This years World Agility Open was something I had been very much looking forward to since making the team. Being my second time attending I had a better idea of what to expect which increased my anticipation but more importantly knowing that I would be running a fantastic dog in Hydro had me feeling pretty excited.
The flight over to London was long and tiring as always but no sooner had we arrived at our hotel when we were off to Lizzie's house so I could start to get to know Hydro. For our first afternoon session we went to a field that Lizzie uses and I joined in with her class. Hydro wasn't worried in the slightest that I was running him. I had to really think about my handling and cues as Lizzie's verbal and physical cues are different to what I use with my own dogs however I thought it went pretty well for our very first session. The following day I had a little sleep in but we didn't want to over do it so we could take a trip by train into London for some sightseeing with our training session for the day to be indoors later in the evening. This training session was with a "mad" but very nice Scotsman Dennis. Dennis yelled at me quite a lot although with his thick Scottish accent I only understood every third word or so! One of the things I loved about the class was how you only got to spend about five minutes walking the full course and then every sequence you ran from the course was done by Dennis yelling out which numbers to do in what order. No more walking allowed! So you just have to suck it up and hope you remember where to go... At home we would spend another fifteen minutes re-walking it! The next day I just had a brief session at Lizzie's field going over some basic handling drills, again to try and embed in my brain his verbal and physical cues.
On the weekend it was off to Tunbridge Wells for some trialling action to see how Hydro and I fared in the competition ring. Saturday was extremely cold. I had multiple layers on and even with a thick jacket borrowed from Lizzie I was still feeling it. The surface was longish grass with a muddy layer underneath so I also borrowed a pair of footy boots as it was unlikely the Dita's would be up for the task and I didn't want to end up on my arse. Lizzie had entered Hydro in a few classes and I was all set to run him in a G7 jumping followed later in the day by a Power and Speed class. The first half of the G7 jumping was looking pretty good and Hydro was running really well for me. Unfortunately when I got to about jump 12 I told him the wrong verbal directional which sent him the wrong way, then I got a little bit lost and didn't push Hydro onto the right jump. The Power and Speed didn't go so well with Hydro really pushing me on his contacts plus a dubious contact call which meant we couldn't finish the jumping half of the class. We were all pretty much frozen solid by this point so we headed home. I wasn't unhappy with our first attempts but I was hoping I could do better the next day.
On Sunday the weather was a little better and the sun at least made an effort to show its face. I had three classes to run with Hydro starting with a G7 jumping. We started off really strongly but again at about obstacle 12 I had a moment of panic and couldn't remember which way to turn after the jump putting both myself and Hydro off completely and making quite a mess of the end. Just goes to show how much you can fall apart when your stressed! I went in to the G7 agility determined to handle it far better. Thank goodness I finally did having a great run over quite a tight and challenging course finishing with just a penalty for a missed weaver entry. After lunch I was to run Hydro in a G7 Cruft's Qualifier. I really, really wanted to finish the day off well and thankfully it went beautifully for the most part, but I had a major handler stuff up, putting Hydro the wrong way over the second last jump. What a total IDIOT! I was incredibly annoyed with myself for that as it was a really good run and Hydro really deserved the Q. It is very unusual for me to forget where I'm going when I'm running a course but I think with a combination of information overload and desire to get it right I was just a bit too stressed and nervous. On the bonus side while I was there I also ran a lovely bearded collie for one of Lizzie's friends who had hurt her knee. Young Chip was great and we ended up running clear over a G6 jumping course. Not bad given that I'd only met him five minutes before our run! We headed back still a little annoyed with myself for stuffing up but overall really happy with our progress after just a few days of training.
Aside from the opportunity to compete at Tunbridge Wells it was such a thrill to be there. So many awesome dogs and handlers that I only normally get to see on You Tube or live streams. At one point I was standing in line with Hydro waiting for my turn with Natasha Wise, three time World Agility Champion standing in front of me with one of her dogs while we have a chat. All quite normal stuff for a UK agility person but totally mind blowing for me.
The following day the time had come for us to start our road trip to Spain for WAO. The plan was for us to meet up with Simone, Stig, Sarah, Angela and little Dan at the Eurotunnel where we would convoy all the way through to Oviedo. Unfortunately things hadn't worked quite so well for Simone who had arrived the night before only to discover that the car hire company was closed. This meant frantic Facebook messages so some last minute rearranging of plans could take place. As it happened we all made it just a little later than planned and the drive was pretty painless.
Oviedo is a beautiful place with rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. The hotel was very nice but slightly chaotic with British, Japanese, Swedish and Danish teams also staying there. There were dogs everywhere but the hotel staff were great about it. The event was being held at a big equestrian centre not far from town. The venue was fantastic the only down side being the weather which was unseasonably cold making it quite unpleasant for those not competing who spent a lot of their time freezing. Fortunately we only had a little bit of rain and our rotation put us inside the main arena which meant we missed most of it. Our Wednesday training session was really exciting as it was the first time most of us had the opportunity to see how each other were faring with our borrowed dogs. I was thrilled to see that everyone's dogs were going brilliantly for them. No one looked like they had only been working with their dogs for a week. It really sent a great feeling through the team and anticipation about what was in front of us. Thursday we had check in, which included vet checks, a very brief training session in the main arena and then a quiet afternoon, if you can call going crazy in the local Decathlon (picture a Bunnings size store filled with sporting clothes/gear) store quiet before the real thing started on Friday.
