Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Three Days of USDAA

SUMMARY: Tika 5 Qs including Team; Boost only one, but finally nailed weaves. Plus rain. Plus the usual post-trial whining.


For the third year in a row, I'm so glad that I didn't sign up for all four days of Haute TRACS. Three days is just too much, plus when I miss the Steeplechase cut so narrowly by stupid handler mistakes, I don't think I could sit and watch it and really enjoy it. In addition, I've taken the opportunity today to dry everything out--but I get ahead of myself.

Wednesday night


Wednesday night I fell asleep at home pretty quickly, with the alarm set for 4 a.m. But I woke suddenly about 1 a.m. with the horrid realization that I hadn't sent in my entry for the SMART trial in 2 weeks, with Grand Prix and Steeplechase qualifiers, and closing was the next day. I had to get up, fill out the forms, send email to the secretary, make copies to take with me in case the sec was there this weekend, and stamp and address an envelope.

Then I couldn't get back to sleep. Finally gave up about quarter to four, assembled myself, and headed on out to Dixon May Fairgrounds, so I looked and felt my best that morning-- I wanted to run like the all-American competitor-- man, I wanted, I wanted to feel like-- I wanted to BE the all American agility competitor.

Thursday


I had entered Boost and Tika in everything, which gave me 14 runs on Thursday (5 for DAM Team plus Standard and Jumpers). AND I was signed up to be co-chief ring steward in one ring with Boost's sister Bette's mom, Mary. The site was laid out in four rings end-to-end with a large swath between them with a roadway, grass, and vendor booths. It was a long walk. The DAM and Masters runs were in three of the rings and Advanced (in which Boost and Bette were entered) were in the fourth, far ring.

I did a lot of walking. Pedometer said 14 miles on Thursday. I hardly ever sat down. Apparently we were supposed to be avoiding using the loudspeaker very much to avoid annoying the neighbors, so there were only occasional announcements. Thank goodness that three of the rings were synchronized, but trying to keep an eye on Starters vs. Advanced in the far ring and set up ring crew for 12 rotations in our ring was overwhelming. Fortunately Mary didn't have a dog in Masters, so she ended up doing most of the work.

Tika teamed with Brenn (from our National finalist team last year) and a Papillon, Roxee, run by Rob, a very experienced handler--has been doing agility since the very early '90s, so almost from the beginning of the sport in the U.S. But Roxee's still a bit of a wildcard--still young, and trained by his owner who can't physically run her. Still, we asked them to join us for fun. 53 teams entered, which meant that at least 27 teams would qualify for nationals. Since Team consists of five full classes, you really don't want to have to keep paying for and trying to Q over and over.

Team Standard course was murder: fully half of all dogs eliminated, and since Team is all about not eliminating (if you want to qualify), the fact that Brenn and Tika both had lovely runs (Tika with a bar down)--although Roxee Eed--meant that we were above average to start with. Our team rated 18th of 53 in this class.

Team Jumpers also killed a lot of dogs. I think that, as the day went on and people watched earlier handlers making fatal mistakes, the non-E rate improved, so that there were fewer than 50% Eing. Although Roxee again Eed and Brenn had a couple of bars down, Tika's clean, fairly fast run and Brenn's fairly fast time placed us 10th in the Jumpers class, which surprised me immensely.

In the afternoon, we moved on to Team Gamblers, in which I once again found a course that I really liked for Tika both in the opening and closing, we executed it perfectly with no bobbles or complaints from the girl that I wasn't being clear, and we placed individually 2nd of 39 dogs; Brenn's score was good and Roxee's low but not terrible, and our team placed 18th.

In Tika's Team Snooker, I chose a not-too-aggressive course that I thought Tika and I could handle easily, with only one oddball turn and angle off to one of the Reds, but while Tika was in the weaves, I apparently started looking for that red because she popped out of the weaves, and we fumbled around a bit to get back in--and then, disoriented, I put her back over the red we had just come over. So we had only 8 points on a course where pretty much everyone was going for four reds and doing well, so we essentially Eed on that course. Brenn did well but Roxee backjumped after getting 24 points and our team was only 42nd of 53 in this class.

Typically, you can still Q if your team collectively has only one E, and sometimes with 2, but almost never with 3 Es, and we already had 3 Es with the Team Relay still to go, which is very heavily weighted. None-the-less, because so many dogs had Eed in Standard and Jumpers, we were in 17th place before the Relay, which meant that probably if we managed to avoid any one of us Eing, we'd be among the 27 Qing teams.

