So Friday was here – Team day. We all met at the stable block for 6:30am and then went to watch the courses being built, this was at 7am and already the heat was already intense. Once the course had been built we got to watch the “white dog” run the course. This was great to watch, then in our pre-organised groups (depending on running order) we awaited our time slot to walk the course. We had 8 minutes to walk the course. I had a strategy to course walking that I had been working on throughout the year and so stuck to my plan.
I’m pleased that I was able to walk the course and different sections the way I wanted to without too much trouble – everyone wants to walk what they want to walk, it’s a bit crazy. Once both courses were walked I went back to the stable block with my team to be with Jade and to go over the courses in my head and to help me focus. As a team we discussed our approach and went through our course walking. Our running order weren’t for a while so we then went to watch some of the others run. The courses were long and fast. They were beautifully designed with some elegant technicality. I loved the courses, I loved that for the majority of the courses the dogs line was natural and can remember thinking that the judges had done a brilliant job designing these courses. Something I really hope will filter through to the UK (I’m not complaining about UK courses, just mentioning that there is a difference, which personally I felt helped the dogs). It was beautiful to watch the dogs really open up. We watched and cheered on our other team mates – a real sense of camaraderie Then it was our turn to go and get ready. I warmed myself up, then I warmed Jade up and we all went to the arena. We were there a little early which involved a little bit of hanging around, something I later decided to try and avoid. I felt myself becoming more and more pressured, not caused by anything or anyone specific but more due to the atmosphere and build up. I was the first one to run in our team and I can remember just before I was about to go on the start line feeling quite overwhelmed. I snapped myself out of it – it’s 40 seconds, that’s all I need to focus for. I went to the start line, waited for the whistle and Jade and I set off. The start was beautiful with a lovely weave entry, she pipped out at number 10, maybe due to me leaving too early and unfortunately went into the tunnel so that was our round, E’d. I quickly decided I wanted to attack the rest of the course, I wanted to get her round it and so I put her back in the weaves and we carried on with the course which was clear. She ran beautifully apart from having to change lead leg in the tunnel, and with that and I believe the anti-slip, she fell over in the tunnel and came out rather tentatively. We carried on and finished the course and I then cooled her off & Maria checked her over. She was happy for Jade to continue. I should mention that after I finished my team run I watched my other team members who were all amazing. Once we had all finished we had a team hug and congratulated each other (something that was lovely considering we hadn’t quite got the result we were aiming for), this broke the camel’s back – I cried, something I am quite embarrassed about now haha. I wasn’t crying out of disappointment in Jade even though we had been E’d, so I was a little gutted, but crying due to the build-up. In hindsight maybe I should have released that energy before the run, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing.
We then had a few hours to chill before our jumping round. We watched and cheered on our team mates as they had done us until our jumping round. This time I did not get to the ring so early, as I wanted to stay focused and keep Jade in the shade and so found a space further away to be until I was told to come over. A fast course, so I really ran – I loved it. We got a 5R due to me asking for a serp instead of a German but quickly recovered this to carry on with the course. I was chuffed to bits with how Jade was handling everything – the heat, the environment, the different kit and being in a team with 3 other dogs she didn’t really know very well. As always I couldn’t fault her. Our team finished and again they were amazing, I felt so privileged to be in a team with them. They really are world class. Unfortunately for us the team final was not meant to be, something we were disappointed about but couldn’t focus on as we had individual day the following day. Team GB, for all heights, did amazingly well, well done everyone.
We stayed until all competition had finished then went back to the hotel to freshen up, give Jade her well deserved dinner and we went for some food. Again another early night as we were back at the venue for 6:30am Saturday morning. The format for the day was exactly the same as the previous day – course building, white dog, course walking but there was a difference. It was individual day, so no pressure felt from other “team” mates and I don’t mean pressure that they put on you because I felt very little from my team mates but the pressure you put on yourself being in a team. Individual day for me was all about Jade and me. What could we do, what could we achieve.
I stuck to my set up from the previous days, I didn’t get to the ring to early, I waited in the shade until 5 dogs before me. We ran the agility first and went clear. I was so thrilled, I did hold her contacts probably a little longer than I should have so wasted a little time there but overall chuffed to bits. We went and cooled off and rested for a while, before then went and supported all the other Team GB members. I loved watching the agility, being a part of the atmosphere, cheering fellow team members, watching them work their dogs. It was and still is inspiring. After lunch and some time went we then had our jumping round. A really interesting course and one I really had to think about. There was a blind tunnel entrance with the exit facing a jump they weren’t allowed to take but they had to turn left to find the weaves. Knowing that blind tunnel entrances aren’t Jades strong point, I decided to run with her and blind her into the tunnel, it was a s*** or bust move. It would either work and be beautiful or not work and look a bit messy, but this is what we had been working towards, no point in playing safe, so I went for it. Unfortunately I just didn’t hold on the tunnel entrance long enough, a couple of tenths of seconds longer would secured it and she came with me… damn it, we got a 5R. We then carried on, I messed up another jump to cause her to have an elimination but we carried on, I still wanted to go for it around the course and she was beautiful.
So for us that was our EO competing journey finished. We went, tried our best, didn’t come away with exactly what I was after but that’s what happens sometimes. It was our first time competing internationally and first time being on Team GB and I’m hoping it won’t be our last. I have come away hugely inspired and motivated to be, and do better. I have plans written for my dogs and as long as they are fit, healthy and happy to do so, we will try and be better.
The European Open did not finish there though. After watching and cheering on others we watched the prize giving for the previous days runs and the individual runs from that day. After this we went to have dinner and bed down before the finals the next day.
The Sunday was finals day. Team GB had teams & individuals in the different finals and so it was great to be able to watch them. I also found it amazing to watch the different handling and partnerships from around the world. Germany did very well and it will be interesting looking over their runs in the next few weeks to see where they gained times compared to us. I have found a new love for course analysis. Sunday was a great day, the whole of Team GB rallied around together, everyone was in great spirits and really supported the others in finals. It was great cheering as a team and there really was a sense of #oneteam about the day.
After the finals finished and the prize giving ceremony/closing ceremony finished we all headed back to the hotel to freshen up for the celebratory meal at the same restaurant we had our welcome meal – this time there was no thunderstorm. Everyone was exhausted, you could see it in everyone. The first time all week we could just sit and relax. It was done, the event was over. All the hard work from the past 6 months all led up to that week and so it was a time to chill (not for everyone, some have the world championship coming up) even if it was for a week or so. Mark gave a speech congratulating everyone, not just the competitors but the management team as a whole and our sponsors who contribute so much to Team GB. After this we left, returned to the hotel as we were leaving to return home at 4am the following day.
I won’t bore you with the LONG journey home. What I will finish on is how I felt during this whole week. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for were the emotional highs and lows that you have to deal with. It is something that you can either handle, or you can’t. If you can handle it, I feel it makes you stronger and more motivated, however I could equally see how easy it would be to feel too overwhelmed by the whole thing, especially when it doesn’t go quite to plan. As a newbie I don’t think anyone can prepare you fully for what you will feel emotionally, but I would say that Team GB (competitors and management) aren’t far away. A supportive face, a comforting hug or a little pep talk, everyone works so hard not for their own game but for each other. Even though there are friendship groups within the team which at the beginning felt intimidating, after the week was finished there was a real sense of Team. Something I won’t forget and some memories that will stay with me forever.