|The FCI World Dog Agility Championships are the most prestigious international competition. A different country hosts it each year and this would be the first year that Great Britain has been invited to enter a team. And once more we were very lucky that our own Kennel Club decided that they would sponsor it. There is always some controversy surrounding this competition due to the fact that as an FCI official event, only pedigree dogs are allowed to compete and as I think everyone is aware we are one of the luckier countries in that crossbreds are allowed to officially compete in all classes including Championships. However, when it comes to selecting a team for the FCI World Championships, some of our extremely competent, non pedigree and working sheepdogs are not allowed to try out for the team because obviously they wouldn’t be allowed to compete.
This is especially hard for the owners of working sheepdogs because the majority of working sheepdogs are in actual fact border collies but at some stage the necessary paperwork was not completed!! I remember quite well when Mary got our first brown and white border collie, Mr Chips, in 1979 and when we went to the farm to look at the litter, we picked out Chip because he was such a gorgeous looking dog and the farmer said to us ‘You can either pay £20 or £25 for full registration.’ Fortunately, and we really didn’t know any better so chose to have the full registration and of course Chip was a full border collie. But had we decided to take the cheaper option, of course he would have been a working sheepdog. Anyway, I believe the Kennel Club are looking at the whole situation with working sheepdogs but one thing is an absolute fact - no matter how much everyone complains and whinges, having spoken to several of the FCI representatives from different countries, I think it is a fact that the FCI will never ever allow a non pedigree dog to compete in their World Championships and if we don’t like it, our only option would be not to go and of course that would make not a jot of difference - it would really only be cutting off our nose to spite our face.
To appreciate this wonderful event, you really have to be there. It was the turn of France to host it this year and they had chosen the sports arena at Lievin with a big flat area in the middle and a running track on the outside then overlooking the running track and central arena there were thousands of tiered seats. When we got there, instead of rushing in to try to reserve a spot for our country as the other 31 competing countries would normally do, the French had already designated seating areas for each country, obviously using their experience on how many visitors from each country they were estimating and which probably wasn’t far out. But we did immediately realise that there just wasn’t going to be enough seats. The whole event had been publicised locally and they were expecting a lot of Joe Public visitors and we did wonder where they were going to sit.
The day before the competition started was practice day and the British were drawn to run at about 8:30 am, so it was an early start from the hotel to make sure we were there in time for the practice session but also prior to this the dogs would have to be checked by the official vet and it is at times like this that you realise what a good idea it is to have our own team vet, Mr Peter van Dongen. The team had around 25 minutes in the arena to practice. This was organised by team manager, Steve Croxford with the coach Gwyn Roberts. Everyone stopped to watch some of the other teams practising but it was then decided that we would get on our coach and go to a local town to have a look round and have a spot of lunch. We were very lucky that the driver this year was actually a young Frenchman who was working for the London coach company that Steve used again, so whenever we were in difficulties with the language we could call Philippe and he would sort things out for us. The area is not a big tourist area so we went to the nearest big town which was Lens and this is where we learnt the first lesson: we arrived at just after 11:00 am and it appears that the whole town shut from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm for lunch so we had little choice other than to join the local. So the majority of our party took over the pavement area of a café and had a very pleasant extended lunch.
That night was to be the official opening gala evening at a venue just behind the show arena. It’s a personal choice whether any of the team or their partners go to this at £25 per ticket and most years it has been a brilliant night but of course you never know until you get there. However, I have to say that this was one of the best gala evenings we have ever had; the food was good and we found that the price of the ticket also included as much wine as you could drink and the entertainment was the Kubiak orchestra who were just absolutely brilliant. They were like a pop group with some orchestra added on and they played every type of music from classical to pop. They had instruments ranging from the normal pop-type instruments to violins, trumpets, trombones and accordions. I really don’t think I will ever see a group like this again. But, it was the first day of competition the next day so we left at 11:00 pm leaving the party in full swing.