I don't remember exactly who did what in the relay--Brenn might have had a bar down--Roxee popped out of the weaves and almost went off course before Rob could get her back and fix the problem and then had a refusal somewhere, too-- But overall it was a pretty easy course so almost no one Eed on it, which meant then that your team's time was the critical factor in placing within the Relay, and with the bobbles and our generally conservative approach, we were a mere 35th in the Relay--

BUT combining the five events with their weighted values, we ended up 20th, safely in the Q zone. Woo hoo.

Boost's Team Snooker was more of a disaster. I had been feeling pretty confident with Boost when we set up the team--after all, she had done well enough for a baby dog at the Nationals in November and had finished her novice title in just a couple of trials. But we've not been doing so well in Advanced.

In Team Standard, none of the three of us went off-course, which was astounding on that course with three young dogs. However, Boost had 3 bars down and 5 (!) refusals, and 3 refusals automatically becomes an E. And Bette kept popping out of the weaves, so their run was almost 70 seconds, which cost us a lot of points. But Maiya's run was lovely and we were 30th of 53 in that class. And Boost in fact had no problems whatsoever with the weaves, which I'd been worried about since that's been our bugaboo this year. It was everything else that messed us up!

Team Jumpers proved problematic for both Boost and Bette, both of us Eing, but Maiya was beautiful again. Team Snooker was going OK for us until Boost knocked a red in the opening, I had to scramble to rearrange my course plan on the fly, and I couldn't call her off an off course. So we had only 17 points on a course where the best dogs were getting 59--OK, better than Tika, but not much. Bette had problems even earlier, but Maiya hung on for 43 points. That was our lowest point, placing overall 47th of 53. But at least we weren't last!

In Team Gamblers, I don't know what we did at the end of our opening but I know that we got more points than what showed on the scribe sheet and possibly a lot more. BUT in the closing we bobbled the weaves badly and got no gamble points. Bette did the weaves successfully so had a bunch more points, and Maiya did well, but overall none of us were stellar, so we ranked 41st in this class.

For Team Relay, Boost and Bette redeemed themselves partially in this high-value class by running fast and clean, Boost even doing weaves again, but Maiya went off course, for a change of pace. We placed 43rd in the Relay and 43rd overall, a long way from the 27th cutoff to qualify.

In Normal Land, Tika's Master Standard was beautiful and fast but she knocked the next-to-last bar. Masters Jumpers got us an E in an odd way. I had walked it at the same time as the Team Jumpers, and when I raced up to ringside with Tika after various conflicts, I had one dog to look at the course, and I couldn't remember it! So as I walked Tika out, put her in a sit-stay behind the starting jump, and walked out to my lead-out position past the 2nd jump, I was still looking around the course, trying to remember my path. When I turned around, Tika was waiting to go--in a crouch BETWEEN the first and second jumps.

Well, I had no idea whether she had gone over the first jump, but it didn't really matter, as this meant that she had left the start line without any ready signal from me of the least kind. So I walked her back to her crate and that was that.

Boost's Advanced Jumpers and Advanced Standard runs were generally chaotic, with no course faults on the Standard but so many corrections of runouts and such that we were over time. Oddly enough, only 3 of 11 dogs ran clean on that course, so we actually placed fourth.

I fell asleep instantly and slept soundly Thursday night in the back of my van. I've always slept with my head behind the driver's seat, and every time it feels as if the van slopes slightly downward, so my feet are higher than my head, and every time I'm too exhausted to want to get up and move my pillow to the rear. This time I remembered while setting up. It was much more comfortable in that direction for many reasons.

Friday


Started out cool like Thursday, but not quite as cool, and got fairly warm as the day wore on. Only five runs per dog, but one was the Grand Prix qualifier. Tika knocked a bar on a tough opening where a large percentage of dogs went off course. Then somehow we ended up with a refusal at a jump, which right there put us out of Qualifying, and then when I got her turned around again and made a U-turn to the dogwalk, she slipped on the up ramp and took quite a nasty-looking, twisting spill, hitting the dogwalk on her way off the side. It knocked the breath out of ME, seeing that happen, but she bounced up, twice as excited as before, so with the judge's encouragement, I put her back on the dogwalk and we finished nicely. Boost was a handful. Seems that we were running past or fixing or refusing or redoing every third or fourth obstacle all the way around, and we managed an E one way or another. The judge bipped over to us as Boost was holding on the Aframe (after our E) and asked in a friendly voice whether this was a baby-dog. Really? Was it obvious? Sigh. This puppy just might not compete in Nationals this year.

