a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: A Long Agility History Under Cover

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Long Agility History Under Cover

Something I neglected to mention about January's trial is that it was the 10th anniversary of my first agility competition.

This January's trial was held on a drizzly day, in a covered 2-ring dirt arena at the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. Covered arenas in California are rare--and we seldom need them, anyway, except that winter trials are more likely to be pleasant if one is available. However, except for the Elk Grove (near Sacramento) permanent agility arena at WAG (Starfleet Arena), there's nothing else generally used and most trials are outdoors on grass even in the winter.

Elk Grove's covered arena can fit two rings, but they're very small rings--I'm guessing about 70 by 80 feet. CPE, NADAC, and AKC I believe all work under such constraints, but I don't believe that USDAA allows rings that small. But the facility in general is nice--the two long sides of the arena are walled in, with crating space in and in front of what used to be horse stalls, and 10-15-foot walkways down either side, and the far end of the ring area is a good 15 feet (guessing) from one open end, although they have shade fabric or tarps or such over the open ends, as well, to protect from the weather. There's a little office space right inside there that's used for the score table. No built-in restrooms, you still have to go outside to the portapotties, but it's nice to have a permanent all-agility site.

The arena we used this year is way up in Santa Rosa--a nearly 2-hour drive from here, but for Bay Teamers (my club) who live up thataway in the north SF Bay Area, it's nice to have a trial within easy driving distance from home. This is in fact a very nice arena for agility if you can fit into 2 rings. That's a challenge for the Bay Team; most of our trials now run at least 3 rings and USDAA typically 4. (We went through horrendous arguments through the years over whether it was even possible for one club to stage a 3-ring trial, and a few years later whether it was even possible for one club to stage a 4-ring trial. And here we are.) USDAA doesn't allow entry limits, so we have to find artificial ways to limit entries. One way that we limited entries was by having it in Santa Rosa. While the 2 hours is doable for us in the south bay, that really does make it much harder for folks from southern california to make the jaunt. Another way we limited it was by having only Masters on Saturday and only Novice and Advanced on Sunday. So that meant only 5 runs per dog for the weekend, which is low, and nothing for dogs to do on their day off.

But I digress. The Santa Rosa arena has one end closed off; it contains a full snack bar that sells meals during trials, which is very convenient, and actual real restrooms. One long wall can be closed completely with roll-down metal doors, and the other open end and the other long side have sunshade-type "curtains" that can be lowered to still let light and air in but keep out bad weather. One long side is right up against the edge of the covered area, but that leaves the other side with a huge space for crating, I think about 40 feet all along that side, and the open end also has about that much space. The fenced area for the rings is huge; we can have two nearly full-sized rings with about 30 feet between them as entry areas and score table set-up for each of the rings.

I tell you all that to tell you this. My first trial was at an arena used only twice for agility, in San Martin. It was nice for me because less than half an hour from home, and AWAY from more-developed areas, so traffic wasn't quite as bad as going northward to our usual (now) Sunnyvale site.


The arena was open on all four sides, with no way of closing off any of the walls. One end of the arena had a little bit of open space, maybe 30 feet, if that, for crating; everyone who didn't get there early had to crate across the area in another building. The long sides had walkways that were only about 6 feet wide, if memory serves me, which is barely comfortable to walk two people and their dogs past each other in opposite directions. So. Then.

It poured. We don't often get downpours like this in the Santa Clara Valley. It *poured*. And the wind blew. Water cascaded off the roof with Niagra-envy-like vigor and was blown right into the walkways, where it seeped into the soft dirt and created a shoe-sucking quagmire in which merely taking a step with mud-coated shoes was a tremendous exertion. From there, it ran into the rings, so people were constantly carting in sand or dry dirt or wood chips or I don't know what, halting the entire ring, trying to dam the inflowing water and sop up the soft spots in the rings themselves.

The short crating area at the one end of the arena slowly filled with water, with owners returning to their dogs to find them standing in an inch of water.

It was a completey miserable Saturday, except that Remington earned a qualifying ribbon in Gamblers, his first ever, and everyone had been so worried about how hard it was going to be. But I was exhausted from tramping through the mud, sopping wet (EVERYTHING was sopping wet), miserably cold and craving any hot beverage at all (none to be had, of course), angry about being asked to work in such conditions and at my first trial and while trying to tend to Remington, who was not all that happy, either, at his real first experience being left for long periods in an x-pen in a strange environment, although he sang along with the accordian player at the General Briefing and he was ecstatic in the ring.

If this is what agility is like, I thought, I will never do this again, never ever. What a godawful miserable experience.

On Sunday, the sun came up and dried up all the rain and the eensy weensy agility competitor got in the ring again. Remington earned a Jumpers Q, flying around the course, me almost losing my footing for a face dive trying to keep up with him but managing to stay upright. Everyone was cheerful (What a relief it wasn't like yesterday!) and happy and I had brought hot chocolate, although I don't think I drank any, and I took my two Q ribbons home and I was hooked with the adrenaline and thrill of competition.

I took hot chocolate with me to every trial for the rest of the year, and not once did I need it or want it, so eventually I stopped doing that. And now, after 150 weekends of agility trials, never again was I as miserable at a trial, and never again was there a trial so miserable.

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