Next morning we were all on the coach at 7:30 am for the thirty minute journey to the arena. The opening ceremony was due to start at 9:00 am and quite unbelievably was scheduled to take two hours! I do find it so strange that anyone would consider it to be a good idea to have an opening ceremony lasting two hours. There has got to be lots of pomp and circumstance and all the teams parade into the arena exactly like the Olympics with the name of the team being carried in front and the team captain carrying the national flag followed by the whole team and there were over 30 teams to parade but everything took so long and I cannot believe there was anyone in the arena who wouldn’t have agreed that the opening ceremony should be cut down to one hour. In the event, they didn’t actually start the days competition until after 11:30 am. I was scheduled to finish at 7:30 pm but we knew by now that this was a little bit of a fairy tale. With Individual Jumping for small, medium and large dog sections and the team jumping category to be judged, it was obviously going to be a very long day and it turned out that we didn’t leave the venue until almost 10:00 pm that night which is very unfair on people who have been there for 14 hours and would then have liked to put up their feet and have something decent to eat.
At the first World Championships we went to about five years ago, there were only about four or five Brits there and in the three years since we have actually managed to put in a team the number as soared and there must have been over one hundred Brits who had travelled across to support the team.
Standard Dogs: Individual Jumping
Lesley Olden ran first and although she has bad problems with her knees, you wouldn’t have known as she stormed round the course in 36.40 seconds with her Border Collie Beanie which put her in second place.
Alan Disbery with Becky attacked the course and was in line for an excellent time but disaster struck at the weave with a 5 fault refusal.
Simon Peachey had high hopes for his super dog Diesel but uncharacteristically for him the dog decided to go under the third jump; the poles were rather thin and painted in dark red so perhaps this did not help.
Jo Rhodes and Kelbie put in an effortless round which, as normal, did not look very fast but she completed it clear in 36.14 seconds and went into joint seventh place in front of Lesley.
Nicola Garrett and Spec had another great round but was just not fast enough in 37.56 seconds. Toni Lock and Whiz were last to go in the Individual Jumping and boy, was she nervous! All went well until the weave where Whiz missed the entrance which meant 5 faults for a refusal. Then Whiz had a pole down so they finished up with 10 faults.
The British team of Jo Rhodes, Nicola Garrett and Toni Lock were drawn to run in twenty-fourth place. All teams were timed and faulted individually then these scores were added together for a team total of 113.64 seconds and this put them in third place which is where they stayed.
So, on the whole it was a good first day for the British team but what a dreadful time to finish at 9:30 pm! Although each dog took about 40/45 seconds on the course, they were only managing one dog every two minutes or so due to very inefficient starting procedures.
Mini Team Jumping
Saturday started with the Mini Team Jumping. Our team was drawn to run fifth and we hoped that it would be organised a little more proficiently. It was a fairly trappy course judged by the French judge Maryannic Jourden.
Mary Ray and Teena were first to run and they just glided round the course in 39.81 seconds. Next was Lynne Stephens with Quiz who unfortunately had a refusal on the weave which also meant she was just outside the course time in 44.98 seconds. Last to go was Keith Leslie with Hudson who gave another good clear round in 41.94 seconds.
Next to compete was the Midi team who were drawn to run in second place. Sarah Ashmead and Clio were first to go and they ran clear in 39.74 seconds, easily beating the course time of 42 seconds. Peter Stephens ran next with Nicson and they had another clear round albeit slightly slower in 40.21 seconds. Lastly, Mary Ann and Daz went clear but their time of 42.45 seconds resulted in a time fault of 0.45 seconds.
In all, there were nine teams with eliminations on this tight course and our team finished in fourth place in the Jumping section.
Mini Team Agility
After the Jumping round, our team was in twelfth place with 5.98 faults. First to go was Mary and Teena (owned by Shirley Turner) and they had a super round in 44.34 seconds but unfortunately Mary moved away from the seesaw a little too soon and Teena jumped off, resulting in 5 faults.
Next to go was Lynne Stephens with Quiz. She also picked up 5 faults for a refusal and with a 47 second course time, her time of 50.98 seconds resulted in time faults of 3.98 as well. Last to go was Keith Leslie with Hudson who picked up 5 faults and also 4.39 time faults.
Therefore the team finished in tenth place overall and with such a tight course time, it was apparent that no-one could afford to hang about on contacts.
Midi Team Agility
The second part of the three team events started in reverse order, so our team was running fourth from last. After the Jumping round, the leaders were France who were clear in 113.03 seconds, while we had 0.45 faults in 122.40 seconds.
