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Safety first but the fun will follow...

Kerry Rhodes started her agility journey with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks - Axl (6 years) and Rain (12 months) – both entire males. Initially it was meant to something they could do together - just as a bit of fun with no intention of ever competing.  She looked for quite some time for a club who would allow them to join them but, as soon as you mentioned the breed, people weren't interested or didn't even bother returning her phone calls.  Eventually, she found East Yorkshire Agility Club (EYAC) and was invited to one of their Sunday morning club sessions to have a go. She has never looked back and has now been competing with her boys for six years.

As soon as we arrived the buzz was infectious. There were lots of different breeds in the Beginners class - not just Collies - and for that, I felt very relieved as thus far I really had felt about as welcome as rattlesnake in a lucky dip in the agility world.  I appreciate that to most people Ridgebacks aren't the usual first choice for agility, but I didn't choose the dog for the hobby. I chose the hobby once I already had the dog, so that wasn't about to put me off.

Ridgebacks are clever, autonomous, agile and have a high prey drive so I figured running, jumping and belting about would suit them down to the ground.  Add their ability to learn cues and hand signals fairly quickly, I didn't see why we shouldn't at least give it a whirl.

After a couple of taster sessions, we decided this was the hobby for us so I arranged for Axl and Rain to have their hips and elbows scored under x-ray to ensure their joints would be sound enough to jump and take the forces of the sport.

My boys weigh in at around 40kg so it was imperative that their joints could take the strain. Sadly, Rain's results were not as good as I would have wished and I wasn't prepared to take a risk with his mobility and decided not to pursue the hobby with him.  Axl, however, had smashing scores and so we set our sights to learning how to do it properly. 

After a year of attending EYAC for training once a week, we put in for a G1 Jumping run at Dog Vegas in Thetford. Many people may know me as the owner of Rhodes 2 Safety Canine First Aid Training and my reason for choosing Dog Vegas Thetford for our debut was solely because I was teaching a session there that weekend. 

Some would say we were not ready
I would certainly say I had no idea what I was doing, where I should be going, how to book in, what a running order was or any other thing, but I did know how to count the number of obstacles and jumps! The nerves that day were incredible. How can you possibly feel so terrified doing something that is supposed to be fun?  We finally worked out that we needed a running order and booked in. We took our place in the queue behind about a gazillion black and whites and a few hundred spaniels. It was clear when looking around that a Ridgeback was something of a novelty, and I lost count of the number of times throughout the day that I heard people saying 'Oh, I think it's a Ridgeback. You don't see many of those do you?'

After our first run ever, it soon became apparent why you don't see many Ridgebacks running!  As I said, Ridgebacks are extremely clever and autonomous and tend towards deciding for themselves how best to run a course so our first run was, shall we say, interesting.  Of course, we got E'd. Of course, we got the obstacles in the wrong order. Of course, I forgot a bit where I was supposed to be going, but man did we have a blast!  We loved every single second of it from the bonding, the excitement, the adrenaline and even the jangling nerves.  We were very definitely hooked!

Chi jumping wellOver time we got better
We began competing regularly at indoor and outdoor venues and, though people began to recognise us a little bit, still we would hear them expressing surprise to see us and that expectant look in their eyes as they'd come over to watch and have a laugh at the big crazy ginger dog.

And Axl was funny. He loved being the fool and getting the laughs. He'd stop on the dog walk and make sure he had an audience. He'd beat me up on the finish line out of sheer exuberance. 

Once he got so excited with what he thought was the final straight of jumps that he just kept on running, left the ring, left the ménage and carried on right out into the horse fields beyond. He left me, standing perplexed with the judge in the ring. I looked at her, she at me, and we both shrugged our shoulders. I put my fingers in my mouth and whistled a sharp recall blast at which he spun round, careered back to the ring, over the A-frame and finished off the run perfectly.  As always, I turned to the judge as I left the ring to thank her and she said that the day had started way too early, needing to drive way too many miles to get there, it was way too cold, her feet hurt and she had a headache, but watching the sheer joy on Axl's face as he legged it back into the ring made it all worth while and that that was what she liked about agility.  Every dog is welcome. Every dog has flare, skills and downsides and you never know how they will choose to perform on the day. 

Axl went on to gain his Agility Warrant Bronze after two years and became only the second Rhodesian Ridgeback in the UK to gain an agility title. His son Chi (Khamioka Born Sweet Child of Metalrock) began at foundation level as soon as possible and picked it up much faster than his father. Whether he has more of an aptitude for agility or, more likely, I have slightly more idea what I'm supposed to be doing now, is anybody's guess but he is currently half way to going G6 so I guess we are doing something right.

Agility Ridgies
Because my boys loved it so much, we set up a Facebook group Agility Ridgies where Ridgebacks handlers with an interest or curiosity about agility could talk to other like-minded people.  We meet up in Melton Mowbray once every eight weeks with
Alisa Atkins of Active Dogz, a trainer who works with us and has now become the 'Agility Ridgeback Whisperer.' 

The ART (Agility Ridgies Team) League is now in it's 4th year and the number of ginger ninjas taking up the hobby is testament to the fact that they can indeed do it, if and when they feel so inclined. 

If you would like to join us, please find us on our Agility Ridgies FB group – the group is free but fees to join the league are just £5 per dog, and all the money goes straight to

About the author...
Kerry Rhodes is owner and MD of Rhodes 2 Safety, voted the UK's number one canine first aid training company for three years running.

She's had dogs since she was 13 years of age, starting with Labradors and moving on to Rhodesian Ridgebacks, her real first love, in 2006. She saw, and fell in love with, her first Ridgeback when she was just six years old and knew that one day she would have her own.

Kerry had a very handsome pack of three boys but sadly she lost Axl, at age 12, in October. She is hoping to stud Chi, Axl's son, at the end of the year and continue his line and and the agility adventure with the baby.

Kerry is the Chair of Ridgeback Rescue. Along side her first aid work, she puts all her energies into rescue and support for her  fabulous breed.  Since Axl passed in October, she haven't competed in agility but is hoping to be back to it now that the weather is behaving itself a little better.

Keep an eye out for the Agility Ridgies at the Dog Vegas competitions in the Midlands / North of England. She'll be the mad blonde woman showing herself up with the big ginger doofus!

First published 19th April 2019


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