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A love / hate relationship with agility...

It was nine years into their marriage when the big affair started. Sally and Steve Jones had already survived, indeed flourished, through several intense flings, but this one was different. This one was cruel and fickle and had only seduced Sally. Her mistress was Agility. What made this obsession so strange was that she was so darned dreadful at it yet she couldn't drag herself away. The Siren of Agility kept calling and her lure was strong.

I, Sally, had no intention of involving Steve in this activity.  After all, it started off innocently enough with one evening per week spent coaxing our 17inch high rescue crossbreed over 30 inch jumps. True, the house and garden started to show the signs of a burgeoning addiction with strange bits of wood and plastic here and there, but there was little other impact on our lives.

That was until The Rosette. Six months into our training, we entered a show and got a clear round in Starters Agility. Cue divorce proceedings.

Now the ante was well and truly upped.  Additional training nights became the norm, more bits of wood and plastic were purchased, and early starts on a weekend started to creep in. We were already like ships in the night so the obvious thing was for Steve to come with me to shows so we could see each other occasionally.  It all sounded so logical to me. He loved me and he loved our little Florence dog. And he loved sport.

A younger Steve with FlorenceLet me tell you something about my husband
Dear, kind, generous, loyal, supportive, hard-working Steve likes sport - mostly things that bounce and roll and end up between posts. He likes well-executed sport from trained athletes who are out to win, or at least have a chance of winning. All the things I wasn't.

He's happy to listen to expert pundits analyse a game.  What he's not so happy about is being talked 'at' about 'if-onlys' and the unfairness of having single poles on jumps in Starters. Bless him. He smiled and grunted at the right time if I was happy with our performance, but if I wasn't, he didn't seem to realise how much despair I was in. In his mind there was always next week.

So I hatched a cunning plan to entangle him in my mistress's web.

Get him involved
This started as him helping at shows. Steve became a very good timer in the days when a stopwatch was as technical as we got. The only problem with that was, our dogs.
I quickly rescued a couple more in order to increase my chances of repeating The Rosette but they would rather seek out that lovely, calm man standing quietly at the end of the course than stay with the shrieking, clapping harpy that their mother turned into when inside a ring of rope. This, of course, was Steve's fault!

The only time I saw him truly in his element at an agility show was at Ardingly as a caller for the Spiller's Knockout. There were 750 entries and it ran for 11 hours. He worked tirelessly getting people in line and on time. He was in control and he was good at it.

As the Knockouts were a rarity, I had to get Steve involved another way. He had dared comment on my competitive performance - or lack of it - so I thought it would be a good idea if he tried it for himself. He was faster than me so the dogs could only benefit.

BoogieSo I gifted him Boogie
Boogie was a dog that was tongue at one end, whip lash tail at the other, and sense of humour in between. Boogie was built like an athlete and the jump height was no problem for him. The weaves poles were only a problem if they were wooden and thin as his gung ho approach left many of them shattered. He and Steve would have made such a great team if it wasn't for Boogie's little problem. He was a plonker. A very talented one, but a 24-carat eejit. His sense of fun was not funny when you were trying to take a sport seriously. The straw that broke Steve's back was when Boogie fell in lust with a cute white poodle and chased it around the arena and out into the car park in order to give it a good snog. This marked the end of Steve's agility career.

We've now been married for 38 years and for nearly 30 of those, I've been a slave to my mistress, Agility. The house has filled with dogs - we peaked at ten. Our lives have revolved around this sport in so many ways. It has cost thousands of pounds, and it has taken up many more thousands of hours yet Steve doesn't begrudge it.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that he doesn't want to be involved.  He's happy for me to do it, but has not the slightest desire to spend his weekends in a muddy field listening to middle-aged women talk at each other about their dogs. When I return from a show, I ask him how his day has been before mentioning mine, and when I do, I keep it brief and to the point, e.g. 'I was shite but it was fun.'

Agility has opened up the world to me and I've been lucky enough to travel widely to both judge and teach.  When I'm away, I have my lovely Steve at home to look after the dogs.  He's happy with this, and I have learned to be happy with it ,too.  He doesn't force me to watch men chasing funny-shaped balls and I don't force him to watch dogs jumping over sticks. 

If your partner shares the sport with you and it enhances your life together, I'm very pleased for you and long may it continue. On the other hand, if your partner doesn't share your passion and spends all week at work getting very little time to themselves, then just perhaps it's a bit much to expect them to attend an agility show with little more than a bacon sandwich as compensation. Just saying...

