Saturday, April 16, 2005

Saturday at the Big Agility Trial

Backfill: April 18 Well, crud. I didn't really want to do a 4-day event, nor take Thurs-Fri off for it, when I'm already planning multiple days off for USDAA Nationals in November. The reason for doing it this year was because the club lost its weekend site to some AKC trial, so they combined with another club to host this event. At the last minute I gritted my teeth and decided to do Thurs-fri-sat because that's when all of the National qualifiers were taking place (Team thurs/fri, Grand Prix and Steeplechase sat). The crud part is because they announced that, since this was so successful, they're going to do it again next year. I find myself resenting agility that takes away even more of my vacation. I didn't go to Power Paws Agility Camp this year because I couldn't afford the time off. Grumble grumble grumble.

Last night was enough warmer (well--less cold anyway) to be quite comfortable all night. No long underwear in the morning, and the one layer of fleece jacket came off shortly after getting up (at 6 a.m.). Wore a short-sleeved shirt. Slathered sun lotion on my face but not my arms because--yeah you remember--they get plenty of sun anyway so they're more tanned plus I'll stay in the shade all day.

Master Gamblers: Since I'm entering Jake only in events that I have a good chance of running all the way through (thereby eliminating Snooker and the short Pairs, if they even offer the latter for veteran dogs) and that I can avoid ever having to do a dogwalk in since he pops the contact with depressing predictability (thereby eliminating Standard), I entered him only in Gamblers and Jumpers this weekend. Great. An impossible Gamble on Thursday and--guess what--for possibly the first time in my 9 years of agility competition, there was a *#&(@ dogwalk IN the gamble itself! Jake performed all the gamble obstacles with no problem at all, and in plenty of time, but he took off about halfway down the dogwalk ramp, missing his contact by a mile.

I apparently chose the wrong handling position for Tika and ended up trying to push her up the dogwalk, which failed miserably (worked for Jake, though). Instead, she came straight at me, and apparently I let up the pressure enough that she lunged at my shoes and started grabbing them, something she's lately been doing only at the finish--or when I really let up pressure or give really confusing instructions on course. I found out later that, not only did we not get what seemed like a pretty simple gamble, but we didn't even get credit for our opening points because the judge Eed us for biting in the ring. That hasn't happened in probably 2 years.

To get to her MAD title (first major stop on the way to an ADCH), we need ONE gamble (didn't get EITHER this weekend), one jumpers (missed yesterday's), and two Standards (well--ok, we got one of those yesterday. Maybe we'll get the 2nd one today).

Altogether put me in quite a foul mood to start.

Grand Prix nationals qualifier: We need 2 of these to compete at Nationals. Last competition-year, she Qed in all of the last 3 GPs in which we competed. You can do it with 7 or fewer faults--knocked bar is 5, refusal is 5, missed contact is 5 I believe. So you can do ONE of them. This competition-year, she missed the first one--bad handling move partway through for a refusal and then knocked the last bar--Qed on the second one, then missed the third one--beautiful run but over-handling at the next-to-last obstacle caused an off-course. We don't seem to get many off-courses any more--usually it's knocked bars or refusals for stupid handling moves. Sigh.

I really wanted to get this over with so I don't have to keep pursuing the elusive Q.

It wasn't a hard-looking course. Tika's start-line stays have been beautiful lately, after being so bad by the end of last year, so I led out quite a bit. The first obstacle was a tire, so she couldn't knock the bar on the first jump, sometimes a problem when I lead way out. But--she knocked the 2nd bar. So I've just barely started, and already I'm at my fault limit. On about the 8th obstacle (of 20), I overhandled a tunnel entrance (DANG this is sounding familiar) and she side-stepped and hesitated on the approach, earning a refusal, and just like that, we're out of the Grand Prix.

Oh, well, at least there's the Steeplechase later in the day, which she has done very well at the last few times. Competition's much stiffer here, but she's very fast and easily capable of Qualifying (top 30%).

Masters Standard: I've been overhandling tunnels all weekend, and there's yet another C-shaped tunnel that you have to get the dog into the near side. I decide to just pull slightly with my body and not say much else--and, guess what, OK, that's UNDERhandling, as she went into the wrong end of the tunnel. A quick E and there goes *that* run.

Steeplechase: A very fast course--which is what the Steeplechase is supposed to be. And they've got TWO turn-into-the weave entries, one even harder than yesterday's. If Tika can do a fast Aframe like she did a fast dogwalk last night, we have a good chance of placing well on this course because I'm confident that she can get that weave entry. The only other hard part is a push OUT to come in over the back side of a jump that's perpendicular to the dog's path.

