Open Letter to The West Australian Agility Community

Western Australia is a pretty small agility community relatively speaking. There are maybe 95 to 100 handlers/trainers/competitors in the sport and a number of those run multiple dogs.  So a big entry for a trial for us would be around 390 runs. The biggest class is usually Masters Jumping, which has about 80 runs and then Masters Agility with about 60 runs. These numbers usually only happen at the “big events”.

We have what we would call our major Agility events on the calendar – those being the Western Classic, The State Titles and The Perth Royal Show (although I believe the entries for the Royal have dropped off considerably in the last few years due to several reasons).

An International Agility Instructor once commented to me when she was down in Perth about our helpers. She found it kind of neat that equipment was put up and everyone got up to help put it up and to take it all down again, the fact that it was just an expected given this happens was quite a novel thing to her as she hadn’t witnessed it where she was from. I think they either have a very small group of three or four or paid ‘crews’ so to speak that do this sort of thing. She saw this happen at club training, trials and of course at seminars. It made me see things from a different perspective. I know a lot of people “do their bit” to help things run smoothly at trials. But I also know there are the complaints about those who get noticed distinctly NOT helping. After nearly 18 years in the sport I’ve long stopped wasting any energy on that line of thought. I’m just really quite grateful we have so many who are willing to pitch in given our small population involved.

The same goes for Agility Committees. I’ve been on several for a number of years. I have a very healthy respect for the common retort of “If you don’t like something do something about it, put your hand up to work on the committee”. As a person who has been involved with the running of two National events, involved with club trials and numerous other agility-related actions I can see their point. As a person who has been involved purely from a competitor only standpoint, who has forked out hundreds of dollars on entry fees, who has an expectation of how an event such as the “prestigious” State Titles should run I can see how some people are very upset, disappointed and even angry at how our recent State titles were handled.

Some committees work exceedingly well together, like a well-oiled machine that has optimum efficiency output. To be honest, these are rare in my experience. Our DogsWest canine controlling ANKC body at times, does not make it easy for the Agility Working Party (the new term for committee) to do their jobs as smoothly as they would like. It’s not an easy job being on the Working Party and it makes it hard when so few want to be a part of that group. This past weekend wasn’t through a lack of offers to help. This was a technical difficulty that happened in the office with the results program which, when you have an event based on accumulative results over the three qualifying heats, just snowballed into a very onerous and somewhat ridiculously long drawn out process to sort out, no doubt hindered by some decisions, which in hindsight, probably should have been made differently.

None of us are immune to the fact that trials sometimes run too long for various reasons. I have attended many State titles and local trials where the results have taken an overly long period to present. But when the last run of the last qualifying trial finishes by 12 noon at the latest you don’t expect to have to wait till 5.30pm to find out whether you’ve qualified to go in a final. And you don’t expect the Finals to be run in such a way that rings are running simultaneously so that as a competitor or a spectator you are unable to watch any of your peers runs or cheer them on. A large part of what makes our States special is the atmosphere created by everyone being able to gather around the one ring and watch the finalists run their hardest and try to win. Everyone goes all out – there is only one person going up to get their prize for winning that class. No seconds, no thirds. The runs are usually great to watch and the camaraderie amongst the competitors is great to see. Every single one of our Eastern States judges made it a point to comment on the caliber of the dogs they saw run here in WA in presentations, they stated that the percentage of good, fast dogs was much higher compared to back home. We are a competitive state in terms of agility and we love watching each other run our best and give it our all. This, sadly, did not happen at this event.

The Finals runs did indeed have a bit of a pall over them, not only for the way the rings were run. The fact that some people could not stay to take their Finals run (due to the excessive amount of time it took up, the fact that rain was also coming down, now making the ground/equipment more slippery) and also the fact that the previously extremely detailed formula for working out who took up the extra spots in the Finals (published in the Canine News) was not able to be followed means that in the end there is now uncertainty about the fact that everyone who qualified for finals was permitted to run. There is no doubt that those who ran in the Finals qualified to be there but there is doubt that everyone who legitimately qualified was asked to stay and run or even if they were asked, were unable to run due to other arrangements made.

There was plenty to like about these States. The courses, for the most part, ran extremely well and the rings ran smoothly. It was the very first States to book judges from the Eastern States. The judges got through their classes efficiently and despite the very last minute call for help due to a stewarding mix up we had enough helpers to help the Working Party to run each ring with Scribe, Gate and Lead stewards. The judges made comment of the excellent hospitality they experienced. There was good food provided by the WAO Working Party and helpers, the equipment was set up early on the Friday afternoon and each day started on time.  We were able to park along side the rings on the grass, which was also great. The weather was very kind to us right up till the Sunday evening when it got a little wet. Everyone pitched in to get the gear down and put away as quickly as possible. The trophies for the Finals winners were quite special and different, coming all the way from England and were a lovely memento of the wins. The catalogue was a mammoth undertaking at 52 pages and it was very easy to read. The judges looked like they enjoyed themselves, I saw very many smiles and oohs and aahs over the weekend after some fantastic runs.

Ultimately though the disappointment in the Finals and the decisions made in how to solve the problems overshadowed the good for a significant number of the people there. There’s no point in going over what “should/might/could have been done” to fix the problem. There’s no point in asking why did we not just resort to old fashioned paper and pen (as we did for many years) much earlier on. Most of us could come up with suggestions on how this could have been avoided/fixed/solved. I suspect the Agility Working Party is really quite disappointed in how things turned out and I’m sure there will be a fairly lengthy debrief.