About the author...
Sally Jones
has been involved in agility for 30 years and nowadays splits her time between Devon and Cornwall with her long-suffering husband, Steve. She's seen the sport grow from when it could hardly be called a sport to the international phenomenon it has become.

She's judged and taught agility in Europe, America and South Africa and was the coach of the Italian National Squad at the WAO for six years. She has written many articles for dog magazines around the world and, in the olden days, had a column called Perennial Starter in Agility Eye.

This year she has got to be a grown up for at least three days as she is thrilled, honoured and terrified to be judging at the WAO.

Other People's Other Halves
Comments from Agilitynet FB

Georgia De La Cour 
Mine doesn't do agility anymore but still helps with club training. He takes my mum and I to UK shows (from Jersey) and tows the caravan, sets it all up and takes it all down again. He does all the cooking while we are camping and watches us compete and commiserates with me when it goes wrong. We have a local show tomorrow and when I get home, there will be dinner on the table and a bottle of wine in the fridge.

Karen Stubbs
I've been doing this agility malarkey for about 12 years with my then one dog. My husband used to tow the caravan to a show, help us set up, then go back home as he worked weekends. He came back for us after driving all day with his job. Setting up was, well, shall we say colourful! We always used to 'fall out' and people at first used to run and hide... haha. They soon got used to us!

Since he retired he now stays on site with us and didn't really bother with the agility side of things, just asking how my dogs had done. After a while he snook over to take a peek at what we did - he couldn't understand why I always came back to the 'van breathless. After witnessing my runs, he not only understood why but was in awe that I, his wife, did this sort of thing and began to be more interested on how my dogs had gone on. He now understands why I train and has dropped the idea of thinking the dogs did it all themselves. I wish! He absolutely loves staying on site now.

I'm not saying we don't still get colourful on setting up, we always will... haha.

Amanda Rodgers 
I found mine at an agility show. That's been a great help.

Jean Tuck
Our son came to a show - said it looked like a Star Trek convention! Fortunately it did not stop him from taking photos of my dogs which why he came in the first place.

Neil Hedges
An agility other half here. I go to most shows to not just support, but look after the other dogs of which there can be up to eight of, dependent on how many foster dogs we have around our own four, three of which compete.

The first show I ever went to, I found it very strange watching people walk the course. Now, I understand why and the need to do so.

You can pretty much put money on it that when I'm at a show, people will ask me something about which height is running or some other agility related question of which I'll not know the answer. I'm at the point of having a hoodie printed to say 'Groom & Chauffeur' to indicate that I don't know what's going on.

After a few years of going along, it's safe to say I've not learnt much at all. Initially, I was a liability but over time we have got organised. When we arrive, the other half puts up any shelter or camping stuff whilst I take the dogs for a walk. As someone else said, 'the ladies can organise all this stuff in half an hour whilst the show would be over were it left to me to set ourselves up.'

For me, there are a number of ways to approach being an agility other half. I could become an agility widower, could go along and bitch and moan, or I could go along and try and make it worthwhile for myself and support my partner to boot. I choose to go along. Throughout an agility show, there are a number of things I do to make the best out of it. My primary aim is to look after the dogs, walk them, play with them and spend time with them. Also, I can take naps, read a book, play games on my phone - completed every level on pet rescue saga - or catch up on some emails. If I'm feeling particularly adventurous, I'll head off and find the odd geocache. I'll often go down to the rings and watch the runs although I'm a bit of a hindrance because our shepherd keeps leaving the ring mid run to look for me. Also, being around the ring gives me opportunity to visit trade stands to treat the dogs and try the catering to help with my agility catering facility reviews. Eventually, I did a canine massage therapy course which has enabled me to warm the dogs up and down correctly. Sometimes, if it's best for the dogs, I'll stay at home and look after the non-competing ones. 

So overall, I've made the best of the opportunities. I go by the mantra of 'whatever is best for the dogs' and being able to support my partner the best way I can. So if I'm there, I make the best of it, meet dogs and people and generally try and keep myself amused. So if you're at a show and see someone looking lost, bemused or out of place, it's probably me, groom and chauffeur.

