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The good old days...

Clive Foden first came across dog agility in 1989 when he and his wife Dorothy were at a ‘fun' obedience show in Manchester. They saw a pay on the day ring filled with agility equipment and happy, tail wagging dogs, racing around. It looked such fun that Clive and Dorothy decided to have a go. Using the words from home such as upstairs and downstairs, they managed to steer their dogs around the course. This was so much more enjoyable than Obedience that they set about finding a club. The rest, as they say, is history.

I never had a dog when I was a youngster. To be honest, I was scared of them. Our first dog, a Border Terrier, helped me to overcome my fear. Two more Borders followed and then two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

In 1990, I started at a local club called Chadkirk DTC in Stockport with my Border Terrier Candy, and within couple of months, my wife Dorothy joined with her dog Cindy. Soon we were being cajoled into entering a competition at Wilmslow Rugby Club. Having been told there were only about a dozen entered in the Minis class and rosettes down to 6th, we figured that we should have a good chance to win one. I came 2nd, but Dorothy was eliminated for touching the tunnel going round it. When she asked why she had been eliminated, I replied that it wasn't allowed. She hadn't been told the rules!

We went to four other competitions that year, the furthest being 40 minutes away.

We were hooked
In 1992, along with about two dozen others from the previous group, we formed a new club, High Peak DTC. I remember making our own equipment at the week-ends which was a lot of fun.

We then started to venture much further afield including a six hour journey to the Scottish Kennel Club show, helped by an overnight stay.

Later that year, we acquired another two dogs - Judy and Zara, both Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Two years later we literally lost our Borders. They went to ground while hunting, never to be seen again!

I had always admired Vanessa Hardin's Poodle T.J. so after loosing the Borders, Fly was acquired out of the paper and Pip, a Terrier X soon followed in 1994.

This was the year that we joined Newton Heath DTC, where we remained members until we moved home in 2000. We joined Shrewsbury and eventually a few small local clubs including Ci Da, Right Start, Woodland, Allsorts and TAG, which gave us access to equipment. Later we were to have 1-1 sessions with private trainers with our younger dogs.

I was fortunate enough to take early retirement in 1996, joining Dorothy who had already finished work. This gave us more time to travel further and more often - and stay away for longer, incorporating holidays, usually between weekend shows.

Carry on competing
My own agility career really took off at the Otley show in 1996. I had come 2nd in a Eukanuba qualifier with Judy when a friend told me that I had 19 points. When I asked for what, she explained that about 20 points would probably get me to Crufts the following year. We had already been there to watch our friend Gillian Knowland the two previous years.

So now the hunt was on for show schedules which, in those days, were distributed by post. The Thames show closed on the Monday next. Luckily Royal Mail was good in those days, so by Monday we had received the schedule and posted off the entry form.

By 1997, I had earned enough points to go to Crufts for the first time at age 51. Dorothy was nervous as she was the film crew. When she asked if I felt nervous, I coolly replied 'No, it's a freebie!' This was a two-day event.

As the last few were running, Lesley Olden told me that my overall place was getting nearer to the top! To my surprise, I won the event at my first attempt. From then on, Crufts became an annual event for both Dorothy and me in the Circular Knock-out, Pairs and Challenge events.

In 1997 we acquired Tess, another CKCS who was joined in 1999 by Blue, a Sheltie x Jack who had ‘Queen Ann’ legs. A vet once told me that conformation was not good for agility. He loved it, winning a Crufts Champ Class in 2006!

Altogether we then had six dogs so we had a swap round of dogs we handled. All our dogs had to compete for both of us though they were all registered in Dorothy's name in case I was judging.

Flying high
Fly was meant to be Dorothy's dog but he was too fast, so I ran him. In 2000 and 2001 Fly was to compete at Olympia. That was a dream come true. It made our Christmas. What an atmosphere!

Sadly we lost Judy to heart troubles in 2001 which was also infamous as the Foot & Mouth year. It was also the same year that Blue started to make his mark, placing 2nd in The Agility Club Novice competition and winning it the following year.

The next year, Fly and I partnered Heather Noddle with Dexter, and we won the Mini/Maxi Pairs at Crufts.

Until 2001, dogs coming back to the UK had to be quarantined for six months, so handlers wishing to compete abroad, borrowed foreign dogs to run! This changed with the introduction of the Pet Passport.

So at the age of 56, I tried out for the FCI Agility World Championships in Dortmund with Fly. The rabies injection had to be done in January, giving a month's grace just in case it hadn't taken' for a clear six moths prior to returning to the trials in May. It cost in the region of £100 at our own expenses, and there was no guarantee that we would be selected.

Happily we qualified for Team GB, joining the Medium team of three Poodles with Nicola Williams and Mary Ann Nester.

Penny arrived in 2002 as Dorothy's dog, bringing us back up to six dogs. We were now travelling regularly to shows as far away as Inverness, Pembroke, Ipswich, London and Jersey (over nine hours)

Champ status
By 2003 Blue had gained a Reserve Championship Certificate (R.C.C)) and a Championship Certificate (C.C.), so he could now enter Crufts for that competition, too. Over the next five years, he was in the finals every year, gaining 2 x 3rds, 2 x 2nds and winning in 2006. By this time though, he was already an Agility Champion. TV coverage brought him fame to our local area as people had seen him run on television.

Penny also had her year of fame when she went to Olympia. She loved the Pairs event which was run at night, but being timid and the first to run, she was a little nervous. Still she came in 6th place.