As in all events of this size there needs to be delegation and organization that plays to peoples’ strengths and utilizes the human resources in the best way possible. These events take hard work, effort and time to ensure they run smoothly in the best way possible. No one is more aware than anyone than the agility competitor is of how much work it takes. Indeed the level of effort plus the commitment required to attend often long meetings is no doubt a factor in the number of people who do NOT put their hands up for these jobs.

The 2013 States are done and dusted for now. There is no benefit to be gained by going over what went wrong or to keep asking questions about why or how it happened. We need to thank the Working Party for persevering in what had to be a fairly stressful environment by the end. What will be far more fruitful and worth while, is to talk about next year’s event. To talk about inviting specific people to contribute to the running of the event, according to their areas of aptitude. I do think that some of the problem stemmed from the fact that very few people were spreading themselves thin simply out of necessity. There was an aversion to the offers of help on the day, borne out of concern that problems might be even further exacerbated by having outside help come in. I hope that those who attended the States and were disappointed will think carefully about all the different aspects of organization that goes into running the event, perhaps approach the working party and offer their assistance in whatever capacity they feel most competent at.  At the end of it all I do hope that those who ran in the Finals and the ultimate winners don’t let the negative outweigh the positive. I was one of the fortunate winners and whilst I wish things had turned out differently I don’t regret a single second of my finals runs’ experiences, nothing will take away from the pride I feel of my canine partner and our teamwork in those runs. I hope all my fellow competitors feel the same.

In the meantime congrats to my little girl Spryte who ran her little heart out for me last night and is now:

2013 State Champion Masters Agility and Masters Jumping (400) and Open Jumping (ALL HEIGHTS)

sprytefri

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Self-improvement

I’ve taken the plunge and enrolled in some online agility classes. I’ve never had any in-built aversion to this way of learning but I have always possessed a healthy sense of cynicism about the veritable explosion of online classes that have hit the agility scene. This plus my definitely in-built aversion to deadlines and scarily consistent capacity to leave things to the last minute has delayed this moment for me. I’ve enrolled in Daisy Peel‘s Online Classroom courses – Clear Mind (participant), AP Skills Drills (Auditor) and Blind Cross Skills and Drills (auditor). I hope to get some clarity with the mental approach and achieving goals plus some good exercises to work on with the dogs in the course handling skills area.

The first week is looking at Goal Setting and the reasons behind that process, my first assignment for the Clear Mind course was given out:
We had to imagine a time when our current canine partner is retired from competition:

  • What do you want to have achieved together? Is it an award, a title, or perhaps a certain level of competition?
  • What kinds of skills do you want to have obtained?
  • What types of experiences have you shared?
  • How do you want to be remembered by your fellow competitors and club members?

My current main competition partner is Spryte – a 6 year old female BC who measures into the 16 inch class.

WHAT I WANT US TO HAVE ACHIEVED TOGETHER:
Competed successfully across the country, in the Eastern States.
Consistent clear connected performances in bigger events
National Agility Champion
Australian Agility Champion
Show Champion

WHAT SKILLS I HAVE GAINED:
Better mastery of handling skills needed to handle with optimum success
Better choice making in course walking
Improved dog training knowledge
Ability to ‘read’ my dog in a consistently accurate manner
Developed a successful mental approach

WHAT SKILLS MY DOG HAS GAINED:
Fast contact behaviours
Complex weave entry mastery
Demanding jumping skills
Resilience in potentially stressful competition environments

WHAT SKILLS WE HAVE GAINED TOGETHER:
To work smoothly as a team on course and in training.
To be able to go out and have fun no matter what run and where or what significance I may have attached to it.
To be able to focus with intensity on the challenges a course presents.

WHAT TYPE OF EXPERIENCES HAVE YOU SHARED?
The training and learning about how to execute the right movements/actions/cues/behaviours
Moments of shared exhilaration when we get that ‘perfect’ run of connection on a course
Travelling together
All manner of exercises that lead to the conditioning of each of us (swimming, hiking, bush walking, walking, biking) which whilst they have purpose also develop our relationship
Met new friends both Canine and Human

HOW DO I WANT US TO BE REMEMBERED BY OTHERS?
As a positive and speedy pair!
I would like us to be recognised as a partnership that clearly enjoys each others’ company and loves the challenge of the game.
As a competitive team that can place across all heights not just our own.
As a pair that handles proactively and attacks courses with gusto.
As a person who is a good sport and encourages others in the sport.
A person who is happy to share knowledge and receive knowledge.
As someone who never shirks from making mistakes.

And that is my Assignment One. Complete. And early! 🙂

I am now on school holidays so I hope to be able to stay ahead of the game when it comes to these classes but we shall see. My TO DO Holiday list just keeps growing and growing. I have two weeks off, then go back for three days before getting on a plane to go to Europe for the World Agility Open.

In the meantime Savvy and Colt had an outing at a show recently, Robyn handling, myself doing the grooming.

They did good with Savvy winning points both days with Best Of Breed and Open in Group one of the days and Colt going Reserve dog one day and Minor In Group. Savvy is looking really nice right now, in coat, so I should probably be looking at entering her into some more shows before she drops all her ‘clothes’. I have to say though – bathing and brushing and trimming is a lot more time consuming than I ever remember it!

The following weekend was Cloverdale and Savvy’s first debut in the Masters Jumping and to my surprised delight we managed to qualify and finish 6th amongst some great competition. And luckily for me my friend Karen was in the right place to video it too!

Spryte also did good winning Open Jumping overall and her Masters Agility class. We also had fun with Andrea’s girls to go clear in our respective Pairs courses. Tomorrow are our State Titles and with over 700 runs day 1 and nearly 400 on Sunday (if we’re lucky enough extra runs in the finals on Sunday afternoon) it will be a big weekend. I’m going to love not having to go to work on the Monday!