The way it was...
Agility Avid (nom de plume) has many, many happy memories of her early days of agility when it was a very new hobby dog sport. Equipment, teaching and handling techniques were in their infancy. The majority of dogs were slower in comparison to these days, and injuries were extremely rare. Some said that agility was for 'dogs with no brains', but she and her dogs were having fun. Avid looks back to her early dalliance with the sport.
I have been involved with agility for more years than I care to remember, having transferred allegiance from Obedience. I looked for a club and was mortified to be refused membership to one well known one and was directed to another where they asked about my goal. I replied instantly that I wanted to be good enough to enter competitions.
I have so many happy memories combined with some rather horrifying ones relating to some of the early equipment and training methods. Even in those days, I would speak my mind if I thought something was unsafe, not always making me popular.
Inter-club competitions and demos
We were also encouraged to take part in demonstrations before competing.
Not all demonstration venue were perfect. One in particular springs to mind. A village which was celebrating some sort of longevity invited us to do a demo in the garden of the local pub which was not ideal as the ground was rather undulating due to a mole invasion. In the event, it was decided to run the demo as a circular knockout, whereby those who ran their dogs away - yes, even in those days we did a sort of distance handling and layering - had to run across a rhubarb patch. We handlers had to jump rhubarb and vegetables and layer raspberry and black currant bushes etc. The demonstration team also consisted of two lively dogs - and handlers, too - whose dogs would compete against each other running down a line bursting balloons. This was a great crowd pleaser.
wonderful world of shows
First of all, our club strongly stressed that you could only complete if you could do all the equipment.
At that time, show schedules were like gold dust at our club. You were allowed only one copy per person. Remember there was no internet then and no Agilitynet in those days. We knew nothing about The Agility Voice or The Agility Eye. If you were not fast enough, all the paper schedules could be gone. We learned to collect them from shows where they would be laid out on the Show Secretary's table. We had to enter by post by sending a SAE to the Show Secretary, and proof of post was recommended in case your entry was late.
We used to compete at various venues where the quality of the ground was not always good. Sometimes it could be like a ploughed field, and I chose not to compete as I would fear for my dog's safety. At one show, the Mini ring grass had not been cut properly and the judge placed the weaves in the long grass. This upped the degree of difficulty for the tiniest that could hardly see over the long grass.
In those days, Minis were not respected nor were their handlers taken seriously, often being referred to as ‘Moaning Minis' with their 'handbag dogs' and the such like. By this time I had a Mini and I did take exception.
At another particularly sandy venue, the Mini ring was set up beside a rabbit warren. Well, you can guess what invariably happened.
Our Large dogs often jumped different heights in different rings being as at the time, Elementary was 2ft and Starters 2ft 6in. Dogs often had to jump really high a short distance from cloth tunnel. Note: The wooden house entrance to the cloth tunnel.
All sorts of disasters used to happen with hand timing as there was no electronic timing then. One memorable moment for me was a straight run for home on a slight incline – so I sent my collie ahead whilst I flailed way behind. You can guess what happened. The timer waited until I crossed the line before he stopped the stopwatch!
It was a rarity to have more than one dog competing or to own a van. Not many shows had camping, so they were smaller, often finishing early. I often used to go for a cream tea on my way home. I do miss those days... especially the cream teas.
Many people ran their dogs only on the left, resulting in an outcry around the rings when course design started to initiate right hand weaves.
Rings did not stop for anything and used to carry on whatever the weather. I remember score-boarding at one show during a thunderstorm when a number of competitors complained to the judge that the claps of thunder were putting off their dogs and were awarded another run. In fact, it was quite commonplace for a judge to say ‘Have another go.'
Most shows held a raffle for charity and when approached by the lovely 'Port and Lemon' to purchase tickets. Who could refuse?
It was not unusual to see handlers training in flip-flops, Green Flash tennis shoes or court shoes. Shell suits or tracky bottoms with stripes down the side were the commonly worn garments. Then along came the Lycra brigade and things began to change.
Looking back, it was a leisurely, mostly stress-free time for me. There was no tannoy telling you to get to the ring, pick up your poo or reminding cars to slow down etc. There were no catering vans or chuck wagons unless there was a pack of scouts doing refreshments. However, if an ice cream van appeared, that was heaven.
How far we have come
During this 2020/2021 agility drought, I realise that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time spent engulfed in this hobby. The trip down memory lane has brought back both sad and joyful memories, and I am absolutely confident that my agility journey will continue long after the current Covid health crisis has passed. I look forward to re-kindling hobby friendships within our community.
A big thank you for Janine Harvey for sharing some of her old photos.
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