Sarah Ashmead with Clio ran first and was delighted to run clear in 48.11 seconds with just 1.11 time faults. Next to go was Peter Stephens with Nicson. Before the event, he did say that he would have trouble getting to the “off” contact of the dog walk and he did indeed get 5 faults at this point in a good time of 44.86 seconds. Last to run was Mary Ann Nester with Daz who had a refusal at the seesaw which ended her hopes of a clear round in 47.33 seconds.
Therefore our cumulative total was 11.89 so everyone was delighted with our Midi Team position of fifth place.
The Agility section for the Standard Team Final was judged by the French judge Maryannic Jourden and the British were to run third from last as the second part was run in reverse order and we were lying in third place after the Jumping.
It was with trepidation that we waited as a succession of handlers were eliminated on one of the most dreadful trappy courses I have ever seen - perhaps on an individual competition it would not have been so bad but not for a team event. It was clear from the outset that there was going to be a lot of eliminations; in fact it got to the stage where anyone who came into the finishing straight clear received a noisy ovation. You can imagine how the British felt as country after country fell by the wayside. The Spanish team who started in eighteenth place was one of only two teams to have three clear rounds in the Agility section and stayed in the lead until the seventh placed team ran.
Then our teams turn to run came, we were third from last and carrying forward three clear rounds in 113.64 seconds from the Jumping round. Jo Rhodes and Kelbie came into the arena first to a tremendous welcome from the hundreds of British supporters. I have said before that Jo looks as though she is just coasting but she went round in one of the fastest times of 43.75 seconds and Kelbie did not put a foot wrong - the Brits went potty!
Next to go was Toni Lock with Whiz and, boy, was she nervous. The pressure must have been terrible but using all the skills she has as a psychiatrist, she held it together and did a super clear round in 45.21 seconds as again the Brits erupted. We knew we were in with a chance as last to go Nicky Garrett and Spec entered the arena. How on earth she must have felt knowing what was in our grasp if she went clear! She was a good choice to run last and looking totally in control she was in total control for a super clear round in 44.77 seconds. That gave us a total of six clear rounds in 247.37 seconds. However, two more teams were to go and if they did three clears then they would beat us - at worst we knew we had third place.
The home team, France, went next and with over five hundred supporters the welcome was deafening but disaster struck as one of the team was eliminated, therefore we moved up to second place minimum!
The last team to go was Finland who were carrying forward three clears from the Jumping round but 13 seconds faster than us. We were waiting, not daring to hope that we could win when the second dog in the Finnish team got 5 faults followed by the third dog being eliminated!
So we had done it after three years of being able to compete at the World Championships - we had won the standard dog World Team Championships against some of the best dogs in the world! As usual, there was lots of music and dancing in the arena afterwards and a full pitch invasion by the British supporters. The presentation was to take place the following evening so we all went back to the team coach for the celebrations and these started well when Liz and Alan from Premier Showjumps were waiting on the coach with champagne and glasses.
All the British team and supporters looked a little bit hung over on the final day after the previous evening’s celebrations as we now had the Agility part of the individual championships starting with the Minis. We were also expecting a visit from the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Kennel Club, Ronnie Irving and Bill Hardaway.
Once more, Maryannic Jourden was judging and again the course was dreadful. If the same course was put up in the UK it would cause uproar. Mary Ray with Teena was our only Mini individual competitor and she carried forward a clear round in 38.62 seconds. Mary must have been quite nervous at the halfway point just before she ran as we had still not seen a clear round and at least a third of the dogs had been eliminated! However, she may have been nervous but she did not look it as she steered Teena round clear in 47.22 seconds, giving her an overall total of 85.84 clear. This put her into eleventh place at the conclusion of the Mini Individual Championship.
The standard in Large, Midi and Mini dogs was excellent with some of the best dogs in the world competing but in the Minis the standard of the top dogs can only be described as stunning and it was interesting to note that although Shelties were numerically the largest breed entered for Mini and Midi dogs, the winning Mini dog was a Spitz (Russia), second place a Miniature Poodle (Switzerland), third place another Miniature Poodle (Russia), fourth a Sheltie and fifth a Border Terrier (Finland).
As a matter of interest, there were fifteen eliminations out of a total of fifty-nine dogs who ran in this class.
