In the Zone

Lee Gibson runs Lee Gibson Training (LGT) based in the picturesque South Shropshire hills. He is currently competing with three dogs. Che (9 years), Jack and his youngster Scott are all Grade 7, and Scott recently won ticket at Dania Cup. In 2008 Lee and Jack were part of the British Team at the European Open, helping to bring home the Bronze medal. Lee trains agility full time and has been to clubs all over Europe to both train and judge over the last year. Hence why you probably haven't seen much of him at shows! Gina Graham reports.

 Q: What made you first get involved in agility and how old were you?

I was 12 years old when I first competed in an agility class at Golden Valley show. Rory (Rory Bilbatch Ratchup) was my first dog, and I was inspired to do agility by watching Crufts. I thought it was wicked watching the dogs go around doing the courses, and just really wanted to have a go! I was lucky to have Ruth Hobday living just down the road who had a training school about 10 miles away!

I was so lucky to have a dog that could learn with me as a handler. At that age I really did not know what I was doing! Rory took me to Crufts, Olympia and a Championship ticket!

Q: Did you ever imagine then that you would be jetting off round Europe delivering seminars and judging?

No, I can't say that I did! It is a huge privilege to travel and see some places that you would otherwise not see. I always dreamed of being a professional footballer and, although I had quite a good scoring record for Church Stretton Magpies, it never really took off!

I also enjoy meeting different people when I go abroad, and their customs and traditions! I was thrown into a river in Finland after being in a 80degree smoke sauna! That was cold. If I go back in winter, then it will be rolling in the snow after the sauna. They are mad!

Being abroad also pushes you out of your comfort zone at times. You have to speak through a translator or even use other forms of communication to get your points across, which can be interesting.

Q: What one thing would you change about agility in this country having seen it done differently abroad?

That is a tough one. The sheer size of agility in the UK makes it hard to compare the logistics of class structure, show size, running orders etc. Personally I think the courses are more creative abroad than some of the courses here. Having been competing in Grade 6 with Scott recently, I have been a bit disappointed that judges cannot be more original that jump pull through jump pull through. I agree all elements have to be tested in a course, but some courses have looked more like a training exercise than an agility or jumping course.

Q: I see that you have produced your first DVD Lee Gibson Training Workshop. What made you want to do it?

Several reasons. Firstly I was asked by many people if I had a DVD out, and I had to keep saying no, so I decided to do one so I could say yes!

Secondly, when I teach a group of handlers, I always encourage them to make notes. However a DVD becomes a physical reminder of the key principals that we have been teaching as well as ways in which to develop them.

Thirdly, for people who perhaps have not had the chance to train with me, or handlers who live on the other side of the world, it gives them a chance to see what I stand for, and help them in their own training.

Q: With the dark economic climate that we're all in at the moment, why should people go out and spend their hard-earned cash on your DVD?

Okay, good question, however I am not going to now write an essay about how useful and helpful the DVD is! I will often recommend the DVD to people and tell them that I believe it will be useful to them, but it is always up to them if they decide to purchase it or not. Personally I believe I have created an clear, precise and direct training DVD offering incredible value for money in today's climate, but then I would say that!

That is the reason I created the reviews page on my website. On this page there is a selection of many un-edited quotes I've had about the DVD. Every single one has a reference to the person who quoted it. I know myself a good recommendation from someone who has brought mine or any DVD will carry far more weight than the producer of the DVD saying modestly it is 'brilliant.' I am very lucky that the DVD has been incredibly well received, the feedback from people - beginners through to Championship handlers - and I hope that it continues!

Q: Has it delivered everything you expected it to or are there still some training tips you want to share with us all - perhaps a second DVD?

I think the DVD being in the format is, 6 different chapters giving an insight into different areas of training allows handlers, trainers, clubs and groups to use it in a very pro-active way. I believe people and dogs learn best by doing, not by being told 'I am great, you're not,' or 'you should be like me' which is how some trainers present their methods!

The DVD allows people to go and practice the basic principles, such as obstacle discrimination in a basic format, and then develop up, at their pace, into more complex sequences.

I have actually been asked so many times when I am doing a second DVD. I promised I would do one provided that people ask for it. Well, I cannot really say no. In fact, there are many area's which I want to look at such as the Seesaws for one thing, pull through training and actual handling skills.

Q: Do you and your dogs have fitness regimes to keep in trim for agility?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Purina Pro-Plan dog food for their sponsorship. The dogs are running exceptionally well on it. I don't think it is a co-incidence that Scott has won eight classes in five weeks after I switched to Purina!

I am lucky to live in a very hilly part of Shropshire. The dogs are out and about all the time. I model their fitness on the farm dogs that work the hills for hours and hours in rain, shine or storm. I keep my dogs at a high level of fitness throughout the competition season. They pretty much rest in the months of November, December and January, and then I build them up ready for the show season with swimming, running, drill exercises etc.

Agility is a fast explosive sport and I need my dogs to be able to access and convert energy into power and quickly, which is why I do the short bursts of high octane exercise regularly. Although sheep chasing is not on the exercise program, that also makes the dogs think about speed and co-ordination!

Q: What has been your proudest agility moment?

There are two. One was winning the European Open Bronze medal with Jack last year in Germany, alongside the rest of the team, all of whom were exceptional (Marc Saunders, Antony Clarke and Katie Mitchell).

The other would be the judging appointments in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. It is a huge honour to go and train another club in another country, but to be asked to judge is also a massive honour. However, the biggest honour was to judge at Crufts in 2008. That was fantastic!

Q: What are your ambitions in agility?

I believe to compete at the World Championships is a huge honour. However judging there would also be pretty good!

I would like to win some more Championship tickets. Rory won me my first and I would like to win some more. I think I have to stay in the UK a bit more though if that is going to happen!

I would like to train in lots more countries and also would like to compete in America. I think that would be fun.

Q: What about your involvement with Agility Zone magazine?

Yes, I have been writing for Agility Zone since it was released. I fully believe in what Kenny Spottiswoode, the editor, is trying to do. The Agility Zone magazine is for the people. It is for the people who love and enjoy our wonderful sport.

There are no cheap nasty pot shots taken at other handlers nor articles bragging about how great the articles author is. The magazine is full - and I mean full - of training idea's tips, lesson plans, fitness guides, reports, and agility related entertainment and views.

I always have sample copies if anyone fancies a look. It really is a great magazine with contributors from the complete worldwide agility spectrum.

Q: Finally, do you have a saying or belief that you use for agility?

Yeah 'I didn't even know that class was walking!'

No, on a serious note, I use the term 'skills training' quite a lot, both for handler and dog. To train anything you need to break the method down so that the result is achievable and build up from there. If you feel you are always correcting the dog, then break the exercise down or condition the piece of equipment, so that you start positively reinforcing what you want to achieve!

Thanks for the questions. I would once again like to thank Pro-Plan for their support. Best wishes to everyone reading this interview.

About the interviewer...
Gina Graham
is 24 years old and has been competing in agility for eight years. She currently owns two large collies - Cas (9) and Rum (3), competing in Grade 6 and Ember (6) a small sheltie who is one win away from Grade 7.

Gina has known Lee since she started training, as Cas started in the same beginners class as Che at Ruth Hobday's. 

Gina also competes with Cas in Advanced Freestyle and has qualified for Crufts. She has written training articles for magazines and runs training days. However, this year agility has taken priority and she even incorporated a show when she took a holiday in France with the dogs. 


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