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Memories are made of this...

You've probably heard stories about the old days of Agility when everything was 'friendlier and more fun.' Here's a selection of voices from the past and present, recalling their own experiences from a time when dogs were worked on the left, all courses were figure 8-shaped and you only did an obstacle once on a course. Thank you to everyone who has contributed a memory or picture.

Agility & Valgrays Grow Up Together
Val Phillips (Pollock)

In memory of: Motor Mouse, Motor Girl, Rockswood Fillíe of Valgrays, Tessa Tess of Valgrays,
Valvicks Border Bess, Thomas the Tank of Valgrays & Tilly the Terror of Valgrays

In 1978 I remember I was up at the Olympia Horse Show with my friend Pam who was a groom for Ted Edger. That evening Dog Agility was added to the programme - just a few jumps,  door frame (tyre) and weaves in flower pots. As soon as I watched this, I was hooked.

A couple of weeks, I received a telephone call from a Mr. Varley, if memory is right, to see if I would like to do an agility demo with some others! And so started my agility days.

1979 was my first ever competition. Pedigree Chum were the only shows. It was always a figure of eight and always handled on the left. There was no contact equipment and there was always a table. At that time, I had a couple of collies including Motor Mosue (George) and Motor Girl (Meg).

Slowly over the early years other shows were put on, and it was always such fun. Most only had one ring and you only had two runs so most of the competitors stood and watched each other.

At that time I trained in my field Ö. I had some equipment built and purchased some bits and bobs from a local supplier. From that day in the 70s I never ever thought that I would have achieved so much with my beautiful dogs and fill so honoured to have been in this sport.

Many of you know that in 1978, the same year as I first saw dog agility at Olympia, that I opened up my own dog rescue and now over the years it is well known as Valgrays Border Collie Rescue. All of my competing and pet dogs are dogs which I have kept on when they have come into me. So competing with these dogs was extra special as I gave them a chance in life and they in return gave me their love and dedication.

My dogs were super. They all loved agility and won so many events. They qualified for most of the big finals and I must say how proud I was of them. As a partnership, we qualified for Olympia many times - seven I think.

During the days of agility, I also judged many of the qualifiers. Crufts was my accolade and will always stay in my memory for ever. I have many highs and not so many lows. Sadly the years have moved on and my special dogs are now at Rainbow Bridge but they are never ever forgotten.

Val Philips George winning the Pedigree ChumI do remember that once I attended a show on the wrong day. I drove all the way to Watford, arrived at the grounds and noticed that the venue was empty. At first I  thought it had been cancelled until I looked at the schedule and saw it it was Sunday. Red face or what? Being blond, I was called lots of names. The next stupid thing was chatting away on the motorway and missing the junction where we should have come off. Oh, well that made up the fun of going to shows.

The years now have gone bye, my beautiful dogs I have now loved and lost my memories of the good ole days will stay with me forever. I'm now back out on the agility circuit, older, wiser, stiffer, not as fast and screaming at my dog Sky to slow down.

To the many friends I have made to the many friends I have lost thank you for sharing all these wonderful doggie agility years with me and my canines.

Still Waiting...
Phil Culworth

I happened on Agilitynet today and saw that Cluffie and I were included as winning the Pedigree Chum Agility Stakes at Olympia in 1979. Here is a photo of Cluffie and me with the British Dog Fare Stakes Cup at Leeds Castle that year. There is a rather amusing story about it that you might be interested to hear.

We won the cup for the fastest clear round at the event and this qualified us for the event at Olympia. I don't know what the actual time was but Cluff finished before I did. We were presented with the Cup and managed to get one photo of us with it. It was then taken from us by the organiser who told me that this was so that our names could  be inscribed. It would then be returned to us. It is now 29 years later and we still have not received it!

As far as I am aware, 1979 was the last year it was competed for, so I suppose technically we are still the holders. At the time, I was a member of the Pontefract DTC Agility team. Frank Lee, who was also part of the team, and I, still have a good laugh about it. Looking on the positive side, it has saved me having to keep the Cup clean for all of those years.

The following  year, was a special one also. Cluffie and I were invited to appear in the 'Personallity Parade' at Crufts -a great thrill and honour - and with Pontefract DTC we won the Team Agility Competition at Crufts.

Team Relay
I remember entering an agility relay competition with Cluff and Frank Lee with Brady. I don't know if you have them now, but basically it was a relay with one pair completing a round and handing over to the second pair completing a second round.

It was decided that Cluff and I go first and hand over to Frank and Brady, looking back not the best of our ideas. We duly did the first round and handed over, but Cluff was enjoying himself so much he did another round alongside Frank and Brady! We got 10/10 for entertainment value, but that was the sort of dog he was - a joy to be with.

My family have been trying for some years to try to get hold of a video of Cluff at Olympia so that my grandchildren can see what he was like but without any success. In those days, we did not have a video recorder so could not record the TV shows ourselves. Perhaps someone who visits Agilitynet may have some ideas on where or how, or even if, a video exists. Any information or help would be much appreciated.