Sarah Bauer 
Mine came to get our first dog measured at Ardingly many years back. He didn't move from the car. He came to watch his first run (Allsorts at Bentley Wildfowl) a month later and he never returned. 
He loved it when I was away camping when we were competing. New pup will be out next spring so I'm guessing after four years of me at home he will enjoy the peace again.

Anna Burn 
When mine came to his first agility show, he said 'Do you lot all do this because you can't afford horses?'

Jan Wilkin
I won't let mine come with me. He's a liability! It takes him an hour to unpack and erect the tent, and then he's exhausted. I can unpack, put up the tent, blow up the air bed, put up the cooking area and chairs and be ready to walk the dogs in half an hour. Love him dearly, but he's such a big girl's blouse when it comes to camping that it's best he stays home and mows the lawn or something.

Linda Seaton
I took my hubby to Paws in the Park, armed with a load of fishing magazines to stop him from being bored. After an hour he asked when it was finishing. He went down the rings to watch. The thing he enjoyed was watching the dogs that went wrong or did a runner. I leave him home now. I am not complaining. He's fixed my motorhome up with inverter, microwave, solar panels etc, and never complains when I go missing in action every weekend and sometimes for three weeks at a time... bless him

Aimee & Chris KertonAimee Kerton 
Five years ago our usual weekend was I went off to agility with the dogs, hubby went off to footie with the boys. Along came our little boy Ossian, and thatís where it all changed. What was just meant to be him training my dogs to keep them fit - with me teaching - sparked his competitive nature as he was a natural at it! 

So when I was ready to compete again a few months after Osh was born, the choice for him was come to the show or stay at home, so his answer was 'I may as well come, but if Iím coming I may as well run a dog. Which one can I have?'

Four years on, my hubby Chris Kerton has taken our headstrong blue Merle WSD (who had no skills) Figaro to Grade7. He's been in numerous Champ finals, competed for Wales, and this year is Team Manager for WAO Team Wales and fitness coach for Team GB after setting up Karma Fitness specifically for fitness for agility handlers!

Cathy Withall 
My husband supports me completely and has helplessly watched my growing addiction over the past three years. He has been my rock through the past ten months during which we have spent thousands of pounds trying to diagnose our older girl's lameness, which culminated in a messy cruciate tear in January, two operations and her retirement from agility. He adores our dogs, builds equipment for me, tows the caravan to shows, has learnt to speak (most!) of the language, grooms for me and friends and doesn't blink an eyelid at our regular 150-mile physio round trips. I think for me it summed it up when I cautiously suggested that we might have to look for a third dog, and his reply was "You're going to need a van..." (I have had the van nearly a year, and the hunt for dog number three is well underway ;) ). I couldn't do it without his support.

Marian Quick
My husband and I don't have any dogs, but I love watching them compete. My husband will drive me all over the place and wanders about whilst I sit and spectate... bless him.

Karen Gray
My husband has no interest in agility and doesnít understand why we doní t just teach the dogs to read the numbers, simples.

Dom Cotton
Life is certainly simpler being single. It's not that I didn't do what I wanted before I split with my partner of 25 years. It was just the constant justification of why you're away most weekends despite the fact that he had demanding and expensive hobbies, too. Life is too short not to do what you want.

Joanne Troup
My husband finds agility boring, and hates shows! But he will tow our caravan to any show not more than 1.5 hours away, and drive home then comes back for me at the end of the show. He helps set up and take down the caravan and has also allowed me another dog, as my original agility dog can't do much anymore. I'm very lucky that he supports me in this way, or he really would rather spend weekends alone and this is the only way he can do it.

Jess Wealleans
I had one like that, it ended for many reasons, one was the dogs. My new OH came to one training session and then got his own puppy. He has not overcome his fears and began running my main dog. In fact, he ran and won at Lincoln last weekend! Heís now my fiancť. Life is better now. 

Gwen Stephenson 
Mine has been to pretty much every show and stood on the side line when my girl makes used to bee line for him. She's older and more experienced now but still likes him on the start line. He's watched me face plant the floor at the final jump and stood and gaped in total disbelief as I jumped the final jump instead of running past it. He's become the 'groom' for quote a few of my agility mates who welcome an extra pair of hands whilst they walk their courses. He's just about starting to understand the strange language we all use, too - round the back, wrong end, decel, in extension. I am so I'm lucky that he lets me drag him off round the country to do the thing.

Jules Vickerman
I got dumped after 33 years.

