Bigger, bolder, better...
Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. Thus said Julius Caesar some 2000 years ago, and that's that's just what the UK Team did at the 15th International Mix & Breeds Championship Agility (IMCA) and 13th ParAgility World Cup (PAWC) at Cowboys Guest Ranch, Volgerha, Italy on 4-7 September 2014. They were out to win. Team leader Richard Partridge reports with additional comments from Team members Angela Lucas, Amanda Smith and Wendy Fassam.
As in the seven previous years, the United Kingdom was represented in both competitions but this year was different. They were out to get their own back. The UK fielded the largest and strongest team ever in both IMCA and PAWC.
The UK team consisted of:-
There was even a British judge in the person of Marc Saunders, the third year running that we'd had a judge from UK.
Following all the official pre-competition events - the vet checks, practice and Opening Ceremony on Thursday, 4 September - don't mention the Gala - the competition proper started on Friday, 5th with Small Jumping. Our squad consisting of Wendy & Steve Fassam, Bonny Quick and Daniel Croxford. They put up a good - if not spectacular - showing. Nobody got eliminated and Wendy finished a creditable 13th. This was followed by the Medium Jumping where our team of Helaina Lines, running two dogs, Elaine Smith and Daniel Croxford put up a good showing.
The first ParAgility Agility event came next. To explain how the ParAgility works, there are seven categories, starting at Grade 1, powered wheelchairs, to Grade 2, manual wheelchairs running through to Grade 7 with the handlers graded according to their difficulties with mobility. As the dog's speed is largely controlled by the handler's speed dogs of all sizes compete against each other, which might on the face of it seem unfair but in practice works very well.
The full rules are on Susan Rekveld web-site. She is the Founder of PAWC, a Dutch lady called .
Despite this the results were outstanding. Sue Drew managed a 6th with her own dog Katie and an amazing 5th and 7th with Jack and Maggie, running them for the first time in the Grade 1 Powered Wheelchair class. Other successes included Frances Elliot who had a 7th with her dog Sky in their first International outing and Angie Lucas with Bizzy who came 12th in the same grade. Amanda Smith with Maisie, likewise complete newcomers while Milie Roberts ran Cruise and Riot into 5th and 6th respectively with David's dog Fudge coming 9th.
The last class of the day was IMCA Large Jumping, and we were still waiting for our first podium place. Unfortunately, Jenny running Jack and Max, Nicole running Maggie and Fudge and Bonny with Ivy did not fare too well, each picking up an E, so it all rested on Bonny with Hayly who were running last. The finger nails were bitten to the quick - see the pun. The tonsils were well lubricated ready to cheer. Bonny and Hayly delivered, a magnificent 2nd. Team UK's first IMCA Podium! Brilliant result and great ending to the first day.
First up was Small team Jumping with Wendy, Bonny, Daniel and Steve. With two Es and two clears, we finished up in 9th place, a bit disappointing but, with excellent times for the clears, the position was recoverable.
Medium Team Jumping followed this. Helaina, Elaine and Daniel put up an excellent showing finishing in 7th place.
Large Team was next. Considering that Nicole and Jenny were each running two dogs, they did a sterling job with three scoring runs, coming in at 8th.
The course was then rebuilt for the PAWC Jumping. In the Group 1, Sue with Katie were an excellent 4th, but unfortunately she was E'd with Maggie and Jack. In Group 4, Frances with Sky really got their act together and had a superb run, which when the sums were done gave them a magnificent 1st place. Frances' first venture into PAWC, the teams first Gold ever. Fortune was not smiling on Angie and Bizzy, they sadly did not make the places. In Group 5 Amanda ran Max into a fine 12th spot, but failed to make the places with Gracie. Milie went out with both Riot and Cruise, crushing the opposition and being thoroughly greedy taking 1st and 2nd. Tears of joy and sore throats from cheering were the order of the day after that!.
We got our breath back just in time for the Team Agility. Small dogs were first with our team second on of the 10 teams, so there was no chance to see how the others scored. So in cold blood our merry band charged round the ring making very respectable runs. It was time to cross fingers. At the end of another nail-biting session the results came out – we made third, another fantastic result, and another chance to wave the Union Jack, we were getting good at this! We got our breath back just in time for the Medium Agility, where our team had some good runs, finishing in 6th. The Large Team followed coming in with a respectable 8th. So ended day 2 with the usual mix of high excitement and self kicking for silly mistakes.
Things were looking bleak when Steve, Bonny and Daniel all got E'd. Everything was resting on the very capable shoulders of Wendy. Bless them, she and Cruise went like rockets, and accurately, too. The cheers from the British camp were deafening although, at this stage, all was speculation. The last dog ran and we calculated that Wendy had managed a 3rd place.
I hovered next to the score table and got the result. Wendy was not 3rd. She had to make do with a 2nd . Fantastic! Then with a bit more arithmetic we worked out that this meant they had also come second overall. I was fortunate that the arena seats were concrete because if they were less sturdy I'm sure our bouncing up and down would have reduced them to matchwood. Great start to the day,
Next we had the Medium Individual Agility with Helaina running Slinkie and Domino, Daniel with Bob and Elaine with Roxie. Over a very tricky course sadly three of our dogs got E'd, but Helaina and Slinkie came in a very respectable 18th
The second ParAgility Agility was next on the agenda with our team all fired up and raring to go. In ParAgility, there are two Agility run and one Jumping run - one each day. We all got ready to cheer, and off they went.
