The last agility weekend...

Rosie Pearson has always felt that all judging appointments were special, not just because the host club had invited her to fulfil an important role for them, but Championship classes always created unique memories and the Small Championship class at North Derbyshire DAC show last September was no exception for very personal reasons. What she had not told anyone beforehand was that this would be her final weekend of dog Agility as she had decided to retire from the sport. No-one knew until, in a voice breaking with emotion, she explained at the end of her Champ final briefing that these would be the last 20 dogs she would ever judge.

I was invited to judge both the Small and Medium Championship classes for NDDAC but, when the entry closing date arrived, it transpired that, allowing for 20 dogs of each height in the finals, the KC maximum 450 runs for a judge in a day would be exceeded by just four. The club very kindly gave me the choice of height and I opted for Small.  Sincere apologies to the lady from Dundee who told me she had travelled all the way down to Southwell for Medium Champ because she liked my courses. I really hope instead you enjoyed those set out by Neil Ellis who kindly stepped in to judge Medium.

I was determined not to create multiple pull throughs and frequent push round the back of jumps. Nor did I want Small dogs - or their handlers - to face 10m between every obstacle, so I designed courses that I hoped would flow and create natural lines for the dogs but nevertheless required attentive handling to avoid subtle traps of obstacle discrimination. For the most part, I think this is what was achieved.

Agility round
I was pleased with how the Agility course ran as there was no one specific place where eliminations occurred. A few dogs just couldn't resist the tunnel after completing the weaves while some chose to dart behind their handlers to back jump 7 on the run from 8 to 9. A few shelties seemed to enjoy doing this! Others found the A-frame more enticing than the see saw especially if handlers were not on the ball with their commands after taking fence 9.

Perhaps itís just me but does an elimination seem more frustrating when it comes in the last few obstacles of an otherwise clear round? Some dogs went for an early finish at the tyre instead of the tunnel at 18, or went back into the tunnel when they should have taken the tyre at 20. So close to a clear but an ĎE' instead.

However, the award for 'ultimate hard luck run of the day' must go to teenager Emilia Bowers with Rory Run Delap who were about to achieve a clear round when, needing only one more stride to complete the course, Rory came to a sudden stop with his nose almost touching the tyre and squatted to relieve himself. Emilia was understandably gutted, and my heart went out to her.

The Agility winners were:-

  1. Ashleigh Butler with The Closet Monster of Ashpen - 39.390 secs (C)

  2. Clive Foden with Ag.Ch. Mohnesee's Miss Chief AW/G - 44.110 secs (C)

  3. Helen Roberts with Bing Bong Bella - 44.823 secs (C)

Jumping round
Onto the Jumping round which had a fast running first part with more handling control required in the latter stages. Obstacles 15 to 20 didnít seem to flow as easily and naturally as I would have liked but perhaps, in some instances, this was due to people trying to ensure they didn't get eliminated and so give themselves an excellent chance of making it to the final.

There were not as many eliminations in this round. A few of them were due to taking Jump 12 from the wrong side, dogs preferring the tunnel instead of Jump 14, and then there were some communication breakdowns in the sequence from 15 to 19 with differences of opinion between dog and handler as to which side the obstacles should be taken from!

The Jumping winners were:-

  1. Lara Staplehurst with Jet Black Jazz - 38.009 secs (C)

  2. Peter Ray with Sybray White Blossom - 38.793 secs (C)

  3. Penny Lowes with Totanium Penny Black - 39.000 secs (C)

The two qualifying courses suited different dogs and handlers as illustrated by the top 3 placings in each. Only four people achieved double clears so well done to Lou Cadman, Clive Foden, Helen Roberts and Jan Smith. This meant that as the points from placings in the two rounds were combined handlers with faults in one or both runs had anxious eyes on the champ results monitor screen to see if they had made the elite top 20. Congratulations to everyone who did - an achievement to be proud of.

And so we came to the final. 
Again I set a course which would allow handlers to run at speed whilst needing to maintain clear and timely instructions for their dog if they were to take the correct obstacles. After a day of scattered showers and cloudy skies the sun was now shining as people gathered ringside to watch.

If you are first to run in a final then, in my opinion, you need just one tactic Ė go for it! Thatís exactly what Hayley Tindall did guiding Tindall's Usselby Princess AW/S to a clear round in a time of 43.298 secs. This set the benchmark and meant everyone else had to attack the course which, Iím delighted to say, they did. 