Maizy, our loveable Miniature Poodle, arrived in 2009. She would be my last dog. By 2012 she had risen to Grade 7. She entered her first Champ Show as a 'fun run' - and won her only C.C.

We also entered the FCI Team GB trials for the World Championships in the Czech Republic (Liberec) the same year. Once again we were picked, this time for the Small team. We flew with Alan and Jackie Gardener, Marc Wingate-Wynne and Nicola Garrett from Paris to Prague.

What a star!
Poppy arrived in our household in 2010, ostensibly for Dorothy. She only lived only for agility and whatever else she could work at for a goody. Two years later, however, when she was having a hip replacement, I got the chance to run Poppy in an Olympia qualifying event. We won the Jumping round by seven seconds!

Six weeks later I was asked to Judge at a local show, so Dorothy 'trotted' around an Agility course eith her 'new' hip and won her first event.

By 2013 Poppy already had two C.Cs. and was trying for a third on her third birthday. This time it was not to be! The same year she went to Olympia and also the following one where she came 4th place.

That was the year I tore my ham-string which prevented me from running for a lot of the season. Dorothy had her dog back. After two Champ classes, she managed a Reserve at Wilton, behind Alan Bray!

Running her again, I managed her third C.C. to make her an Agility Champion at Woodside, in 2015, under Judge Blair Cochrane, followed by another two C.C.s at Scottish Kennel Club in 2015 and the last in 2017.

In 2014 Poppy had been in the trials for the FCI World Agility Championships, but unfortunately was only picked as a non-travelling reserve.

The following year we were persuaded to enter the trials again and this time we were successful. It would be the last time I competed at the FCI Worlds, aged 69. We travelled to Bologna (Italy) with the GB team including Rosie Cavill, Mark Wingate-Winn and Lucy Osborne. This time Dorothy was able to travel with us to see her dog run.
 

Fodens' Photos
Scottish Kennel Club 1993


Mini/Maxi Pairs - Crufts 2002


FCI World Agility Championships 2002


Blue - Crufts Champ 2006


Maizy - FCI World Champs - Agility Round
Pairs - Crufts 2011


Poppy - Team GB 2015

Poppy qualified for Crufts in 2014, 2016 and 2017, where she had a 3rd in the Singles event final. She said her final farewells to it in 2018. There was an outcry from the agility folk who commented it wouldn't be the same without me competing. Big thanks to the Stand 9, Scottish contingents who have always cheered us on.

All the time I was competing, I was also judging. I remember my first appointment in 1992 in a Mini only ring at the Tatton Hall show, run by Newton Heath. Numerous appointments followed, a bit on/off. I went from Barbour Pairs (second judge) to the KCI Festival in 2010, a Novice qualifier and in 2015 Grades 6 & 7 and an Olympia qualifier with various ones in between, from Midlands to Inverness, Scotland. Although I loved it, my passion was always the challenge of running with my dogs.

In those days, we liked the fun classes such as Take-Your-Own Line, Time-Fault & Out, Circular KO, Snooker, Pairs & Brace and Barbour Pairs.

Very proud old owners
We started doing Hoopers in 2021 which both our dogs loved as there was no jumping. Just at end of November, sadly we lost Poppy to cancer, aged 11. Now we only have Maizy (13) whose eye sight and hearing are failing to play with. We both love gardening and taking shorter, age-related walks. We are hoping to be able to pop into an odd show to meet a few distant friends made over the last 32 years.

All our dogs were bought as pets, but agility and walking was what we loved doing with them.

Things are very different from when we started at age 44 and 49. Young handlers now have a whole lifetime to bring their skills on. My advice to everyone is to get the basics sorted and believe in yourself and your dog. Give them as much experience of differing venues and surroundings as well. Don't forget that dogs need to socialise, not just do 1-2-1 training. Enjoy your chosen sport with your best friend. Have fun, too.

Thank you
We would both like to thank our main trainers in all this time including Pauline Baltes, Sue Hunt, Nicola Garrett, Lee Gibson, Jenny Goude and Amanda Hampson. Neither of us has ever been to a training camp. Our training has mainly been self-taught, and all the summer shows we could get to. Winter was the time for training, to then put into practice later.

With no dogs to compete with now, we have to finish with shows. It will be very hard for us both, but we have plenty of memories to look back on! Loved to have made so many friends on the way.

A big thanks to Mike Hallam who has been with us from the start of our travels.

About the author...
As a young lad, Clive Foden lived next door to a Labrador who liked to play with him. In it's excitement, one day it accidentally grabbed Clive's arm. After that, he was nervous of dogs.

From the age of nine, he was a cross-country runner until he I gave it up for cycling, which was much faster.  He was no slouch on a bike, and would regularly do 100+ miles a day in summer with the club. He even saw the 1966 World Cup win in Norway, whilst on a biking holiday there. He competed in 25 mile time trials and mass start road-racing as well.

He went to work for the Manchester Ship Canal. Whilst working out on site from Head Office, he had to cycle past a very 'nippy' Jack Russell. After a while, he got fed up trying to out-run it on his bike, so he got off and chased it up the road.

Later in life he worked at Manchester Airport, looking after the various works on the airfield including the taxiway and runway repairs, sometimes at night, which got in the way of his new found sport of agility. Hence, when given the opportunity to take early retirement, he went.

You can read about the second part of his life above.

First published 19th February 2022

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