Sometimes I think you lower your expectations of how something will turn out because you don't want to be disappointed when things don't go how you wanted them to. For me I truly believed that this years Nationals was going to be a disaster. I don't think it was possible for Cassie and I to have had a worse lead up and it was a case of accepting that she was going to be overwhelmed and unlikely to run. A clear round seemed an absolute impossibility so I gave it no thought at all. I only focused on how I could make it as least overwhelming as possible for Cassie. I couldn't say if it was my lack of expectation that made it possible to achieve something but I'm certain that my lack of pressuring her helped Cassie to feel that it was OK to give it a try.
We arrived on the Sunday before the Nationals started to find our accommodation in the little town of Carrikalinga was simply brilliant. A gorgeous holiday house with views of the ocean and the local beach only a 10 minute walk away. I had decided even at that early point that no matter what happened at the trial, we were going to have an amazing holiday. Cassie was as happy as I've seen her. Relishing being an "only" dog, waking up to her favourite "Aunties" each day, getting to run on the beach and generally getting spoilt rotten. The Tuesday before it started we had some amazing weather to enjoy but unfortunately the weather did a turn for the worst and the next few days were pretty unpleasant. Friday was so bad that they ended up cancelling the whole day then didn't restart the next day until lunchtime to try and give the grounds enough time to dry out. The walkway that ran down the middle of the rings was a mud pit by lunch time on the first day.
On the first day of competition Cassie was running in a Masters Agility and Masters Jumping class. Our courses were lovely with plenty of interesting challenges. On both courses she came off the start line pretty happily but could only manage a couple of jumps before heading for the nearest tunnel to hide. As I have learned, this is Cassie's way of letting me know that she was feeling very overwhelmed. I'd say that the whole environment was a lot for her to cope with. My plan for each run, should she decide she couldn't do it was to run straight to the exit and get her to chase me out of the ring. In most cases I got her to jump into my arms and then we'd head off to her food bag and get some treats. If she hadn't tried to run at all and left the start line I may not have given her rewards but at the end of the day she was trying and I had spent a lot of time jackpotting one or two jumps off the start line with her before we'd come away. And the only thing that mattered was having a happy pappy.
Day two Cassie was entered in one Masters Jumping class and two Masters Agility classes. The Masters Jumping course was really nice and I would have loved to have run it. Cassie managed three jumps this time before switching into overwhelmed zone and heading to the tunnel to hide. The same thing happened in Masters Agility. That course was pretty tough so even if she had run I would have been pretty surprised to have managed a Q. You needed skills that we really didn't have. However again Cassie did the first couple of obstacles but didn't want to come out of the tunnel which was the third obstacle. So more getting her to chase me out of the ring and rewarding her. I decided to scratch her from the the second Masters Agility class. It was getting late, the grounds were getting really muddy and I wasn't sure there was a lot of point in pushing it.
Day three was the "great wash out" so we decided to head to MacLaren Vale so Colin could buy some wine and we could give ourselves a break. It was really cold and wet so there wasn't a lot else that you could have done anyway. Later on in the afternoon we took the dogs to the beach for a run and that was that. On day four a decision was made to not start classes till lunchtime to try and give the grounds time to dry out a little bit. Some rings were OK but others were very wet. I only had the one Masters Jumping class left but it was first up in the ring when things got started. I'm still not sure why this time was different and she decided to run. It could have been that having the previous day away from competing allowed her stress levels to come down. For the first time I didn't put her down in the raceway that took you into the ring, instead carrying her in and putting her down when we got to the start line. She had been playing happily outside the ring when I found some dry grass that wasn't awash with mud so she was definitely in a good head space. And so she ran. It wasn't overly fast for her and on the cautious side. She was watching me the whole time. Ten dogs in the class went clear and to be honest I was fairly certain that her run wasn't fast enough to make the top two which is what we needed to make the final. Then we had a nervous wait due to some timing issues and the scribe took a while to get all the dogs times into the computer. When her time went in I was stunned to see that she had placed second, only 0.7secs behind the little papillon who had come first. Getting that Q was brilliant enough but to also make finals was beyond amazing.
Day five was finals day and thankfully the rain was giving us a break. I had hoped that the Masters Jumping 200 final wouldn't be on too late because I was worried that Cassie would be over it before we got to the class. I think in the end it was on about 3pm. I had no expectations. There was no point building it up in my head or thinking about winning it. That was so completely irrelevant. The only thing worth focusing on was keeping Cassie happy, keeping a connection and giving her confidence to run with me. I made sure I got her out with plenty of time. She was quite happy to play outside of the ring and I was very thankful that the ring we were running in was quite dry outside so plenty of room to warm up. I decided to follow the same formula that had worked the day before where I had her in my arms in the entry area and then put her down at the start line. I'm not convinced that she needs to be carried into the ring as a general rule but with the entries being fenced in she did seem uncomfortable being in such an enclosed space. And of course I wanted to whatever I had to so that she would be confident enough to run.
Looking back I still can't quite believe that her run was so amazing. We didn't win, but I would be hard pressed to find a time where winning was less relevant. Cassie ran like her life depended on it, I could barely keep up. In the end we got a refusal on the fifth last jump. At the time I thought I must have pulled her off the jump but when I watched it back I don't think I handled her badly, she was just watching me and didn't really see what I was directing her to. I would have thought that I would feel disappointed that we didn't go clear but I can't get past how thrilled I am about how she ran. At the end of the day I know she was fast enough to win and the one thing I wanted most was to show everyone how amazing she is and I got to do that. Those that were there got to see what a phenomenal little dog she is. And that is enough for me. Our journey is far from over. My goal for the rest of the year is to build her desire on the start line. So more NFC for us and we'll see what happens. She will have a little bit of time away from trialling right now anyway.
Now we are back home and back to reality most of my time is going into getting Veto ready for the ring. I have entered him in his first class in a trial at the end of June. Just Novice Jumping to begin with. I always like to give them as least an overwhelming initiation as possible. I've been getting people to stand in the middle of the sequence at training and have someone take the lead etc. I don't think he'll have too much trouble with Novice Jumping. He is more or less ready for agility. I am really happy with his running dog walk and his a-frame is looking nice. Probably the weakest thing at the moment is weaving and even that is starting to look pretty good. I am very much looking forward to hitting the ring with him. It's exciting to go back to trialling where it's not all about whether they are happy/overwhelmed/want to run etc, etc! I'm expecting to have a lot of fun with him :)