Here another old photo of three of the Pontefract DTC Agility team practicing. From the left to right: Phil with Cluff, Anne Laver with Skippy and Frank Lee with Brady. Notice the cardboard box in the background. That was one of our fences. We were really sophisticated in those days! 


I retired him from agility competition in 1982 when he slipped on the 'catwalk' at a Lincoln DTC event. Although he did not actually fall off, I retired him straight away as I could not bear the thought of him injuring himself. From that point, we just entered obedience competitions until he became too old for that, although he still enjoyed it. Due to work and other commitments, I stopped going to 'doggy' events in 1988 and have not been to a show since that time, but I keep in touch with several 'doggy' people. I watch the Crufts events on TV and thoroughly enjoy them and I have to say, marvel, at the expertise and skill now shown by the competitors.

Sadly Cluffie, my great mate, passed away at the age of 14,  but he is still remembered with great love and affection by me and my family. He gave us all a great deal of pleasure and he is still sadly missed.

P.S. It is strange to see that your partner John has just interviewed Freddie Welham for the Kennel Gazette and Agilitynet. It is worth stating that the dog training fraternity owe a great debt to Freddie and his wife Margaret for their tireless efforts with regard to Working Trials and to Agility over a great many years. Their knowledge and experience of dogs is limitless and they have always had time to give advice to handlers such as myself.

I Was There
Jean Magee

In 1978 my then husband, Francis, and I decided at the last minute to go down to London to watch friends of ours competing at Crufts, which at that time was in Earl's Court (London.) We travelled in a bus hired by a Mrs Mallabar - no relation to our present esteemed KC representative - who ran the GSD club in our area.

The bus picked us up at midnight in Newcastle but it broke down halfway there. My husband, who was not known for his 'get up and go', in that instance got up and went, dragging me with him. The pre global-warming February night was cold and wet, and I was wearing my best summer clothes and tight shoes. I did not want to embarrass myself by standing on a motorway trying to hitch a lift. However, in the event, bedraggled and cold, we got to Earl's Court just as the queue was going in.

We were warned before we went that we must get in the queue before the doors opened and we must make our way immediately to the obedience ring, find seats and stay in them for the entire day. We were told that seats couldn't be kept and, once we left a seat, we would have no chance of getting another one. My memory is not so good - I canít remember how we arranged toilet and food breaks.

I can remember that along with a group of friends, we settled into brilliant seats bang in the middle of the long side of the ring. I had the best view in the house with the competitors coming in on my left and all the exercises being done right in front of me. The spectators behind my seat and all round the ring were six deep.

At some time during the day a commotion occurred over to my right. I could hear laughter, shouting and clapping. A buzz rippled through the hall. Everybody turned to look in the direction of the noise. En-mass, the standing spectators began to move to where the noise was coming from and then lots of seated spectators left as well. 'It's like Horse of the Year show but with dogs' I heard someone say. Belatedly, Francis and I picked up our baggage and rushed after the crowd. Francis elbowed his way through the throng but I was stuck at the back.

All I could see was some sort of rickety scaffolding much higher than our heads. To my amazement, a German Shepherd galloped across it. The crowd around and in front of me were going wild. Everyone was shouting and laughing. People at the front were giving running commentaries for those at the back. Just for an instant, the crowd parted in front of me and I saw a dog clearing a hurdle and then gallop off to places unknown. Another dog went over the scaffolding and then a deep disappointed sigh from those around me. It was all over.

All dog people talked about for the rest of Crufts and weeks after, was the agility. It was apparent even at the very beginning that this was the shape of things to come. Lots of big name obedience people started to teach their dogs agility, Sue Potter to name one.

And the broken down bus?  It arrived complete with passengers just as the cleaners had started work and we were leaving to catch a National Express.

Memories of the Early Days
Audrey Rogers

I have written down a few memories but since I had renal failure, my brain seems to have forgotten quite a lot of the past, especially names and dogs.

Reg and I started out around 1983 doing agility with our two GSDs, Sheba and Tara. Both disliked the obedience side of training but soon picked up on agility. The early days were fun.

To start with, the classes were small, having an entry of maybe 60 dogs. You only had two runs - 1 x Agility and 1 x Jumping. Places went to 6th with a trophy for the 1st. Some clubs gave out a diploma for a clear round.

The equipment was variable in both height and stability. All dogs - large and small - jumped 2ft 6in height. The weave poles were knocked into the ground and the spaces between the poles varied according to the shoe size of the person pegging them in! The poles could be straight or L-shaped to turn a corner.

 The classes were nearly always following Obedience guidelines. Eventually over the years, regulations were put into practice to standardise the competition. Entries got bigger and I can well remember when our club, Watford AC, actually got its first 100. We also had a running order which we strictly kept to and we wore our ring cards.

In the early days, we travelled miles, getting up in the dark and returning in the dark. Hemel started to offer camping and though we only lived a few miles away, it was great. In the evenings we had square dancing and beautiful BBQs, cooked by Dave Ray.