The next event was the Midi Individual Championship over the same trappy course. We had two entrants in this and first to go in fourteenth place was Sarah Ashmead with Clio. They made it okay to the fifth obstacle where the mouth of the tunnel, start of the dog walk and seesaw were less than a yard apart and instead of the dog walk, she decided to take the seesaw, resulting in an elimination. Unforrtunately, the same fate awaited Marc Wyngate Wynne and Lenacourt with a similar situation at obstacle fifteen. Again the standard was excellent and especially the winning dog, a Berger des Pyrenees from Slovenia who went clear in both Jumping and Agility in a total time of 71.69 seconds which was six seconds faster than the runner-up. In the Agility section there was a standing ovation when it completed the course in 39.58 seconds which was a full four seconds faster than anyone else!
After lunch, it was time for the Standard Individual Championships with the British team having six dogs entered. Again, the event was run in reverse order with the lowest placed dogs from the Jumping section going first.
Running thirteenth, Simon Peachey and Diesel would be first up for the British team. Unfortunately after an elimination in the Jumping round, but with not a care in the world, Simon set off like a rocket and completed a stunning clear round in an unbelievable 39.63 seconds, going to the top of the leader board. Next to go and running thirty-third was Toni Lock and Whiz who had a good round but unfortunately picked up 5 faults for a refusal at the wall which was on a very difficult angle.
Running forty-fourth was Alan Disbery who was determined to attack the course, having been disappointed to get 5 faults in the Jumping section. He went round like a rocket but on the way he had a pole off, missed a contact on the dog walk and had another fault on the seesaw so he incurred 15 faults in total albeit in one of the fastest times at 39.76 seconds.
Running 104th was Nicola Garrett and Spec who, if she could go fast and clear, was in with a chance of a high place. From the Jumping round she was carrying forward a clear round in 37.56 seconds. They started very fast then took the long way round one of the obstacles but still managed to get just within the course time in 42.97 seconds and snatched the lead from Denmark.
Next to go for the British and running 111th was Lesley Olden with Beanie still had a fast and faultless round until the wall when there was some hesitation, resulting in the judge giving 5 faults for a refusal. The judge was then booed by the whole arena but Lesley still got round in an amazing 40.76 seconds.
Last to go were Jo Rhodes and Kelbie and they could probably have done it but Kelbie ran past a hurdle to pick up 5 faults and of course lost time, then incurred a further 5 faults for missing the contact on the dog walk and ran over the line in 45.25 seconds.
This was one of the most exciting events I have ever seen as Nicola and Spec managed to hold onto 8th place from the original 129 starters. Therefore it was a brilliant end to a brilliant event for the Brits.
The final part of the show was the presentation for Singles and Team World Champions, so everyone got their tissues ready for the presentation of the World Team Agility Trophy to the winning team of Great Britain which was presented to the accompaniment of the National Anthem playing in the background. And watching with the rest of the officials were of course Ronnie Irving, Chairman of the Kennel Club, and his Vice Chairman Bill Hardaway. I’m sure that certainly confirmed to them that it was a wise decision for them to sponsor the team originally and it must have been good for them to see their support come to fruition. And of course at the conclusion of the presentation there were lots of celebrations for all the winners.
With so many of the world’s top dogs at the World Championships, it would be difficult to go into too much detail. But certainly the standard was stunning and I was particularly impressed with the Russian team who had had a three day coach journey to reach the championships but their smaller dogs as usual went like rockets.
The World Championships moves round from country to country and next year it is due to take place in Italy and I’m sure that the next country takes on board any shortcomings in this year’s event, as we would ourselves. No doubt they will look at the length of the opening ceremony and also I have to add the length of the closing ceremony. But one of the most noticeable things that a lot of competitors commented on was that in previous years there were individual medals awarded to the top three teams and this year there were none. The winning team had two trophies and the second and third placed teams had one trophy and of course it is rather difficult to share one trophy between three people, so I’m sure it was a great disappointment as in previous years like the Olympics there had been gold, silver and bronze medals. In the individual championships although there was a large trophy for individual winners, there were no awards for the agility or jumping classes, which again I believe there had been in previous years.
Well, was it worth going? You bet your life it was! It’s just a superb event to get thousands of agility enthusiasts supporting agility just creates an atmosphere which is unique. I would like to say that Mary and I are looking forward to Italy next year but unfortunately because the date of the World Championships has been forwarded a week, we will not be able to be there as Mary has accepted an ivite to judge Obedience in New Zealand. So I think disappointment is the word because we would really love to have been there again next year.