Monday, January 10, 2011

Portland Agility Club Trial AKC Agility Trial - January 2011

Well, considering two weeks ago I wasn't sure if Vegas was going to get to run again (Yes, I tend to be one of those dog mom's whose heart and mind go down all the worst paths....), what a weekend we had! After everything started looking up a week ago I managed to re-confirm Vegas' entry into the trial this past weekend. And boy am I glad I did!!!!! Hot damn, my girl was on fire. What an amazing trial.

For starters, we had two of my favorite judges. Their courses are always fun, fair, and designed in such a fashion that they are not overly harsh on a giant breed's body. Our local judge was Paula Ratoza and our judge from afar was Lavonda Herring. The trial was hosted by PAC.

So going into the trial I knew that worst case scenario was to scratch Vegas and go back to the previous plan of scheduling Vegas to see an orthopedic specialist. But based upon her condition all week, it seemed she would be fine and if I had any other indication I would not have risked her well-being.

It was really cold - colder indoors than out - so warming up properly was really important. Fortunately the structure of the trial made the building much less crowded since Excellent classes were all running at the start of the day followed by the Novice and Open level competitors. That meant I got a good amount of space to jog Vegas around including gaiting her at the end of a 6' leash to the side of me. I appreciated this opportunity to really get a look at how she was moving. I was also able to use the practice jump to leave her in a stay and recall over the jump so I could see her forward movement. All was looking fantastic.

We ran Standard first on Saturday followed by JWW. Here are the courses:
Fortunately I'm learning better how to place Vegas at the start line. I used to set her up straight on for everything. In this case, although a tire is often a "straight on" obstacle, she's a smart enough athlete to know where to go and adjust her body accordingly. So I started her in this course a bit offset to the left of the tire and plenty far back. Why? I wanted a bit of an arc to get started and needed to create an arc or curve to the #2 jump. Plus it's easier for me to get started with her near me so she has to move out and away while I just move forward. Once Vegas took the tunnel, #5, I was able to move parallel across to the far side of the #6 jump in a front cross to pull her over the jump to the chute. For a while now Vegas has been somewhat slow going through the chute. I was excited to see her speed this weekend, in this course, through the chute. It's not a difficult obstacle or hard on her body, but for some reason she is often slower than with tunnels. From there I knew I had to keep her attention so she wasn't drawn to the tunnel. Always concerned about a-frame contacts, I was right there looking down and keeping her with me. The challenge next is moving ahead but not at a pace that sends her past the entrance to the weaves. She nailed her weaves and we moved ahead. I had some handling difficulties out of the tunnel and didn't make my rear cross at the teeter like I had planned. There was a funny picture the photographer took that had her face looking like, "Get outta my way!" as I did a front cross in front of the teeter as she hit the ground. We ran for the finish line and got our second MX leg. I looked back at the timer - 58 plus seconds on a course that measured 70 SCT. Whooohoo - 11 MACH points!

Starting with a tunnel isn't a bad thing, but I can't say I usually like it either. It's just...well, it's just strange. But we had tunnels as the first obstacle in two courses this weekend. This course had a lot of people really scratching their heads trying to figure which side to start out on - left or right - with the weaves placed where they were and the #13 jump as a possible off course. Fortunately I had seen a similar setup of the weaves at our last trial in Fast and knew what worked to handle it. I stayed on the right and just made sure to use my off-hand to come across my body as Vegas came over the #2 jump. That move really made it clear to her that she was not going to continue straight from #2 but angle back to the left. From the weaves, I often figure the course can be home free since our weaves are not always rock solid. However, this course I knew I had to keep working it as I always should. Here though, I had to remember not to act too soon and pull her out of the weaves. The #4 is back and down toward the beginning of the weaves - again, we've seen something like this before so experience was helpful. A year ago I would have had heart palpitations over the 180 at 7-8. Instead I was more concerned about not pushing her out too far at the #6 jump and possibly going over #10. I really liked the long home stretch from #13-20. I knew this would allow Vegas to really open up and run, plus it was good for her mental state. She really enjoys jumpers courses although rarely are they really built to give her the ability to stretch and stride out. I'm so pleased to say she qualified in that run with 5 MACH points. Plus - the most exciting part of all - that qualifying run made for our very first double Q!!!!!! 19 to go. LOL

Following my own lead from the day before, I shaped the entry into this course. I was hoping for a front cross at #3 to give me a shorter distance to travel for a front cross at #5. I set Vegas up to the left of the first jump with a good lead - almost to the ring entrance gate. I didn't make my front cross but knew she and I have a good "flip" so I counted on that to send her to #5. At that point I had rear-crossed at #4 and was able to make my move - just barely. Similar again to our last trial, going over the triple into the corner, I knew for sure I had to get her head and keep her focus with me on that stride or two to the weaves. Go Vegas! She totally did it and nailed the weaves again. From there we were home free. I really just ran and ran and she came along with me clearing everything in her path. I was so proud of how well she was doing. As you can imagine, with our third Q out of three runs for the weekend, it was quite an exhilarating high.
Here was our second course of the weekend with a tunnel start. From the dog walk to the chute we had to be careful to call our dogs through the other jumps. Turned out to be no problem for Vegas. She was about midway through the chute when I called out to her which turned out to be just right so she didn't pull toward me too much in the chute, instead making her chute exit fairly straight out. Fortunately for us, the way Vegas hits the contact and ground on the teeter, she has enough of a halt that I didn't worry about the tunnel being a draw. Straight for the table, turn to face me. Then, of course, was the heart-stopping, always worrisome weave entrance. After all, isn't it fun to launch off the table and just run? I knew, again, I had to control her head and keep her with me. Why do I ever doubt my dog? Go, Vegas! She nailed the weaves again - for the fourth time of the weekend. Four courses, four sets of weaves, flawless. Craig was watching and said she was really moving nicely, too. Confident and quick. The rest of the course was a bit of a blur. I think it went pretty much as I planned with me on the outside until the offside arm "flip" to the tire. Then around to the a-frame and a rear cross. The large pinwheel posed potential difficulty for small dogs with so much striding room between jumps but was perfect for Vegas. I wish I had video of it. I know it was a thing of beauty as she flowed between that last sequence of jumps, grinning and smooth. Looking back at the clock - we did it again! Seriously - a feeling of unreal euphoria. Four runs. Four qualifiers. Two double Qs. God is good. That was God's goodness after the stress and strain, heartache and worry of considering a future without agility with my big girl. What a weekend.

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