A magical Christmas agility show
One Thursday morning in December Jim Gregson arrived at Newcastle International Airport only to find his flight had been delayed by two hours. What a start to his Irish trip! Text messages flew back and forth but finally he arrived in Belfast where he was going to introduce UK Agility at the fabulous Belfast International Horse Show. In fact, he got more than he bargained for. Here's what happened in his own words.
The welcome was incredibly warm and genuine. I was there on behalf of UK Agility to arrange the dog agility for the Belfast International Horse Show at The Odyssey Arena in association with Lisburn DTC. It would be the first time that dog agility would be seen at the Belfast International Horse Show which ran from 2-5 December.
Eventually I found myself at the lovely Brookhall Historical Farm where I met the lady of the house, a smashing woman called Pauline and her Councillor husband Sam. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They provided the biggest breakfasts I have ever seen anywhere, and the late night discussions on local and national politics required more than a little liquid refreshment to oil the tonsils.
splendid venue for
This was the first time agility had been put on at the Belfast International Horse Show, and we were constrained by the time allotted. Also the original numbers had already been reduced to ten competitors by the show management who I think were wary of this new event to their programme.
By default due to problems outside of my remit, I found myself being asked if I would like the honour of judging the competitions at the show to which I replied that I would be delighted.
A mini flap
The agility competition
Our Scribe and keeper of the scores, as well as the overall results, was Cheryl Harkness who did an excellent job. Poor Cheryl had been unlucky. Her dog had come down with kennel cough just before and could not compete. But her loss was our gain as she was brilliant. And it gave reserve Steve Benton the chance to come in, and boy did he enjoy it!
After one or two problems relaying the judge's score to the commentator in the high gallery at the Friday matinee, the commentators got the idea and for all the rest of the performances, they did us proud. They whipped the crowds into an all mighty frenzy, particularly at the matinee when it was full of school kids.
That did nothing to help Joanne Hughes who is a teacher and was one of the competitors. Her class sat in the three rows in back of the weaves. They were astonished to see that their teacher who had taken the day off was actually part of the show. They screamed her name and she definitely heard them!
The winner of that was none other than Michael McCartney who ran first and had a storming round. I was pleased for him as he had put a lot of work into organising the event for the show. In Northern Ireland, by the way, he is something of a celebrity. He is in all the top glossy magazines and is definitely THE dog trainer and handler. Is there anyone who doesn’t know him!
In the end, Mervyn Fleming just pipped Michael McCartney as the overall winner, mainly because Steve Benton knocked Michael down one place on the last run of the contest when Steve went on win the last class of the show.
Happily final total also meant that there were no arguments in the Benton household. Both Steve and Nicola ended up with the same score of 21 points. I think that was why Steve was going like a rocket.
As I walked into the Odyssey arena on the Saturday night, I found myself thinking that the atmosphere was electric. For some reason, the build up on that night - plus the performances - was the best of the whole show. It was as if I had lots of time. Once the equipment had been put up, I had time to look around. The whole arena was packed full. It was a wonderful feeling to be there. It made all the effort and time you put in to training your dogs absolutely worthwhile. There’s no competition like these big ones.
So if you asked to judge at a competition such as this, take the offer straightaway. Then worry later.
I was honoured to judge - a pleasure made such by the competitors and all the other people helping us from clubs from all over Northern Ireland and Ireland. Everyone was friendly and helpful - the show management, ring crew, ring managers and security guys etc. And best of all, they had respect for all of us taking part in the dog agility.
I look forward to next year at the Belfast International Horse Show.
For more information about UK Agility, visit http://www.ukagility.com/