Friday saw us at the venue by 7am ready to walk our first courses. We were starting with Snooker in one of the outdoor rings, followed by Individual Pentathlon Agility 1 in the main ring with the team running the Team Pentathlon Agility to finish up the morning classes. The Snooker course was looking OK but to do all sevens in the opening would require lots of control as there were three obstacles making up seven and getting to the reds meant weaving between lots of equipment. Lizzie and I had a good chat about it and with Hydro's responsiveness we decided I should just go for it and do suicide seven. I was mega psyched for our first run and ready to hit it hard. And what a run it was. Hydro was spectacular and did everything I asked. Unfortunately as we got to the first jump of the seven combination in the closing sequence Hydro slipped slightly and brought down the bar. Either way I was thrilled with the run but it meant we went from what would have been 8th spot to 24th spot. Still not bad for our first run of the comp. Next up was Individual Pentathlon Agility in the main arena. I was a bit nervous for our first time inside. The main arena was a massive space and the course was big and spread out. I didn't think the course was too difficult but there were some challenging angles to consider. In the end I think the nerves got the better of me and I wasn't thrilled with how I handled the course. I didn't push him onto the back of the wall very well which earned us a refusal. Then he knocked the bar from a really bad angle where I didn't give him enough space. Looking back it wasn't a bad run with three penalties all up after the spread came down.
Friday afternoon I had two more runs, firstly the Individual Pentathlon Jumping 1 in one of the outdoor rings and finishing up with Biathlon Jumping in the main arena. I walked the Pentathlon Jumping till my brain hurt. I was finding that my nerves were causing me to panic a little about forgetting where I was going on course which wasn't helping. This Pentathlon Jumping class ended up being one of my favourite runs of WAO being our very first clear and putting us in 22nd place with a dream run, just losing a little time as I gave him extra room to make sure the spread stayed up. My high though didn't last too long with a very tough Biathlon Jumping course that gave me our first Elimination of the event. This course caused all sorts of carnage as the weaver entry was extremely hard which was compounded by the tunnel being in the way. As it happened we did get a refusal there but nothing major, however later on in the course I couldn't get where I needed to be which resulted in Hydro taking a jump from the wrong side. I was pretty disappointed as if nothing else I really didn't want any E's, but such is agility.
Saturday was another early morning but I was pumped following the news that I'd made the cut from the first Pentathlon round taking me into the Individual Pentathlon Agility 2 and Individual Pentathlon Jumping 2 classes. First off for me was the Jumping. I didn't think the course was too bad and definitely doable. However things didn't go well at all. I was running late for the ring, it was raining as well as very cold and things just fell apart. I was so annoyed with myself as I knew the E would cost us any chance of making the Speedstakes final the following day but all I could do was resolve to make up for it in the afternoons Pentathlon Agility class. Thankfully we did just that. It was by far our best run in the main arena and out best placing of the event with Hydro coming in at 14th place. So awesome :-) I was one happy camper. To finish the day off was Gamblers. I picked out a course that would get us over all the bonus obstacles but I was a bit nervous because distance handling is so not my forte. I don't do a lot of distance work at home and when it works it is normally more good luck than good management. And as it panned out the opening sequence was a cracker. Hydro was flying, we ended up exactly where I'd planned and straight into the gamble. BUT, my inadequate skills brought us down. As I was sending him to the distance challenge I glanced down and thought I'd gone over the line and I hesitated expected the judge to call it. As it happened the judge didn't but unfortunately I didn't recover quick enough and when Hydro needed me to give him information to do his job I didn't and he pulled off the last line of jumps. I was pretty annoyed with myself for that. Talk about choke!
Sunday we could start a little bit later as the first class was the Individual Pentathlon Speedstakes Final which was top 20 dogs in each height and unfortunately none of us had made it this time around. So we got to sit back and enjoy watching some of the best dog and handler combinations in the world strut their stuff. I would have loved to have been out there and without the E we may well have been but watching how much pressure they were all under made me feel a tiny bit of relief that I could just watch and enjoy. Once the Speedstakes was finished it was onto the Biathlon Agility which gave all of us the opportunity for one last run. I had been really psyching myself up for an awesome run to finish off but it wasn't quite to be. Hydro kicked a brick out of the wall on jump three, then I got too far behind at the seesaw contact which had him in front of me and over the wrong side of a jump for an elimination. Other than that I thought it wasn't too bad and not a bad way to finish off my WAO for 2013. Frank was certainly saving his best till last as he came in at 7th place in the 525 height with Ella. It was a fantastic run. The final event for the day was the Team Pentathlon Speedstakes Relay. The Aussie Team hadn't made the top 10 so we all got to sit back and watch the USA show them how it's done. So with the Closing Ceremony done and dusted, lots of uniform swapping and goodbyes WAO was over for another year.
What can I say, it was amazing. I feel like the Australian Team is really a part of it now and that we aren't thought of as just up numbers. The dogs ran a treat for everyone and no one would have thought we'd only been working with them for a week and a half. Hydro was sensational and Lizzie was so generous in her support and doing everything she could to make sure that I was as successful as possible. I'm pretty sure the event exceeded everyone's expectations. I had been thinking that this one would likely be my last one but to be honest I'm not sure that I want to stop yet. To be a part of the event and the people and the atmosphere is something that is totally addictive. Obviously I have to qualify first but if I do I'm pretty sure I'll be packing my bags and be on my way to Lignano Italy.