Saturday, 18 August 2018

Laura's post - EO Competition Day

Laura's final blog about the European Open, competition day has arrived...

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.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

My EO Journey – The Final Blog

Regular readers will have been following Laura's journey as she tried out for a place on Agility Team GB and was selected for this years team going to the European Open in Austria. Laura has written a blog about her experience at the Championships. Its an really interesting read which I"ll post in two exciting instalments. Here's the first...

My EO Journey – The Final Blog

If you’ve been reading my blogs you will have been keeping up to date with the work Jade and I have been doing, as well as some of the preparations we have been partaking in to get us ready for the European Open in Austria.  Here is my final blog – the trip, the highs and lows and my experiences.

 As you know many months of hard work went into preparing Jade and myself for this event, from fitness routines, diet changes, short sequence timing, handling precision and the all-important wrapping in cotton wool.  After all that, we made it (with no injuries), we were sound and ready to go. We left with my friend at 4pm on the Sunday and drove to the Eurotunnel, we stayed over in Calais on the Sunday evening and rose bright and early at 7am to crack on with the long journey ahead. The satnav stated around 12 hours of driving, however this wasn’t really case.  With 2 hourly stops to let Jade out for a wee break and to do some stretches and the constant road works / traffic jams we didn’t make it to our destination until 1:30am.  It was dark & we were shattered, so went straight to bed.

The next day (Tuesday) we woke and had a little stroll around our home for the following week.  Found some lovely walks and worked out which rooms some of our other teamies were staying in.  As Tuesday was technically a day off before the hard work began and knowing how Jade gets quite stressed during travel, I wanted her to have a relaxing day where she could settle, stretch out and sleep.  I gave her a massage and let her sleep, which didn’t require much encouragement – she had barely slept during our days travel the day before.  Joce and I met up with some fellow team mates and blew off a little bit of steam in the local outdoor pool.  This was a lot of fun – to be relaxed, enjoy each other’s company and build bonds/friendships prior to the next few days, which as you will find out are quite emotional.  We also were able to have a great game of volleyball, which yes, became competitive (I’m sure you couldn’t imagine it any other way).  After a couple of hours relaxing we had some lunch and then returned back to the hotel.  I took Jade out for a small walk and did some stretches with her, followed by another massage and then she was able to relax again.  A few of us went for dinner Tuesday night and returned home at a reasonable time to get enough sleep in preparation for the work to begin the next day.

 Personally, for me I found the Tuesday a really useful day. As you may know this is the first time I have been privileged enough to compete for Team GB internationally and so I’m sure you can all imagine my feelings around this.  Excitement, nervousness, apprehension, pressure, slight intimidation but also a sense of loneliness due to the family I had left behind to be there.  It enabled me to become more comfortable in my own surroundings, not just the area but with some of the other Team GB members, who before then, I had had little social interaction with.  I think it also enabled some other people to get to know me a little as I am not someone who will boldly put myself out there. That’s not because I am being rude (I’d be mortified if people thought that of me), I don’t like to impose and am also fully aware there are very strong friendship groups with Team GB and so it helped me to find my place within the team social structure and I felt comfortable and welcomed.  Thank you for that guys.

Right then, Tuesday finished and Wednesday began. The beginning of what we were there for and for the work to begin.  We had Team GB training in the morning where we were able to have a set period of time to practice on the kit that would be used during the EO’s.  Maria had organised a space for some proprioception work which was great.  I found this training session great… after the session.  During the training session however, for some reason I felt incredibly nervous… it’s just training, not the competition.  I felt all eyes watching me (even though I’m sure they weren’t) and will admit felt quite under pressure.  We had x3 short training sessions, my first 2 didn’t quite go to plan. Jade knows when I’m not 100% comfortable however I attacked the third short session differently.  I was more decisive in what I wanted to look at and what I wanted to achieve, whereas prior this I didn’t feel I was as focused.  A really big lesson for me to have learnt in confidence to use the time that is allocated to me, mine and Jades time, to get the most of what we wanted. The first two sessions felt rushed (my fault), maybe trying to cover too much in each session I don’t know, but I refocused and this helped me to achieve more and Jade worked much better. I should also add the even during the team training session during the morning the management team were incredibly supportive – keeping us up to date with information and helping if we needed it. 