As handlers now tried to find the tightest lines, slightly mistimed cues resulted in refusals or dogs taking the wrong obstacles. A couple took the tunnel instead of the A-frame, and some didn't turn sharp enough after the wall at 11 and ended up on the dog walk instead of the see saw. 

With R/O 7 Donna Hathaway and Chiltern's Dillie Snowdrop AW/G gave us the next clear in 49.523 secs, showing just how quick a time Hayley had set. This was followed at R/O 10 by Julia Durrant and The Only Way Is Up, clear in 46.573s. Lou Cadman with Ag.Ch. Another Mad Moment stepped up to the start line at R/O 15 and together they put in a lovely clear in what would prove to the be the winning time of 42.605 secs as the last five to run all picked up faults or eliminations.

Lou Cadman & TwiggyHayley Tindall & FifiHuge congratulations to Lou and Twiggy on gaining their 7th CC - definitely thoroughly deserved as they were the only pair to go clear in all three Championship rounds.

Well done to Hayley and Fifi on taking the Reserve CC. You rose to the challenge of being first to run in the final and it paid off!

Thank you to North Derbyshire for entrusting me with the responsibility of judging the small championship classes at their show. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and am grateful to everyone who helped on ring party for ensuring that it all went so smoothly. But most of all my thanks go to the competitors for the positive way you each worked with your dogs. There was not a hint of harsh handling or being frustrated when things didnít go as you wanted. There were so many 'oh so nearly' moments, but you still left the ring with a smile on your face and thatís how it should be, because, after all, agility is meant to be fun.

My last runs
After an emotional Small Championship final on the Saturday, I then did my last competitive runs with my Shelties on the Sunday. Itís a good job these were on a lovely straightforward course - as all the Animal Heath Company water jump ones are - because it meant I could still just about see where to run despite the floods of tears. I also had enough breath left to praise and thank to my dogs at the end because the distance was reminiscent of shorter lengths from years gone by. All that remained was to clear away my camping spot. Driving my motorhome away from the venue there were more tears as the wonderful hobby which had dominated my leisure time for the past 20 years came to an end.

Why retire?
Retirement from agility certainly wasnít what I had envisaged at the start of 2017. Even though I was still reasonably fit, I realised within the first few shows of the year that I simply couldn't physically cope with the 200m sprints now required with the newly increased minimum spacings. I know that Agility isnít all about winning Ė itís about having fun with our dogs - but was it too unreasonable to hope that, if my Sheltie and I ran our hearts out, we could perhaps achieve a clear round and some warrant points? It seemed so, because now virtually every run we did on a Grade 6-7 course incurred time faults which was so demoralising.

I then had to decide about judging. Although my dream as a Championship Judge had always been that someday I might be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to officiate on the 'green carpet,' I increasingly felt that, in reality, my chances of ever achieving this were very slim indeed. Although there seemed to be an almost equal gender split of current Champ judges, this ratio was not reflected when it came to appointments for the high profile events  such as Crufts, Discover Dogs, Main Ring Semis and Finals at KCI etc. so I decided North Derbyshire would be my last ever agility weekend. What better way to finish my judging career than for my last appointments to be at Wirral, my most favourite show ever, Large Champ at the Welsh KC and then end on Champ with my fellow Small handlers.

I've competed for over 20 years and judged for 15 of them with approval up to Championship level in 2011. Agility has been a wonderful hobby and has given me experiences with my Shelties that I will remember for the rest of my life. Over the years, my dogs and I qualified for more than a dozen Mini/Small finals including three at Crufts. I made many wonderful friends and also had the honour to judge Green Star (Champ) for the Irish Kennel Club at their St. Patricks Day show in Dublin. For such wonderful memories to treasure I shall always be grateful.

About the author...
Rosie Pearson
has lived in Leeds all her life and is proud to be a ĎYorkshire Lassí.

She competed in dog agility with her various Shelties since 1997 and judged since 2002. She was approved to Championship level in 2011. Agility was her main leisure interest, filling the time outside of her work commitments as an Occupational Therapist.

Having recently taken early retirement from work, she now fills her days enjoying walks in the countryside and local parks with her two current Shelties as well as relaxing in front of the TV, doing jigsaws and cross stitch.

Photos of the winners: Simon Peachey

First published 14 January 2018


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