Friday, August 29, 2008

AAC Nationals, Sussex New Brunswick, Aug 7th - 10th, 2008

The Tamsu group at the end of the nationals after the ribbon ceremony. Blaze moved when the photo was snapped, and he is very hard to see...

My trip out east was definitely a learning experience... Long distance driving is not for me! Wow, I couldn't believe how long and oh so boring this drive was. Once finally in Sussex, we were there quite early on the Wednesday, a full day before any of the activities began, so we had time to get proper sleep, set up our shade tents, check out the venue, and just relax.

On the Thursday, the warm up games began. I never bothered to do warm up games with Blaze before, as I figured since he is a seasoned competitor, he does not need them. Well, little did I know the handlers could take toys into the rings with them during the warm up runs...... What an absolutely brilliant idea! Take my dog into the nationals competitor rings, and reward him with toys and play.... a great warm up in my opinion. This was my first experience participating in warm up games, and what a disappointment it was! They set it up as a first come, first serve event, which meant handlers and dogs ended up waiting in line up to one hour for their chance in the ring... something Blaze would never be able to do. I only got two out of four warm up runs in, and I was so disappointed at not getting a chance to do what I had planned for Blaze that day, it really put me in a foul mood. At the end of the day, while chatting to a fellow competitor, who is also a masters level judge, he brought me back to reality when he said, "Do you really think your dog cares?" (in reference to me not being able to accomplish what I had planned for him).... And to answer honestly, "no", my dog did not care, nor did he have any idea that we didn't get to do what I had planned to do that day. All he knew was that he got two fun runs in, both of them with great rewards involved... he had no idea my plans for him were not carried out.... So, with this little statement from my fellow competitor, I was transformed back into a better mood.

Overall, Blaze did quite well. He even made it to round two of the Steeplechase event, something I never would have expected. It was a nice surprise for sure. We had only 3 errors in the whole event; Blaze refused he weave entry in both our standard runs, and he missed the final gamble in the first gamble event. Otherwise, he went clean and under time in both jumpers runs, and he had an amazing opening in the second gamble along with completing the final gamble. We had awesome times in both our standard runs, but because of the refusals, no bonus points for us. Also, the main gamble in the first gamble event was something he certainly could have done, but not enough practice or incorrect placement of myself during the final gamble could be to blame. Anyway, he never shut down, which has been our major challenge in the gamble event. In the end, we finished 19th overall, in a class of 62 dogs. Had we not made those 3 small errors, we would have been 4th overall. WOW!!!!!! That is amazing, I had no idea we could've placed fourth. I had no idea we were top ten material. One could easily argue that we are not top 10 material, as we finished 19th. However, the errors we made.... I know that Blaze is fully capable of not making those errors, so a fourth place finish was certainly within our reach. This is both exciting and disappointing at the same time. Exciting because I know he has the skill to accomplish this ---- Disappointing because these errors have been our long time training issues that have been holding us back.

In hindsight, placing in the top ten was never, ever my goal. We are in a very competitive class, with a lot of dogs. We are not a fast team, nor will we ever be a lot faster than we are right now. I realize this, and accept it. I will never try to push Blaze to be something he is not.... My only goal is that we go out and be the absolute best we can be.... If our absolute best places us 4th at a National event, then that is amazing, truly amazing that he would place in the top 5 dogs in all of Canada, something I never would have dreamed possible. If our absolute best places us in 19th place, then I would be equally as happy, as I would know in my heart that we went out and performed to the best of our ability. If we are working at our personal best, then wherever we place will make me happy. We did not perform at what I consider to be a personal best. Weave pole refusals are something we need to work on, as well as tricky gamble sequences. These are my training goals for next year, along with continuing to work on consistent handling cues.

The picture at the top is the only one I have of us at Nationals.... the environment is a little bit stressful, with everyone I know focusing on getting their dogs ready to run, it was really not appropriate to ask any of them to stop and take pictures of us.... Too bad!

All in all, it was a good experience and I am glad I went. It was all worth it to see our Coach, Sarah Mairs-Heaslip, win the 16 in Veterans Class with her world level competition dog, Gabby. What a sheer moment of joy for her, her family, and all her students. And, she initially did not want to attend this year's nationals..... Look what she could have missed out on!

And, once again, I am also reminded of all those unfortunate people who cannot compete with their canine parters anymore. Some dogs have illnesses, injuries, or some have passed on prematurely. I do feel lucky and truly thankful that I am simply able to go out and have fun with a phenomenal dog who is so willing to learn the wonderful sport of agility.

Thank you Blaze.