Our furthest show destination was Jersey, a show started by Graham and Patrice Taylor. Over the three days, we went to separate locations on the Island. If the tide was going out, we had agility on the beach but the Council eventually stopped dogs going onto the sands. When Graham came back to the UK, Di and Chris with Janine and Alex took over. At one site, we had to clear cowpats before we could set up. The classes were very small so we could sit by our tents until we were called for our run. There was no queuing then.

When we were not competing, we went with Norman Hill or Graham Taylor to the many country fairs to give demonstrations which were - and still are - very popular with the public. Gatcombe Park was memorable as Princess Anne spent some time speaking with us and showing quite an interest in the agility courses.

Peter Lewis' recent articles in The Voice brought back lovely memories of the people and the dogs we met. GSDs, Labs and Boxers are in the minority now, having been overtaken by the collies. Gone is the hand-held stop watch for timing and the course times have shrunk from a 60 second round to under half of that. The extra equipment - except for the qualifiers - which was normal, has now been replaced by more jumps. How lovely it would be to see a well, brush jumps, water jump and wall on a course again but that would be impractical now with all the rings being laid out to accommodate the different classes.

These are wonderful memories. Everything is being fast forwarded and I wonder if today's new handlers will ever be able to appreciate the fun, goodwill and camaraderie that went with the early days of agility..

Seen on the Agility Scene
Irene Holbrook

I seem to remember that the shows were much more relaxed and casual. There seemed to be more space and fewer dogs muzzled. We used to sit around the rings and watch rounds. A lot of the time was spent watching the different ways of getting round the course as there weren't so many people offering training courses, and the like, then. It also didn't seem to rain as much so you could get the sun loungers out and relax.

Just thought of one incident that we all laughed at. Several of us were watching a Pedigree Chum Competition. The judge was male. I will not mention his name. The competitor - a lady - was dressed in white, very tight leggings and a low suntop. You can probably guess what I am going to say. The Judge, as all the men were, was intent on watching the competitor, who went clear, but the Judge knocked a jump over and nearly fell. Doesn't sound much now, but it was funny then.

My Boy Bob
John Head

Way back in 1998 I had the good fortune to compete with my dog Bob (My Boy Bob) in the Crufts Team Agility Competition at the NEC in Birmingham. The three teams competing that Saturday night were, I believe, Wellow, Burridge and Wilton. At that time, we were living in Scotland and we ran for the East Lothian Dog Training Club.

I do remember that our captain, Kathy Keith, ran first and had five faults at the wall. Our second to go had three time faults. Bob performed superbly, giving us a clear round in a remarkably fast time and putting us in 2nd place for the last round. Unfortunately our final dog was eliminated. Seeing it on video afterwards it is quite clear that the dog injured itself at the wall and was in pain for the rest of the run. at the time we assumed it was just one of those days! I have tried for a while now to find running times etc. but with no luck.

Whilst we failed to get past the semi final stage, it was an experience of a lifetime, never to be forgotten. Bob certainly did not let me or the team down. He is now approaching 16 years of age and is living out the rest of his life south of the border after moving back in 2001.

Queen of Hearts
Queenie Tether

My agility hobby began after the loss of my beloved Red Setter Rebe. I watched some training at Bretons in 1982 and decided that my next dog would be a Border Collie. In 1983, I bought Shadow, a Working Sheepdog and immediately began working him in obedience and agility. He was a natural and truly loved what we were doing which spurred me on further.

My first show with Shadow was at the Essex Showground in 1984. It was a bit of a surprise as we had not encountered a tyre nor an A-frame previously. Needless to say, we didn't win! After more training with Brenda Reay, we actually won a class judged by Brian Elson at Ardingley. Shadow's rosettes still hang proudly in their display cabinet to this day.

Misty came along in 1985 and I began to train her at Bretons and Delarose with Tony Veal. Her training took a holiday after a lapse by her dog minder which resulted in an unplanned mating. I kept one of the pups, Storm and shortly after made a home for Lassie, a rescue dog. All of a sudden, the house became quite small. Despite Lassie's hard start in life, she took to agility and she was my only dog so far that has taken me to Olympia.

All four of my dogs by now got me into Senior level which led to me being asked to judge competitions, another challenge I undertook and enjoyed. Among many judging appointments, I was privileged to judge three finals - Spillers K/O, Vetzyme Golden Oldies and Pro Plan Circular K/O. During this period, I also got a third in the Spillers K/O, final having won the agility warm up that morning.

By now, I was training just about everywhere with Brenda at Bretons, Tony Veal, Chris Bolton, Linda Keene, Elaine Auty, Helen Murphy, Angela Gadenne and many many more. Over the last 24 years I owe a great deal to them all.

Sadly twenty five years means that my beloved dogs who brought me into this world of agility are no longer with me but there are others who, whilst never replacing those before them, fill a special place in my heart. I have been privileged to work and love Star and Sonny plus the two mad ones I currently work - Sky and her son, Sea - all making it into Senior.

So thanks to all those who have helped, encouraged and supported me over the last twenty five years, it is much appreciated. Not least my husband Les, for sharing our house, the time and the cash.

Note: If you have a memory you would like to share, just send it to Agilitynet.

First published 30.04.09


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