Ugh, this is the problem with competing. You can be prepared, you can be on your game, your dog can be on his, and you can still wind up sucking. I mean, I can handle having a bar or two down, or an off course. I’m trying to run my dog with speed, and with speed from the beginning, as opposed to starting out slow and trying to add speed later. As a consequence we will be less accurate at first, but once it comes together it will be amazing. But it’s beyond frustrating when you get defeated by the ground.
A significant portion of our local trials are held at the same place, which is probably what made this situation worse. The footing is made up of astroturf, and incredibly poorly maintained Astroturf at that. Poor, poor Mufaasa face-planted after the first obstacle. I thought it was a fluke and then he slipped coming out of the tunnel. And then he slammed into the ground coming off the a-frame. That’s about where I should have walked out of the ring, but I was worried about ending on that note and then having him be nervous in the ring. Especially given that at least a third of our local trials are held at that venue.
Mufaasa, beautiful little trooper that he was, still kept going, but with a lot of caution, and a lot of displacement sniffing. Caution isn’t so bad, but when he starts sniffing I know he’s super stressed. I love agility. I love competing and striving to be as good as we possibly can be. I’m semi-athletic, have a decent background in what it takes to compete with an animal as your partner, I have a wonderful dog who’re really starting to come into his own in agility. All this makes competing pretty much the highlight of my life at the moment. But none of it is worth it if the end result is either my dog getting scared or seriously injured. No thank you, I’ll go back to practicing in a field, thanks.
That was our first attempt at doing a gamblers at a real trial, which, well, we did get the gamble, so there’s that. Of course we didn’t come near to getting enough points since we slowed to a crawl so my dog wouldn’t kill himself on the way around. Needless to say I wasn’t looking forward to the next two classes of the day. I stayed slowed down for our standard class and as a result Mu stayed nervous, still slipped a bit (though not nearly as bad), but since we were going so slow our connection wasn’t nearly as good so Mu was quite distracted. (It didn’t help that basically everyone I train with was Q practically everything they entered. Intellectually I know it’s only our third trial and I shouldn’t expect to Q anything even under the best of circumstance, but it’s a bit hard to take when you’re thwarted by the floor).
Going in to our jumpers round, where traditionally Mu goes like a bat out of hell, I knew I had to think of something. I was also already entered in another trial at the same place, and the next one was going to be two days. I really didn’t want to spend a whole weekend and $90 (not including food/transportation costs) tip-toeing around the ring.
Moping by my dogs’ pen, debating if I should chance going to the next trial or see if they’d give my entry fee back given the circumstances I remember a wonderful little trick that horseback riders used to use on their boots. It’s a sticky cream, wax based, that they would put on the inside part of their boots around the calve area so that their lower legs wouldn’t shift as much. I’d always refused to use it when I road as I though it would get in the way of developing an independently still leg, but in this case I thought it might be a big help. When a horse is on loose or slippery footing you put caulks (otherwise known as studs) in, but a dog can’t even wear boots let alone puppy cleats. But there’s nothing in the rule book about putting stick cream on their pads, and since this stuff is formulated to go on leather boots, I knew it would have high quality ingredients designed to be gentle on leather.
There was a Greenhawk near the trial site so in between our standard and jumpers run I friend drove me over and I picked some up. It was $30, but turns out to be the best $30 I could have spent! I went for broke in our jumpers run and though he had a few rails down, that was mostly due to my late handling (he also ran out on the last jump, which is a thing Mu likes to do when he is extension jumping at the end of the course, especially if there’s a tire jump he’d rather avoid.). The main point is that he had enough grip that he ran with confidence and we finished the day with seemingly no lasting damage.
Our next trial was about two weeks later at the same place, and I was not nearly as confident as I was going in to our first trial. I hoped the sticky cream would continue to work, but there was only one way to find out. I’d entered both days this time, and was excited to see if having more time to get our rhythm down would make a difference. Unfortunately on that Saturday we had the last really crappy storm of the winter, which made the roads unsafe for the morning. I managed to talk my wonderful, wonderful mother into driving me later in the day. I’d missed the standard class in the morning but there was a chance we could make it to gamblers. A friend texted me a photo of the course map and as soon as we pulled in the parking lot I grabbed Mu and ran in–exactly two dogs before our turn! I thought, what the heck, it’s gamblers (and I already paid for it anyway…), maybe we can pull this off.
Not enough point and we were completely all over the place (also I stepped over the damn line because frankly I had know idea where I was) BUT he was confident, and didn’t slip too much. And then our jumpers:
You can really see him still slipping in the turn to the last jump, and for sure he’s throwing a lot of extra strides in there that he doesn’t normally, but he looked pretty darn happy and relaxed (and I was so, sooooooo late cuing him) so I was happy. Also, he didn’t knock anything down, which for us is a miracle in and of itself. Next day I was very, very excited to see what we could get. The weather was good. I knew he had a decent grip for his feet so I didn’t have to tip-toe around, we were warmed up and ready to go. So, spoiler alert, it went GREAT.
Mu was SO. FRICKING. GOOD. I was SO. FREAKING. LATE. Fortunately my dog can slice a fricking spread jump, so my sloppy handling doesn’t get too much in his way. We Q’d our gamblers (was half a second away from getting both mini-gambles), and we Q’d our standard run (which is hilarious. I love that he spent half the time out there sight-seeing and we were like 12 seconds under time). He had controlled weaves and his running contacts were ok (he didn’t miss a contact, but didn’t have nearly as much speed as usual), though clearly I need to work on my teeter. I also chickened out and didn’t use my directionals most of the time, which was stupid since he was listening so well. I also laugh every time I watch that jumpers run–I was so tired by the end of the day. I am seriously a study in how “thin” does not necessarily equal “in shape”. After getting two Q’s I decided to try something a friend had suggested for the beginning of our jumpers run, the first three jumpers were not quite in a straight line and we both wondered if I could threadle to the third obstacle. Which, upon watching it later I think we could have if I had stood a bit further back off of his line and cued it earlier. The only thing he did that really drove me nuts was not do the tire jump (damn that tire jump!), which is next on my list of things to buy (that list will get smaller some day, right?).
So, that was our first two trials of the year. We have another two-day trial starting tomorrow, and exciting it’s outside, where Mu should be at his best (or at least grippyist). I’ve actually started jogging and doing yoga to get in better shape–no use entering three classes a day if I’m too tired to handle my dog properly by the end of it. I actually feel perkier already, so we’ll see what happens.