I competed at the Blue Ridge Agility Club USDAA trial in Fletcher, NC, last weekend. Their trials are always my favorites because they're in a great venue (a covered arena in May and a heated indoor livestock show ring in December) and are always well-run. Plus their trials always attract world class competitors who are fun to watch. Of course, I often end up feeling completely inadequate as a handler after screwing up something the "pros" made look simple, but there were a few times when I successfully handled some course elements that snared a few of the better handlers, so I guess it evens out in the end.
Anyway, while walking a Snooker course on Saturday, I overheard someone saying "I need to snooker him past this jump." Although the word has other meanings as a verb, it sounded funny because I'd never heard it used as that way in relation to agility before. What the person was saying was that she had to run her dog past an undesired obstacle in a way that would convince the dog not to actually take the obstacle, which is frequently necessary on Snooker courses. So I guess I can officially say that Lucy is hard to snooker. If I drop eye contact (to look where I'm running, for example) she will always immediately take the nearest obstacle, as she did on Saturday during our first-ever masters Snooker run. So "snookering" remains on my list of things to practice. (Mr. Gomez, on the other hand is easy to snooker ... if he'd only stayed in the weaves during the closing we would have easily qualified.)
Another skill that tops our practice list is "gambling." Now that we're in Masters, the degree of difficulty is daunting. We've achieved some good basic distance on hard stuff like contacts and weaves, which got us through Advanced Gamblers by the skin of our teeth. But in Masters we face the added challenges of things like layered obstacles and changes of direction. Or both at the same time. I'm reduced to being gratified if we even get half of a gamble. I'm not alone, though, as a few other folks who train a PBH also had gambling problems this weekend. So I e-mailed the failed courses to our teacher, Val Olszyk (who is busy with her new baby and not back teaching just yet) and she sent back some handling notes. We set the course up last night and worked on them, to some degree of success--I was able to get them correctly only if I stepped over the line. But Val said the key to most Masters gambles is to stay well off the line, giving yourself room to step in and drive an "out" if the dog curls toward you. Obviously easier said than done!
The other issue that frustrated me this weekend was speed. If it's chilly, Lucy is a little racer, sometimes too fast for my handling skills. But she's no spring chicken (she turned 9 years old a little over a week ago), and after four or five runs, especially when it's warm, she slows down. So when Steeplechase--an event that's all about speed--is the last run of the day, we don't have much of a chance of making the cut even I manage a clean run. I did manage one on Saturday--a really pretty clean run, if I do say so myself, but we were too slow. Part of that was her speed--I felt like I was pulling her over and through the first four or five obstacles--and part of it was a tiny timing error on my part. One way I get her to make her A-frame contact is to say "wait" after she crosses the apex (she's small so she doesn't really "leap" the apex, but sort of scrambles over it). This usually makes her pause and pay attention to her descent--if I don't say it she often takes one stride and launches from right above the yellow. (I know it's not the best way to handle the A-frame, but it usually works!) On the Steeplechase run, I said it a lttle too early, which caused her to pause right on the apex. She looked at me, and then looked at the view as if she was thinking "Wow, I can see a lot from up here!" When I realized that she wasn't coming down, I said "OK," and she descended, but I think we lost several precious seconds right there. She was really cute, though! (And I think she's also adorable jumping the broad jump.)
Our successes for the weekend were a Q each in Masters Standard (our first), Masters Jumpers (our second) and Grand Prix (our second). Except for one of the Gamblers runs (in which both the opening and the gamble were disastrous) our runs overall were pretty good. In a few more trials I will feel like I actually belong in Masters.
I competed with Mr. Gomez on Saturday only, and he's doing fantastic. Gone are the days of running around in circles--he's looking like an actual agility dog these days. He's a little more senstive to unfamiliar equpiment however, which caused our only problems. He bailed off the side of the teeter in his Standard run (but stayed on it in pairs--I was saying "good boy good boy good boy" the whole way), and jumped out of the weaves during the closing in Snooker, giving the weave poles a funny look as if they had startled him. But we qualified in Gamblers and Pairs, and I had great fun running him. He's pretty cute, too.
We'll all be running again Memorial Day Weekend at PBH, when it will undoubtedly be hella hot, so I'm not holding out much hope for that Steeplechase Q.