Jennie Hammond 
My man is very supportive couldn't ask for more. He stays at home three Saturdays out of four when he's not working while I go training and looks after three kids. He has driven 250 miles to tow a caravan as I can't tow it so I can enter a show. If I ask him about camping, he agrees and tows the caravan and looks after the kids while I run our dog. He looks after the kids while I go to shows and travels to the show with the kids to meet me and watch me run. He's always there if we've had a bad run or having trouble with a turn or a combination and always the first to congratulate me when we do well. He puts up with me spending on things like cool coats, cool mats, coconut oil, new collars and leads and bowls we may not need. He even bought me a cage and spent months finding one to fit my 307 hatchback - not an easy feat. He is the greatest as he doesn't understand agility, doesn't really like it but supports me 100%.

Graham Avery 
We both do agility and love it.

Jacqueline Maria Hewitt 
My husband is a keen runner and has done 80 different park runs. It comes in very useful when trying to get him to accompany me to a dog show as I can look for a nearby park run that he hasn't done yet. I'm also always trying to convince him to take up agility as I know he'll be good. One day...

Sharon Pearce 
For the last 15 years plus my husband has been to every show supporting me by being my groom. He loves it. He is now having a go running and I am watching and cheering him on. He has been my rock. Couldn't have done it without him.

Sue Pickerin 
Mine finally agreed to a caravan on the understanding that he would help set up, look after the dogs while I was walking courses etc. and cook meals BUT he was never going to get involved in running a show. He now scribes, helps set up rings and has been Show Manager for several shows. He cannot run a dog for health reasons but would dearly like to.

Chris Garrett 
My late husband often came along to day shows and almost all camping shows, although he sometimes enjoyed a weekend at home alone. He enjoyed doing ring party, chatting with all our friends, cuddling all the dogs and really got into photography. He would take some fabulous shots and give them to people we knew. He would also have a lie-in in the caravan, listen to the radio, read a paper, spend time with non-competing dogs or go and explore the area. He would do the washing up, empty the loo, help to set up camp and always took it down while I was finishing up my runs. The best part was being all together for a lot of the time and I miss it terribly.

Glen Chance 
Could not do Agility without the support of my husband. He prefers to play golf at his Club at the week end but drives and sets me up anywhere I want to go then comes and picks me back up.

Elizabeth Graham 
My hubby is into cycling. We also run a business together, meaning that pretty much one of us has to be at home all the time. So he gets a day off to cycle, I get a day off to do agility. It pretty much works.

Helen Mumford 
My other half does come along to some shows. He loves watching people and dogs but finds it hard to understand why people take so long and why we have so long to walk courses. He did not realise how much walking was done by me running and checking on things. He always comes back so tired.

Kimberly Stuart 
My other half came to his first agility show with me after a few weeks of dating. He's not been to one since. His first reaction was 'You're all absolutely mad!' but he's very supportive at the same time. He is going to build and weld me some equipment as well as fencing off an area at his family farm for me to train. However, two years on he's still not done a second show with me.

Shirley Elkins
My husband has probably only ever been to one maybe two shows in the 20 or so years I've have been competing, but over the years he has made A-frames, Dog Walks, all my jumps, and a few years ago he even built me a 60í x 45í shed so I could train under cover. He never moans when I get another dog and looks after my old dogs while I'm away at weekend shows.

Karen Lawlor
The reason I got a dog was because my OH works night's and weekends so I wanted some company. He loves that I have my own hobby and friends. At weekends he is either working or sleeping so he likes that we are all gone so he doesn't feel guilty. He has drawn the line at three dogs though!

Amy Garcťs 
My husband travels a lot with work so heís glad I have my own hobby. He generally says goodbye in April knowing he wonít really see me until October. As long as we have our holidays together and Iím around during the winter months heís ok with it. Iíve tried to get him into agility but heís not interested.

Melanie Wright
Simple... be single.

Karen Howell 
Mine's joined a golf club!

Jo Maisey 
Mine has no interest in coming to agility with me. Finds a whole weekend of it boring. He goes skiing and plays hockey internationally (for the old gitskaren). 

For my birthday one year he suggested we go away in the motorhome with the dogs. To Wales. Where he was playing hockey. It poured with rain all weekend. So for my birthday I got to sit in a motorhome while it poured with rain and he ran about a field chasing a ball with a stick. I have yet to get my own back!

First published 2nd May 2019


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