The team training finished and we had free time until our vet/physio checks back at the hotel.  So we cooled our dogs off and thought we would take a look at the venue and where the stable blocks were, where our dogs would be able to sleep during the competing days.  The venue was huge.  An enormous horse arena, I walked into the centre of the arena to look at the surroundings and to get a feel for the surface which felt brilliant.  The sand was slightly damp but not too wet.  I felt that the dogs would be able to run on this well, a little bit of give but not enough that it would get churned up quickly and cause a problem.  After this we went to get some lunch as a team which was lovely, then we went back to the hotel to await our vet/physio checks.  This is always a nerve wracking time, not just for me but for everyone I feel. We have all worked so hard and this check was one of two that could potentially put our competition dreams on hold. Jade and I sailed through this and so I could breathe a sigh of relief.  We had the official vet check the following day so was feeling good about this.  Wednesday evening we had a team meal at a local restaurant which was lovely, albeit short for me.  The weather held out enough to chat with our team mates and receive a motivating speech from Mark the Team manager and also for us to receive our GB Team caps, something I was honoured to receive and hoping I will be able to add to the number of times representing GB, for this trip I had a number 1 😊.  

I was amazed at some of the other team members & the number of times they had gotten to represent Team GB – well done guys, an amazing achievement.  After speeches etc. the weather changed to an incredible downpour which then led to a rather impressive thunder and lightning display.  Knowing Jade would not be feeling amazing comfortable with this I decided to cut the meal short, made my apologies for leaving but needed to go and be with Jade.  Got back to the hotel, she was ok but not amazingly happy, so I put a body wrap on and we had cuddles until the thunder storm finished and then we went for a little wander.  That concluded Wednesday, the formalities of the EO’s were the next day so we bedded down.

Thursday came and as usual I phoned home to speak to Graham and Grace before she started her day.  I had been ringing her every morning which was brilliant – I love FaceTime. It started my day off well and meant I could check in with Graham to make sure he was ok alongside the boys who were enjoying a quiet and relaxing week.  We left the hotel and met at the venue in the stable blocks. We all had team training which I felt went much better than the previous day.  I knew what I wanted to look at and what I wanted to achieve, we met our goals and I felt more confident than the day before. After this I cooled Jade off and we awaited our vet checks, which again went smoothly. I hadn’t experienced this before and I was surprised just how thorough they were, it’s no mean feet seeing over 850 dogs a day prior to competition but it was brilliantly organised and appeared to run smoothly.  Once all of the GB dogs were seen I think Hana and Maria breathed a little sigh of relief.  It’s an important time for them also.  

After this we all met back at the stable block for a de-brief and then we awaited the opening ceremony.  I decided to take Jade back to the Hotel before the opening ceremony.  I wanted her to rest and didn’t want her in the heat much longer.  The temperatures were between 30ºC-36ºC over the course of the week so felt she would be much more comfortable sleeping in an airconditioned room.  A decision I was very pleased with.  The opening ceremony was incredible, I’m not to shy or ashamed to say it bought me tears (I think Tash must have thought I was a bit mad haha), I felt quite overwhelmed with emotion.  It was as if it suddenly became real.  I was there amongst all of these other amazing partnerships from all over the world.  A very humbling moment.  Austria did themselves proud, a fantastic ceremony and the finale was a display from some beautiful and talented horses and riders.  Once the ceremony finished we went for dinner and then went to bed. An early night before the hard work really began.

Monday, 6 August 2018

EO 2018 - Agility Team GB

The Agility Team GB handlers have written a lot of interesting posts on social media about this years European Open they attended in Austria. I wanted to share my thoughts about this fantastic competition set in a beautiful venue with many of the top agility handlers from across the world.

Team GB slightly missed our target of winning two medals. However, we won a silver medal in the team relay and Hayley Telling & Teal won the medium agility class and finished overall top medium dog over the qualifying rounds. Making this one of the most successful EO's we've attended in the last five years.

Medium individual agility winners
The championships were attended by 37 countries and over 850 dogs. Making this one of the top international competitions in Europe and one which continues to grow.

The complexity and skills required to complete the courses increases each year too. These courses are rightly challenging and yet fast and flowing for the dogs and entertaining to watch.

So overall how did Agility Team GB perform against the other 36 countries? Very well in my view. Qualifying for the finals and winning medals is an incredible achievement for any team. When you consider some of the additional hurdles our handlers endure it makes our results even more fantastic.  I'll write about these additional hurdles in my next blog.

