My roomates Kathy and Sharon did not have to be to the trial until later, so I was first up and on the road from my cabin. You guessed, it, more rain. Luckily this trial was held at a really nice, outdoor covered horse arena with near perfect footing for me. Driving through the mountains that morning was really beautiful, and I was zooming along in quite a good mood when suddenly it occurred to me that this was the first agility trial I had been to since Andy died. Not only that, but other than Levi's very first agility trial at the sheltie national way back in 1997, it was the first agility trial I had EVER gone to without Andy- he came along just a couple of months after Levi got that first leg and went with me to every trial from then until he died. I admit I got a little teary; I still miss my boy every single day and one of the reasons that I haven't really worked Cory in agility much is that I just get a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach running without Andy. As I was driving and sniffling a little bit, I noticed the song on the radio- it was an old country song by Ricky Van Shelton called "Wild Man". That was what I would always call my Andy at the agility trials- when we headed over to line up for our turn in the ring I would always tell him "Come on, wild man" and he knew that it was his turn to run. The words of the song kept repeating "I'm a wild man, that's what I am"...almost like Andy was letting me know a little piece of him would be with me at every trial for the rest of my life. I'm not really one to believe in "signs" so much....but I don't believe much in coincidence either and what are the odds that that particular seventeen year old song would be playing on the radio?
I miss you, my little wild man. I'm glad I have a piece of you in your son, but it still will never be the same.
But on to Cory! I have to say that, despite the LONG days this club's trial was very nice, the facility was great, the setting was beautiful (when we could see it through the pouring rain!), the food was EXCELLENT and the courses were without exception flowing and fun. Plus we had real indoor bathrooms! I wish I had pictures of the mountains surrounding all four sides of the arena to show you, but sadly the weather was just too icky to get any. We definitely could appreciate WHY they're called the Smokies, though! At times it was like something out of a Tolkien novel.
I was SO proud of Cory- all weekend, through 8 classes, he had intense focus and energy; he NEVER lost it and ran amuck, and he tried very hard 100% of the time to play by my rules. His startline stays were solid (well, ok, he blew one but it WAS partly my fault), his contacts were great, and he even hit both weave pole entries the first day on the first try! The rest of the weekend we had almost all right sided poles and I think he got them all on at least the second try. It took his dad a LONG time for me to be able to say that! He does need to learn to drop his head and drive through a little more- he still has a lot of wasted motion, but that will come with experience.
I was especially pleased with his jumpers runs. We have definite issues with stringing together more than 2 or 3 jumps- he gets very revved up and starts to spin back and bark at me. He is VERY sensitive to my body language which is not at all precise, and way too handler focused. He sends to the weaves or contacts much better than to jumps. The course the first day was really a good one for us with "bowtie" loops so I didn't have to run too hard to keep up and he did much better than I expected. Day two we had to sit on the startline for about an eon while some course adjustments were made; the course was not so good for me and I needed to do a long lead out pivot which he is not really solid on to keep myself in position. He held the startline stay for a lead out long enough that we didn't both fit in the frame of the video camera even zoomed out all the way, but missed the pivot and got stuck in a spin cycle we never recovered from. Day three he broke his only startline stay of the weekend; I broke my cardinal rule of NEVER allowing my dogs to continue (I can honestly say I don't think I have ever failed to carry my dogs off if they broke their stay). I hesitated long enough to pull him off his weave pole entry, but ultimately decided we needed practice running full courses more than startline stays. I think in this case it was a good decision- we worked the stays separately afterwards, he held both of them later in the day, and he actually had a MUCH better run than I expected with only two places we got sticky- one due to needing more training and one due to me just being too slow. The improvement from Saturday to Sunday was immense, and I was so pleased.
I was really happy with our standard runs; I think he will Q in standard soon. We came very close on Sunday. He had great runs on Friday and Sunday; on Sunday I forgot which dog I was running and didn't support his contact sends well enough and he ran by each one- very unusual for him. BUT we didn't have a single spin until we got to the very last jump- a tough for us sequence of tunnel-jump-chute- jump and out, so you can imagine how far behind I was when we got to the last jump. His contact performances were very solid. On Saturday I pushed it just a little too far; we had a dogwalk-tunnel-aframe sequence and when he came out of the tunnel he wanted to "buzz" by me once before hitting the aframe; I held him on the frame contact a LONG time thinking I would settle him down (and also to let me cross in front and get into position) and after a LONG time he did pop off before I released him and I carried him off. I really regretted that after I thought about it though, as he probably waited 10-15 seconds- an ETERNITY in agility time- on that contact while I strolled into position- that's a lot to ask of a green dog! I shouldn't have pushed it.
But the best part of the weekend was Cory actually Q'd and placed second in FAST on Friday! FAST is a "games" class; you have 30 seconds to accumulate points. Each obstacle is worth a certain point value. To qualify you have to accumulate a certain number of points AND successfully complete the "send", which is a sequence of obstacles where you "send" your dog across a line and handle the sequence from a distance without crossing the line. Once the 30 second whistle blows, you lose one point for every second it takes you to jump the "out" jump and stop the timers. It is great fun and nice for novice dogs as you can reattempt obstacles if you need to, or avoid obstacles your dog isn't ready for (as long as they aren't in the send).
He SHOULD have qualified in FAST on Saturday as well, if his dumb handler had paid more attention when she walked the course. FAST and standard ran in the same ring, and in standard both days before running fast the course started with jump-dogwalk. I set him up for the opening in FAST on Saturday with jump- teeter- not even thinking that he was pattern trained to expect the dogwalk, and being a greed dog, would have difficulty telling the teeter and dogwalk apart when approached straight on. You guessed it, he flew off the teeter quite spectacularly- I don't think it dropped at all and he ran right off the end; "yelled" at me by barking with teeth showing that it was all my fault but did a great job when we reattempted it; I think this may have been the reason we had the contact run bys the next day too- he wanted to get a good look at them. Sadly he knocked the bar on the double in the send or we would have had Q number two. Oh well, c'est la vie. I learned an important lesson about looking at things from my dog's perspective and in the context of the whole weekend.
Running Cory was like deja vu in many cases- he is SO like his father in so many ways, especially when Andy was young and first starting out. I guess that means I haven' t learned anything and have made the same training mistakes! He does care a lot more about playing by my rules and he tries REALLY hard to do things right though- Andy played by my rules only because I'd carry him off if he didn't, he always thought he had a new and improved way to do things! This weekend was a great bonding experience for Cory and I- we had just started to come together as a team when Andy died, and left alone together we kind of had to redefine our relationship. I think Cory had the best time of his life all week with the agility trial being the cherry on top of the sundae.