In other news, Tika's Master Gamblers I bobbled a rear cross, pulling Tika off a teeter, resulting in us missing finishing the weaves for points by 2 poles, and then the gamble was virtually identical to the one at our CPE trial, where I managed to send her from #1 directly to #4, and despite thinking I was handling it differently, I managed to do the same thing again. There went our first chance at dreams of glory of staying in the USDAA Top 25 for a while longer. If we had finished the weaves and made the gamble, we might have been placed high enough for a couple of TT points, but not way up there anyway. We Qed in Relay with Brenn with a couple of my bobbles that wasted time (9th of 43 teams, not bad but it's always better to get a ribbon).

Tika Qed in Standard with a nice, flowing, but not super-driven run. Still, it was 5th of 23 dogs, so I think that's enough for 1 more TT point there--AND that finished her Standard Championship (10 masters standard Qs). In Jumpers, she once again kept her bars up, but I've been trying to run more aggressively, so I left her to her own devices to take a slight push-out to a jump and raced ahead, but she came past the jump for a runout, so no Q there.

Meanwhile, Boost wowed the Known World with a completely gorgeous Advanced Gamblers run and win. I even started her on the weaves to see whether she could do them, and she did. We got compliments from a few talented people with wonderful dogs. Truth is that's just a course that was built for us to do; no major handling things, which is where we fall down, but lots of contacts and tunnels in an arrangement where we could do them all over & over. But in her other three Advanced classes, we Eed--although I felt we were getting smoother, we had no offcourses, but I had already decided that it's more important for my dog to keep driving at a competition, so when she ran out past jumps, I just kept her moving rather than going back and fixing it. I like that super drive and I don't want her to start worrying that I'm going to stop her and bring her back, like I did with my first dog before I got smart.

There was a fund-raising dinner that evening that was announced only once and did no publicity that I saw. It was a phenomenal spread of food hosted by one competitor, and by the low turnout I'm afraid that they spent more on the food than they brought in. But we had a good time chatting and eating.

There was supposed to be a chance of showers on Saturday, so I wrapped everything outside the van in plastic, set up my canopy over the dog's crating area with side rain panels, and slept. It showered somewhat off and on during the night; heard it on the roof.

Saturday


In the morning it seemed to have stopped but remained completely overcast. The pacesetters for the Steeplechase Q times ran fairly early in the day--we didn't know that they were pacesetters until it started raining again partway through the morning and then never let up. This meant that the dogs and handlers never ran as fast the rest of the day, although some came close.

Tika's Steeplechase run nearly broke my heart. If she can keep her bars up, we can Q. She did her job and kept her bars up. And I love Steeplechases with 2 weaves, because she can make pretty tough entries and is pretty darned good about staying in, both of which give us an advantage that we don't always have in speed in other areas. BUT the first approach was a very hard turn, and I called her but trusted her too much and she barely skidded in--to the 2nd pole, not the first. Aughhh! In steeplechase, that's not a fault, but it wastes time, and I'm sure that it takes 2 seconds to pull the dog out, bring her back to the beginning, and restart. So I really really pushed the rest of the course, and she was so good! And the second approach required a front cross for a really tight, fast entry, and I over-crossed, so I pulled her AWAY from the weaves and she spun towards me. Probably another 2 seconds to turn her and get her back in. We missed the cutoff by less than a second. I just about collapsed in a heap of seeting frustration.

In fact, my whole day was like that. Gamblers was another one where I found a course that I thought was perfect for us and that I didn't see anyone else doing, and the gamble was a give-away with weaves. BUT. Again the handling thing. I've been releasing Tika instantly on her contacts all weekend, trying to go for the higher placements, and at one key point, I needed her to flip left from the Aframe into a tunnel, which she's usually a star at. But I didn't think about all those early releases all weekend, and she went straight out from teh Aframe over a jump before coming back, which I'm guessing was a 3-second detour. Now I really raced, because I knew I'd have to adjust the end of my course, which was supposed to end on the teeter before the gamble, but I hadn't walked the ending that I was creating on the fly. The whistle blew just as I was getting to the new turn that I had to make, too far from the gamble, and I muffed it so that Tika turned back to me and barked, and then she headed out correctly, did the gamble perfectly--and was over time by 3/10 of one second. My seething frustration was boiling over. What's worse, I was right about our course--our opening points were good enough for 2nd of about 30 dogs if we had done the gamble on time.