A couple of things that really stood out for me at this year championships:

  • Our team captains did a fantastic job building their teams.
  • The overall bond between team members has been the strongest I've worked with.
  • We continue to improve our preparations, being more targeted and specific. 
  • We weren't phased by the challenging courses. Handlers ran them them confidently. 
Finally, it was great to have one of our main sponsors at the EO supporting us. As a team we rely so much on the generosity of our sponsors and to have Streamz attending, supporting us and getting involved with the sport was very welcoming.

You can find out more about Agility Team GB at the KC web site or come and have a chat with me at the KC International Festival on 9 - 12 August.

Team relay final - Silver medal winners.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The most amazing time

‘We’ve had the most amazing time ever, thank you so much’  

That type of feedback from a parent makes me realise just what a special event the European Open for Juniors is.  For the young handlers it’s a huge step up from the competitions they’re used to. For the parents it’s an emotional roller coaster. For the Coaching Team it’s four rewarding days of constant exciting activity.

After all the preparation and planning to finally walk run into the opening ceremony is a great feeling for all of us.

It’s a family holiday, it’s the coming together of a years planning, it’s the highlight of a young handlers agility career. 

It’s also a lot of fun.

At this years championships there were: 27 countries; 564 dogs and 126 teams. And make no mistake, the standard is as good as any Championship class in the UK. I'm not just talking about children doing dog agility, these are well practiced and well prepared agility handlers under the age of 18 demonstration the future of agility.

YKC Agility Team GB came home with three class places and a bronze medal (overall small junior individual); a fantastic result for the team. Of course winning podium places and medals is important to us, but so is the development of future handlers. To this extent the Championships were very successful. 

We built in more team work to our preparations this year. I’m sure this contributed to our improved performance. The team spirit amongst the handlers, parents and the coaching team was incredible. When you see an experienced young handler stepping in to help another with course handling decisions completely unaided you realise the supportive culture built up in this years team.

Like all teams we came together to achieve an objective, win medals / class places and develop handlers. Once the objective is achieved the team disbands. However, unlike most teams I don’t think this years team will be disbanding any time soon. 

There were friendships made in The Netherlands that will go on for a long time. Friendships between children and parents that will support these handlers long into their agility careers and probably outside of agility too.

Next week I'm off to the European Open with the adult team in Austria. I'm sure this will be equally as exciting. That will be the subject of my next blog.

Monday, 2 July 2018

My EO Journey Part 1

I'm very pleased to have my guest blogger Laura Hope back to continue her journey... 

Well I decided after my 3 part Development Squad journey I would give you a 2 part blog on my EO journey. Now that’s something I never thought I’d get to type or even say out loud.
I will start where my previous blog ended – Performance Weekend.  Performance Weekend marked a long couple of weeks wait to find out who was picked for the EO / World Teams.  We were told to expect a call or an email on the 17thApril to find out.  The 17thcame round and I can remember it like it was yesterday, I dropped Grace of at Nursery as usual, got to the field and took the dogs for a run. Upon my return, I can remember thinking to myself ‘I must check my phone isn’t on silent on the off-chance I was called’, and literally as I thought that my phone rang.  It was a number I didn’t know, I answered it and it was Mark Laker.  He informed me that I had been picked to be a part of the EO team in Vienna, Austria.  I couldn’t quite believe it, I thanked him, finished the phone call, phoned Graham and literally sobbed (ha ha).  I couldn’t believe it, Jade and I had worked so hard to get to that point and to have the GB management team believe in us was extremely overwhelming.  I told Graham that it was under strict confidence and it wasn’t to be announced until the KC publicly announced it.  Came off the phone, cried a bit more and then continued on with my day.  I hope the management team realise how grateful I am for the opportunity.

So now, I thought, the hard work really begins.  I had already designed a fitness plan for myself and Jade should we get this opportunity come our way, so I pulled this up and put it into action.  I had organised the plan around Grace, family, work, shows, team days and the other dogs too.  I increased Jade’s Hydro to twice a week, upped her physio to at least once every other week, and dropped the number of shows Jade would compete at.  I had planned proprioception time, endurance work & sprint work alongside training and ensured I gave Jade enough rest days during the week.  This is the first time I have done all of this so strategically and honestly it is a lot of hard work.  Good hard work, but hard work none the less – so many things are impacted which you maybe don’t consider as much as you should; finances, spare time available, number of hours in the day – I could go on.  But I wouldn’t change it for the world, you get nowhere if you don’t put in a lot of hard work. I have also seen all my dogs’ fitness improve during the process, not just Jades.  I have learnt so much throughout not just the development and squad process but also after selection period.  

