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A magical Christmas agility show

Jim GregsonOne Thursday morning in December Jim Gregson arrived at Newcastle International Airport only to find his flight had been delayed by two hours. What a start to his Irish trip! Text messages flew back and forth but finally he arrived in Belfast where he was going to introduce UK Agility at the fabulous Belfast International Horse Show. In fact, he got more than he bargained for. Here's what happened in his own words.

The welcome was incredibly warm and genuine. I was there on behalf of UK Agility to arrange the dog agility for the Belfast International Horse Show at The Odyssey Arena in association with Lisburn DTC. It would be the first time that dog agility would be seen at the Belfast International Horse Show which ran from 2-5 December.

Joint proprietor, Mrs Pauline JohnstonEventually I found myself at the lovely Brookhall Historical Farm  where I met the lady of the house, a smashing woman called Pauline and her Councillor husband Sam. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They provided the biggest breakfasts I have ever seen anywhere, and the late night discussions on local and national politics required more than a little liquid refreshment to oil the tonsils.

A splendid venue for agility
The Odyssey, as everyone in Belfast calls it, is a fantastic venue. It has everything in there including a cinema, various restaurants, nightclubs and shops etc. It sits along the quayside of the river Lagan, all beautifully lit up in blue. It really is 'The' place to be when in Belfast. The seats in there stretch from the floor to the ceiling. It seems never ending with a fantastic main arena along with superb lighting making this a magical place to run dog agility. Have a look at this link.

This was the first time agility had been put on at the Belfast International Horse Show, and we were constrained by the time allotted. Also the original numbers had already been reduced to ten competitors by the show management who I think were wary of this new event to their programme.

By default due to problems outside of my remit, I found myself being asked if I would like the honour of judging the competitions at the show to which I replied that I would be delighted.

A mini flap
Friday morning dawned and we had to be at the arena by 8.00am to put up a course. The organisers wanted to 'see' what dog agility actually involved. I erected the equipment for the matinee performance and checked that everything was in its place. The show management had given us 45 minutes which was lots of time but they were sweating as it seemed to them to be taking so long. They thought that was how long it took to build an agility course normally. I assured them most profusely that 'It would be all right on the night,' but I don't think they were convinced. Looking at so many very worried faces, I could see they did not believe me.

The agility competition
The competitors were drawn from all over Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The line up was:-

  • Michael McCartney

  • Declan Dolan

  • Mervyn Fleming

  • Patricia Thompson

  • Joanne Hughes

  • Nicola Benton

  • Sam McCracken

  • Maynard Rea

  • Jennifer Agate

  • Steve Benton

Our Scribe and keeper of the scores, as well as the overall results, was Cheryl Harkness who did an excellent job. Poor Cheryl had been unlucky. Her dog had come down with kennel cough just before and could not compete. But her loss was our gain as she was brilliant. And it gave reserve Steve Benton the chance to come in, and boy did he enjoy it!

After one or two problems relaying the judge's score to the commentator in the high gallery at the Friday matinee, the commentators got the idea and for all the rest of the performances, they did us proud. They whipped the crowds into an all mighty frenzy, particularly at the matinee when it was full of school kids.

That did nothing to help Joanne Hughes who is a teacher and was one of the competitors. Her class sat in the three rows in back of the weaves. They were astonished to see that their teacher who had taken the day off was actually part of the show. They screamed her name and she definitely heard them!

The winner of that was none other than Michael McCartney who ran first and had a storming round. I was pleased for him as he had put a lot of work into organising the event for the show. In Northern Ireland, by the way, he is something of a celebrity. He is in all the top glossy magazines and is definitely THE dog trainer and handler. Is there anyone who doesn’t know him!

Friday Matinee


Michael McCartney & Judge Jim Gregson

Place

Handler

Dog

Time/Faults

1

Michael  McCartney

Ace

35:04

2

Mervyn  Fleming 

Morse

36:07

3

Jennifer  Agate

Paddy

38:15/5 faults

Friday Evening


Sam McCracken & Shane

Place

Handler

Dog

Time/Faults

1

Nicola Benton

Tess

38:19

2

Mervyn Fleming

Morse

38:89

3

Jennifer Agate

Paddy

35:82/5 faults

Saturday Evening


Michael McCartney & Ace

Place

Handler

Dog

Time/Faults

1

Maynard Rea

Reah

38:64

2

Mervyn Fleming

Morse

38:76

3

Joanne Hughes

Meg

35:45/5 faults

Sunday Evening


Declan Dolan & Bonnie

Place

Handler

Dog

Time/Faults

1

Steve Benton

Murphy

34:66

2

Michael McCartney

Ace

36:68

3

Mervyn Fleming

Morse

38:58

4

Declan Dolan

Bonnie

30:94/5 faults

The Final Results
It was tense for the handlers going into the last round as there was a lovely large trophy for the overall  winner along with the other trophies and rosettes from the show that had earlier been won.

In the end, Mervyn Fleming just pipped Michael McCartney as the overall winner, mainly because Steve Benton knocked Michael down one place on the last run of the contest when Steve went on win the last class of the show.

Happily final total also meant that there were no arguments in the Benton household. Both Steve and Nicola ended up with the same score of 21 points. I think that was why Steve was going like a rocket.


Jennifer Agate, Joanne Hughes, Mervyn Fleming, Declan Dolan, Judge Jim Gregson, Maynard Rea,
Sam McCracken, Steve Benton, Nicola Benton, Patricia Thompson

Overall Placings

Place

Handler

Dog

Points

1

Mervyn Fleming

Morse

34

2

Michael McCartney

Ace

33

3

Maynard Rea

Reah

 26

4

Jennifer Agate

Paddy

23

=5

Nicola Benton

Tess

21

=5

Steve Benton

Murphy

21

7

Sam McCracken

Shane

18

8

Declan Dolan

Bonnie

15

9

Joanne Hughes

Meg

13

10

Patricia Thompson

Nell

07

As I walked into the Odyssey arena on the Saturday night, I found myself thinking that the atmosphere was electric. For some reason, the build up on that night - plus the performances - was the best of the whole show. It was as if I had lots of time. Once the equipment had been put up, I had time to look around. The whole arena was packed full. It was a wonderful feeling to be there. It made all the effort and time you put in to training your dogs absolutely worthwhile. There’s no competition like these big ones.

So if you asked to judge at a competition such as this, take the offer straightaway. Then worry later.

I was honoured to judge - a pleasure made such by the competitors and all the other people helping us from clubs from all over Northern Ireland and Ireland. Everyone was friendly and helpful - the show management, ring crew, ring managers and security guys etc. And best of all, they had respect for all of us taking part in the dog agility.

I look forward to next year at the Belfast International Horse Show.

For more information about UK Agility, visit http://www.ukagility.com/