I watch lots of very excellent dogs miss that weave entry again. And then we're up. However, once again the brain fails to engage properly. There's a place where I want to do a front cross to prevent an awkward approach to the Aframe, but for some obscure reason when I get there, I do NOT do the front cross (even though I walked it a billion times the correct way), pulling her off the Aframe and having to spin her around to make the entry. Lost a second or maybe 2. But she does a very fast Aframe and I release her immediately. She nails the first, slightly easier, weave entry.

There are some very fast get-ahead-and-front-cross moves required, and I nail them without tripping over my feet. We approach the perpendicular jump and I tell her out. She moves a little bit but I'm thinking she's still going to miss it, so I give her a big "Out!" command--and she spins right away from me out towards the outside of the course, dagnabbit, it's SUCH a good out but it's not what I wanted! Wasted another second or maybe 2 recovering.

We nail the really hard second weave pole entry as beautifully as we did last night. We are hauling. I make the final get-ahead-front-cross with aplomb, just 2 jumps to go straight ahead to the finish--and she knocks a bar.

Auuuuuuughhhhhh!

I guess we go home and work on not-knocking-bar exercises.

The fastest dog's time among all those stunning Border Collies is 31.08 seconds. We did it in 35.58 WITHOUT a running contact (which many of these fastest dogs have) and WITH two bobbles costing us probably 2-4 seconds. I'm pretty happy with the time--it would place us at about 8th, with 18 dogs Qualifying and going to the second round. HOWEVER--with the 5-point fault, our total score drops to 40.58, placing us 20th, so missing the cutoff by 2 dogs. (Note to self--beat Hobbes' time again but I didn't see his run so I don't know how smooth it was.)

I'm bummed in some ways, but (a) that means I have to make no stupid decisions about coming back tomorrow just to be in round 2 (where there's a chance of earning $ if you're in the top 8 dogs); and (b) I think it's pretty darned good to earn a 5-point fault and still have such an excellent time that we're that close, and (c) I think it's pretty darned good that we had obvious wasted time on the course and were still fast enough to rate in the top 10 in speed in this field of dogs. It's small compensation, but what the heck.

I have only one chance left to Q--Masters Pairs--and it's based on time plus faults, and we're plenty fast enough to overcome at least one course fault and maybe even 2 and still qualify (if we don't go offcourse like we did on Thursday, but we really haven't been going off course that often...until this weekend...)

Master Pairs: It is dinnertime. It is *past* dinnertime. I'm looking at driving home in the dark, even with daylight savings time. We are one of the last pairs up. But at least that gives me lots and lots of time to finish tearing down camp, and it's cool enough now that I can put the dogs in the car, so we're ready to leave as soon as we're done running.

Our partner says her dog hates to wait and doesn't do as well if she has to sit, so she takes the first half, which is OK because it's got some ugly u-turns in it and she's an experienced handler/dog. The second half is (IMHO) a piece of cake. It's wide open and easy to move the dog around without any real off-course opportunities. And the flow for the handler is smooth and simple.

Then my partner gets a refusal on one of the u-turns. Then...she gets another refusal on another one of the turns. So we have to be completely perfect probably to qualify. So it's our turn. Tika takes off without knocking the first bars, even though I have to call her sharply for the next tunnel--no over or underhandling, she nails it withoug a backward glance. And THEN the brain disengages AGAIN and a place where I absoultely did NOT want to do a front cross to avoid pulling her off the dogwalk--I did a dagnabbed front cross, pulling her off the dogwalk, for a runout error AND a wasted second or two and now I'm pretty sure no matter how fast we go, we can't make up for 3 5-point faults.

The rest of our run is gorgeous. She is nailing her weave entries so beautifully.

It turns out that the course was either a cinch or killer. About 1/3 of the teams E, which surprised me. All the rest earn Qs. Except there are a unique set of 4 teams that just barely drop below the Q line--most of them with faults AND slow times. We've got a really fast time but too many faults, and we miss qualifying by 2 seconds. Sighhhh.

I might as well have not even come on Saturday. Gone home early. Did I learn anything today that I didn't already know? I'm not feeling good about things.

Driving home: A long drive is a good thing sometimes. Gives me time to think about things and put them in perspective. One friend had to scratch her dog from the rest of the weekend after he came up with a swollen knee on Friday, and they had been in 10th place in the Team event. My dogs are healthy. I'm very happy to get the Team qualifier out of the way--that would be an expensive even to keep trying and failing at. I'm very happy to get a Master Stanard Q AND place 3rd in this crowd. And the weather was generally quite lovely, and there were a lot of nice people around over the weekend.

I can ignore the fact that my arms are quite sunburned.

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