Lucy Tarpey & Diesel learned the hard way... 

Since the age of 12, Lucy Tarpey's favourite thing to do with her dog has been agility. She began training Cocker Spaniel Diesel casually in the back garden, using broom handles and a plastic hoop. Soon she was doing both Junior and Standard classes, sometimes against more than 100 adults which was a bit overwhelming for a youngster. She is now 17 years old and she looks back at her early agility days and feels blessed to have had such an amazing dog to train.

Diesel was - and still is - a very active dog. Agility kept his mind occupied and enabled us to create a strong bond through the connection and the ultimate rewarding achievements of training. He was a challenging dog to begin with a tendency to run out of the ring!

When Diesel was measured into the Large height category by half an inch, it was a real setback. I even considered quitting. At the time, I'd been training him on Small so I didn't think he'd ever be able to jump at such a big difference. Even now I consider this unlucky as, throughout my four years involved in the dog world, I have never seen a Cocker Spaniel jumping Large. I was lucky to have a boisterous, energetic spaniel who was always willing to jump. I built him up gradually from Small to Medium to 550. I refused to ever run Diesel at full height as I've always said it is too high and would lead to potential injuries in the future. For that reason, we currently compete at 550 and have already been measured into Intermediate.

After the first two years of going to shows, we had still  not completed a single clear round. This became demoralising and frustrating especially when we were so close to completing a clear round - say being eliminated at Jump 17. The idea of quitting was always in my mind, but my hunger for success made me more determined to compete and improve Diesel's performance. I would fix those issues!

Two years down the line
my confidence grew in my technical ability Diesel's performance also improved. We achieved our first clear last year in August. Since then, success has given me so much confidence as well as the idea of ‘We've done it once before so there's no reason why we cannot succeed again.' Sometimes it's sometimes strange to look back at our achievements and videos of the early stages and think about how far we've come.

In my eyes, sometimes it is the show environment which is half the battle. There are many factors which stand in the way of show success. Dogs will be dogs and they will want to say hello to people. In some cases, they might even be desperate for the toilet!

It was a trial and error of finding Diesel a routine which was suited to him with the main objective of keeping him calm as well as focused. Our routine has been altered many times due both of our inexperience, but it was important to make mistakes and to see what was suited for Diesel.

Today, we compete on a regular basis and enjoy every moment of the show style environment. It is very rewarding to see Diesel improving technically as well as having all the enjoyment at the age eight years old. Agility has maintained the his physicality, and forhis age, he is in a fit state in his older years which I think is really important. I am so proud of our overall performance and our improvements and our efforts have seen us to look forward to three finals September this year.

Looking back and forward...
When I was younger staying positive was difficult especially when watching other successful partnerships. It was very easy to be affected by my mistakes, but the main thing I did to maintain my positivity was to look ahead to the future and I remember that I'd have plenty of more opportunities to achieve results to be proud of. I think this is a key mental ability for agility - or life - to learn from your mistakes and to not be affected by the past and dwell on the negatives. Even the top handlers make mistakes so I believe I am no different.

Our huge improvements and recent achievements could not have been gained without the help and encourage of Bev and James Amor who has also introduced me to the Agility world where I have made some lovely, fellow dog loving friends.  My family is not involved in the agility world which makes me even more proud to think I've started something I love so much on my own. Nevertheless they are very supportive and give me lots of advice from a different perspective which I am truly grateful for.

Agility is a very important aspect of my life, connecting with my dogs and talking to friends as well as having a relaxing break from everyday activity. Diesel and I have gained so much confidence and self-believe and I could not be prouder of myself and my little Spaniel!

About the author...
Lucy Tarpey lives at home in the Lancastrian countryside with Diesel, another spaniel Ruby and a toy poodle Suzie whom she is training.

She is currently studying A-level Biology, Chemistry and English Literature and hopes to become a canine physiotherapist in the future.

First published 24th April 2019


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