She soon realised, however, that if she did what I wanted she got more liver cake than when she followed her own agenda, and we began to achieve a clear round every now and again.

This summer Marion produced entry forms for a show in Bushey in October and encouraged us non-competitors to enter to see how we got on. As the show was safely four months away, I happily sent in the entry form, registered Poppy at the Kennel Club and more or less forgot about it. Then suddenly the show was only two weeks away and panic set in. I had never been to an agility show and had no idea what it would be like or the procedure to follow at the showground.

As the day approached, my nerves began to get the better of me, and I desperately hoped some unforeseen circumstance would intervene and allow me to drop out gracefully - but it didn't. The weather forecast for the weekend was appalling - torrential rain, high winds, dangerous driving conditions. 'Wonderful', I thought, 'Can't go, far too dangerous!'

I consulted another 'virgin' competitor who was more worried about his car getting stuck in the mud than stage fright and we finally decided that if it was dry at 7.30 am we would both go and if it was raining we wouldn't.

At 7.30 it was dry and I set off. At 8.00 it was raining lightly - but too late. I was on my way. The rain got heavier and the wind started blowing hard. Somehow I managed to resist the temptation to turn around and go home. At the showground cars were already getting stuck in the mud and dogs were being exercised by owners shrouded from head to foot in waterproofs and boots.

I had a card which told me my number was 465 and that we were 51 and 185 in the running order for our classes, but I no idea where to go or what to do next. Other competitors were very helpful and I soon found myself walking the Starters Agility course. It seemed fairly straightforward at walking pace and my spirits rose although I knew that 'on the run' it would be a different matter. I watched some of the others go round and one or two had problems which made me feel much better!

Our Turn
Suddenly it was our turn and off we went. Immediately I heard a voice which turned out to be the timekeeper, saying 'She started before I was ready.' I knew I had blown it but I carried on anyway. Poppy was wonderful. She went round beautifully, I remembered the course and we finished with only five penalty points, although, of course, the round was invalid. The judge said I could go again for time at the end if I wanted. I apologised and explained that it was my first competition and I hadn't realised there was a timekeeper! I opted not to go again. I was delighted with Poppy's performance and I wasn't concerned about the time.

In Starters Jumping I remembered to wait for the timekeeper, and we went round with no problems until the penultimate obstacle - a flat tunnel which was soaked through and flattened by the rain. Poppy ran in quite happily but couldn't get through and stopped. She tried to find her way out unsuccessfully and reappeared at the entrance. I asked her unsuccessfully to go in again but she began to get upset and I decided not to push her too hard and left it, so we were disqualified.

When we'd finished our two classes the feeling of achievement at overcoming my 'performance terrors' was wonderful. I am looking forward to having another go at another show. I went home soaked but happy, and Poppy was rewarded with a whole slice of liver cake all to herself.

For an easy to prepare recipe for liver cake provided by Chris Hack, Show Secretary of Trent Park DTC, see The Canine Cook in the Magazine section.

From Wendi Watson...
Great story. I know how you felt, but in some ways the second show is worse because you expect to have progressed and it isn't always the case! I only go to very local shows because I can't bear to travel a long way and then mess up!

Best of luck with Poppy

Editor's note: If there's always something you'll always remember about your Agility career (wet or dry), why not share your experiences with us. Email your true stories to:- Ellen Rocco at Agilitynet

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