So we're back home in Perth. Both Sonic and I are recovering after some very early mornings and long days. Now we just need to catch up on many hours of missing sleep.
Friday morning we were up at 3am to make sure that we made the airport by 4.30am. I didn't sleep much for thinking about the trip and anxiety about Sonic being OK on the plane. Getting him to air freight and me to the airport went smoothly, my only concern was the forecast heat in Melbourne when we arrived. Sure enough as we were descending into Melbourne at 11am the pilot kindly informed us that it was a crispy 40 degrees. Instantly my stress levels went up and all I could think about was Sonic being left on the tarmac too long in the heat etc. The air freight guys were great though and by the time I got there to collect him he had a big bowl of water and was pretty relaxed. So with the air conditioner going full bore in the hire car we headed off for my Aunt and Uncles house in Somers on the Mornington Peninsula. Unfortunately the drive didn't go quite as I'd hoped. I took Colin's GPS and the stupid thing kindly directed me via the Melbourne CBD and I mean literally down Lonsdale and Collins streets. With the temperature outside showing in the car as being 49 degrees my stress levels started rising again as I made my way through the city trying to avoid dreaded hook turns around the tram lines. After almost an hour of cursing the GPS at every intersection we eventually made it out the other side. By the time we got to Somers the sea breeze had come in and the temperature had dropped dramatically (I don't think that the breeze made it to Melb though). However a trip to the beach was a must do and it was a nice way to unwind after a big day. The evening was topped off with a local Koala wandering down my Aunt & Uncles driveway on it's way to the next door neighbours tree. It was an amazing sight to see for someone from Perth.
Saturday morning we were up at 5.30am and off to KCC Park by 6am. The seminar start time was sensibly moved to 7am to help us get as much work done as possible before the worst of the heat hit. Saturday's forecast was only 37 degrees so a marked improvement on the 45.5 degrees that it had reached the day before. The group that I was in spent the first four hours working with Laura on front cross sequences focusing on positional cues, timing of our front crosses and cueing our dogs for tight turns. We worked our way through about five grids over the course of the morning. Sonic handled himself beautifully and although initially a bit overzealous settled in really well. Laura had all our first run throughs videoed so we could watch them back and really pull apart our timing, positional cue placement and foot work. Everyone had strong and weak points, mine being a late front cross and one of my positional cues was way out because I didn't get across my diagonal in time. Those things really sumed up most of my work really. I think I did one grid where out of the three turns I managed to do the first one perfectly, the second one early and the third was late. At this point I was still struggling with my timing of the front cross position itself. I seemed to always be either too early or too late when I rotate. When I do get it right though Sonic's turns are amazing and he digs in brilliantly. Plenty of reason for me to work hard on getting it right.
Once we'd finished with Laura we were sent off to work on rear crosses with Greg. He had set up a grid that we had to run to show him what we could do. This was a real weakness for most of us although I think Sonic handled himself really well with my mistake being an off diagonal line. Most of the others were doing really bad flick aways and pulling their dog off the jump when they completed the rear cross. Greg then had us show him our inside circle work. Sonic and mine was appalling as it was something that I really didn't do much of when Sonic was little. We did loads and loads of outside circle work but I kind of ignored the inside ones! Greg explained to us that inside circle work is the backbone of rear crosses. Guess Sonic and I have some work to do on that front. The other ground work that we did where you cross behind your dog to train the turn and also a running exercise Sonic managed easily because those were things we had done. By this time the day was really starting to get hot and the cool coats were out in force. We finished up the work with the dogs and headed into the air conditioning to do some course analysis. I got most of my choices right but I still get a little caught on some of the more obscure obstacle combinations. When Sonic and I got back to Somers in the afternoon it was back down the beach for some more relaxation and swim time. Needless to say we both slept pretty well that night.
Sunday morning and it was another 5.30am wake up. The day dawned very overcast and it more or less stayed that way for the duration. It was pretty windy at KCC park although still reached low 30's. With the cloud cover it was an OK training environment. Once again my group started with Laura but this time we worked on serpentines. We made our way through about four different grids, each one with a variation on the serpentine. Sonic was wonderful again and performed beautifully. My biggest issue like the front cross exercises, was timing of my change of arm and getting Sonic to move out of the serpentine. It made such a huge difference when my arm change was when he was committing to the jump. More often than not I tend to be too late and the difference in Sonic's performance is very noticeable.
After Laura's session we headed over to work with Greg, this time on a couple of courses looking at course choice. We set up a Masters Agility and Masters Jumping course from last years Nationals. I had run both of them with Riot and had gone clear, but unfortunately Riot was too slow and way off making finals. From what I remember they were nice runs though. I managed to pick 90% of the handling that was needed to maintain consistency of Greg's system but once again there are those few grey areas where I get a bit unsure. Once we'd all talked about how it should be run we had the opportunity to have a go. I broke it down into about four parts for Sonic to help him through. He actually managed all the complicated sections beautifully. One thing we did get caught on was 180's with an off course obstacle at a 90 degree angle. He invariably would try and head for the 90 degree obstacle rather than come around with my shoulder for the 180. So that's on the list to work on. We haven't done a lot of that so not surprising that it is a weakness. His contacts and weavers were very good as I was unsure what he would be like on strange equipment. They weren't the fastest he's done, I think his dog walk was 2.4 seconds, however he was getting mentally and physically pretty tired by this point so it was not shabby by any means. Following the agility course we set up the jumping one which had some really tricky handling in it including two pull through/rear cross manoeuvres which Sonic had never done before. Once again I picked out most of the handling decisions but a couple of greyer ones where quite hard and most of us where quite stumped as to how to handle them and maintain consistency. With some really great help from Greg I got Sonic around most of it unscathed. He managed the pull through/rear cross really well once I made myself stop for the pull throughs! By this stage poor Sonic was pretty much ready for a long sleep so I was thankful that we had finished our last run. So while Sonic had a power nap we headed back to the rooms for some more course analysis. This time we looked at some runs from last years World Champs and examples of good and not so good handling. We watched one handler in particular whose front crosses are so early that the dog still managed to miss the jump even though the handler was rotated into the front cross position from the jump before. A great example of how early cues catch up with you eventually. Then as tends to happen, we finished off with discussions on what Greg and Laura do with their own dogs.
So all in all a great seminar. I've taken away some really important stuff on my timing and working on when to change arms. It seems much clearer to me this time. It's weird that after going to four seminars with Greg & Laura over the last four years it is only now that I have a better idea about the timing. I guess it's all about the mind set you are in when you attend them. At different points in your agility training you are focusing on different things and this time around for me, those particular points are high up on my list of things to work on.
I had some lovely comments about Sonic from other attendees, mainly about his great attitude and also about how athletic he is. A lady that I met was telling me that the Victorian working border collies are generally quite heavy whereas she loved that he was so light and streamlined. Someone else told me that with a dog like him the sky's the limit as he could see that Sonic has huge potential. I know I think that of Sonic anyway but obviously having someone else say it makes you feel extra proud of them.
I think that Cathy will try and bring Greg & Laura back next year again so I will do all that I can to be there for it.