Apart from learning more about dog related fitness, I have learnt about travelling abroad.  I have not been abroad in years, and I especially haven’t driven abroad, so I had no idea about the regulations and things you needed to travel with. Did you know you needed two breathalysers?  I didn’t, so I bought a European car travel kit to include the spare bulbs, high-vis vests, breathalysers etc.  I organised my journey to Vienna with the help of Google, booked my Eurotunnel slot and my stop over as well as my return journey.  I managed to do this quite early, I felt very organised.  I have improved my dog first aid kit hugely and feel I am getting quite prepared. I just must remember my toothbrush (ha ha).

As the days and weeks have passed leading up to the event I feel I have been able to balance all of this well but I would be lying if I had said this was easy.  My mileage and amount of time travelling has increased greatly which of course has an impact on my family.  I have tried to allocate the travel time to when Grace is in nursery so as not to impact on her life too much but of course this doesn’t always work and so she often joins us whether that be to physio or to the “water crocodile” aka Water treadmill.  She is an angel and rarely moans and actually seems to enjoy her time where ever we go. It would be a lot more difficult if Grace moaned more, I’m very lucky she is so laidback.  Graham has been a star, he has had to put up with me wrapping Jade in cotton wool, not letting her do certain things and being overly cautious with her.  He has been very tolerant.  There have been a few more Daddy Daughter days when I have been on team days etc. and he has accepted it all.  I have been more tired as I have been improving my fitness and with tiredness sometimes comes a little stroppiness (oops) and I am truly grateful for his support, I wouldn’t be able to embrace this opportunity fully without him.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Remembering a special boy - Devo

Last week we said good bye to Devo (Devongem Crystal Method). He would have been 10 next month and on the outside a fit, happy and healthy dog, but on the inside he had a large stomach tumour which the vets weren't able to remove.

Right up to the dreadful day Devo was always full of energy, excitable and loved life. He wanted to please us all the time. He was a sweet-heart and a lovely dog to have around the house. He loved people and other dogs and had a very unique character.

He will be missed for his enthusiasm, his excitement out on walks and his constant running about; our neighbours nick-named him ‘come-by, too wide’ because he was constantly on out-runs and would then come zooming towards us flat out, slowing down just in time to whip behind and shoot off again. He was hilarious.

At agility he won his way up the grades to championship classes and won two reserve tickets. His notable agility successes include: Being a member of the Scunthorpe large team who won the Crufts team competition in 2016; a reserve place at the Olympia finals in 2014; He won a number of medals at the Dania Cup and at New Year competition in Germany.
I always knew when I stood on the start line with Devo that we could produce solid clear rounds. He would always give 100% and above all he was great fun to train and run.

Thank you to everyone who has posted their condolences on social media, sent us private massages and spoken to me. It's comforting to read/hear.

He has left a huge hole in our hearts…

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Devoping the future of UK agility

Two years ago I received support from the Kennel Club to set up a development programme designed to bring handlers new to international competition and/or young dogs under the coaching teams radar. Following postitive feedback from handlers on the 2017 Development Programme, we’re continuing to run it this year.

Like any sport at the top level, it’s important that we look out for future up-and-coming stars and share our experience and knowledge to help develop them. 

To be successful internationally handlers need their own strong support network, a lot of commitment, resources to draw on and a team of professionals supporting them; that’s what the Agility Team GB Development Programme sets out to achieve.

11 handlers and dogs have been picked from the Performance Weekend to be part of this years programme. It’s likely others will join them through the year as the coaching team ‘spot’ other dogs & handlers who we consider have the potential to be part of a future team.

Since it’s introduction many people have asked me how they can join the programme. Obviously at the Performance Weekend is one route, being spotted through the year is another. So what are we looking for?

Well its a sport, not an exact science, so there isn't a black and white answer. However to give you a flavour of what we look for...

Fast, fit, well conditioned dogs = speed, (5+ metres/per/second). Their performance is consistent (able to produce top performance equally well under pressure). They’re accurate (they make the judges job easy). They regularly produce fast, clear rounds which increases our chances of winning medals. 

Handlers who demonstrate:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of tactics and strategy;
  • Ability to perform under pressure;
  • Confident dog trainers and agility handlers;
  • They’re open-minded and willing to learn and adapt and
  • They're able to produce top level performance under normal conditions. 

We rarely get the finished, polished partnership; that’s what the development programme is about. But if we can see the potential then we will look deeper.  

Congratulations to the 11 handlers who have been picked from the Performance Weekend. The Coaching Team and I look forward to working with you over the summer.