(In case you hadn't noticed, this is where the whining comes in.)

Meanwhile, the rain just never let up. It was pouring so that we could justify shutting the rings down, it was simply maddeningly drearily raining. Early in the day, everyone had rain gear and hats, but by the end of the day I could see that everyone, like me, had given up--no hats, dripping hair and clothes, soaked through to the skin everywhere except possibly my tummy. My course maps turned to mush in my pockets. I had several species of fungi growing between my toes and evolving into advanced lifeforms. Wet wet wet.

Tika had a awesome standard run--I'm enjoying really driving her through courses--but found out afterwards that she had 5 faults. Since she did hit and stick all her contacts and we had no bobbles or bars, it must have been that danged up on the dogwalk again.

And in Snooker I forgot where I was going during the closing at #5. With the bobble and taking an extra obstacle and then getting her away from barking at my feet and running off, we STILL had 6 seconds left, which would've been more than plenty of time to finish a 2nd-place Super-Q. Crap crap crap was my summary for my handling of Tika for the day.

On the other hand, she was such a joy to run at all times, fast even on the contacts at all times, even in this big crowd of high-ranking competitors. She has matured so nicely and I come off the course with quite a high, working this dog.

I think Boost will be even faster. It seems to me from watching that she is faster than any of her 3 siblings competing up here--Derby, Beck, and even Bette, although I think that Bette is pretty darned close. None of them are slouches by any means, and Derby's pretty close and handled by a good trainer and competitor. But I keep thinking--if they were blasting around courses at Boost's speed, Derby & Beck wouldn't be in Masters already. Maybe I'm just making excuses for being a poorer handler than the others. But I sure give Mary credit with Bette--for all of the unfamiliar challenge of a very fast, driven dog, Bette managed to qualify in all four Advanced runs on Saturday, and Boost in none. But I felt smoother than the previous days, AND she did several sets of weaves beautifully, including two in the Steeplechase--although she ran past them the first time, when I got her lined up, she did them all the way through perfectly, and the second time through nailed them on the first try, but then later ran past a serpentiney jump and by then I knew we weren't making time anyway so didn't go back for it, Eing out.

But she also is such a high to run with on course. I love seeing her working, and the last class where I just aimed her at the weaves at an angle and she blasted ahead of me and made the entry perfectly and zoomed through and then when I caught up to her and turned her back for more points, she did them again perfectly, and I felt like flying.

Yeah, the usual ups and downs, I suppose.

The rain let up long enough to load all my sopping-wet gear into my car, and then it broke into a downpour, so it was tough even to stay dry going into the restroom with dry clothes to change into for the ride home, but I managed it, so I took Tika's five Qs and one placement and Boost's one Q and 2 placements--out of 34 runs-- and we were home about 9:30 p.m.

Had no trouble falling asleep and sleeping through again.

3 comments:

  1. My God! I'm exhausted just reading about your 3 day DAM-Tournament-Rainfest!
    Seriously, it sounds like you may have left yourself too much to do to give yourself enough time to focus on each run. I've actually been having more success by cutting back on the number of classes I enter in a weekend.
    I used to enter everything with Jaime thinking that the more times I got in the ring, the more practice I would get. But what actually happened was that I didn't have time to collect myself between runs and really prepare for the class. And I don't mean obsessing over it, I just need time to mentally come back down from one class before I start planning for the next. And when you have a high, fast dog like Boost, that can really bite you in the butt. I imagine that the extra adrenlaline of rushing around would actually help your runs with Tika since you know her so well and can count on her not to get too high to do her job but with a baby like Boost I would imagine it could send him into orbit :-)

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  2. I've tried not entering everything, and then I see the courses that I didn't enter and think "oh, this looks like a FUN course, I wish I was entered!" There's just no pleasing some people. :-)

    -ellen

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  3. No, some people are just too addicted to help themselves :-)

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