Sue in Group 1 with her electric wheelchair running Maggie, Jack and Katie. All brilliant runs culminating in a [i]second with Katie, more cheering, more flag waving and for me, more blubbing (I can't help it as any of my family will testify)
Just to divert from the tale of Team UK, the winner of the wheelchair Agility was a delightful Swiss girl called Bella Weiss and her small white Havaneser dog called Shuba. She is really fantastic. Her dog runs flat out and, in her specially tuned wheelchair, she keeps up with it. During the training session I saw her practicing with the chair doing high speed turns with some unfortunate guy acting as a cone where she nearly touched him all the way round. They could give anybody a good run for their money, able-bodied or not.
So back to our tale. In Grade 4 Frances and Sky managed a 7th, not another podium but very respectable nonetheless. Angie's run of misfortune with Bizzy continued with a missed contact and pole down leaving them in 9th, a pill made even more bitter on learning that it was the fastest time. Really tough but better luck next time Angie.
A truly fantastic result in Grade 5 was a win for Amanda and Max. Considering that Amanda and the dog only met for the first time on Thursday and, apart from a short time in the training session, their only experience of working with each other was in competition. This is truly amazing. I know Max's owner sitting at home watching on the live stream used up nearly a whole box of Kleenex. Ironically Amanda's own dog, Gracie, only managed an E. Not to be outdone Milie took Riot round in fine style, getting another 1st, her second trip to the top step. Sadly her other runs were all Es.
With excitement rising, we now arrived at the final event, Large Individual Agility with our own Marc Saunders officiating. Our girls were the first five to run - Jenny with Max, Nicole with Maggie, Jenny with Jack, Bonny with Ivy and Nicole with Fudge. Then as a result of her 2nd place in the Jumping earlier in the competition, Bonny ran Hayly in the penultimate position - very nice from a spectating point of view as we could cheer our team in quick succession, then relax until we got to Bonny. From the first batch, Jenny put up a nice run with Jack, giving her 20th, Bonny ran Ivy to 28th, but Jenny with Fudge and both of Nicole's runs resulted in nils points. Then we sat back and waited for Bonny, who with a 2nd already in the bag, promised great things. We were not disappointed. She and Hayly did a very nice, tidy run giving them 5th in the class, but a fabulous 2nd Overall for Individual Combined. It was an exciting and fantastic end to a truly brilliant competition.
For once, we were looking forward to the closing ceremony where the Overall places were awarded with the appropriate trophies. In IMCA Bonny got her 2nd in Large Overall, while Wendy with Cruise was 2nd in Small Combined. In PAWC the Closing Ceremony, trophies were presented to Sue with Katie and Milie with Riot.
Following the Closing Ceremony, we met in the camping area. The plan was to have an end of competition BBQ. Although the locals told us the shops would be open, they were all tightly locked and shuttered. Dave Drew and his merry band, however, came to the rescue and magic'd up a super meal from whatever they could rummage up from various team members' fridges and larders. Great stuff, boys.
At this gathering, we had a chance to sit around and relax after an exhausting weekend. It was also time for our 2nd Annual Alternative Awards ceremony where we make presentations to team members who have performed acts outside the competition beyond the call of duty or have simply done something downright silly, giving us a chance to laugh at them again. This is proving great fun and rounds off the weekend nicely.
2014 brought Team UK its highest number of medals, and the first trophies we have won. It also brought the usual share of highs and lows which are part of theis wonderful sport of ours plus, as always, the emotion of taking part in a competition alongside so many Paragilty competitors. We veni'ed, vidi'd and vici'd. Victory is sweet.
But I digress...
Since that first foray eight years ago, I have been Team Leader, not necessarily on merit, but by default, Mine were the first contact details they had and so it remained. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as Team Leader, but have decided it is time to hand over the reins - or perhaps I should say leash - to Dianne Maylam who has agreed to take over. I will not publish her details here but leave her to do it when she is ready.
Everybody in the team deserves a special mention. They all did so well and represented our still United Kingdom so well, both in the field of competition and as ambassadors. But I think an extra special mention is due to Dianne Maylam, Jenny Bannister and Nicole Turner. Dianne has trained her dogs Max and Fudge in such a way that they are willing and happy to follow the lead of just about anybody who takes them into an agility ring. She entrusted them to our team, mainly Nicole and Jenny, who then, in the very limited time available, coached our ParAgility Handlers in the most effective ways to bring out the best in the dogs. Jenny had previously offered her dog Jack to Sue. David was to run Nicole's Maggie. In the event of David's unfortunate withdrawal, Sue also ran Maggie, Amanda ran Max, with astonishing results, and Milie ran Fudge, with equally amazing results. I have it on good authority that Dianne and David missed most of the details of the dog's runs due to a veil of tears.
Finally thanks to Sam at Agility K9s for the patriotic leads, making our dogs look the part and to Richard at Intersport for his help with the team shirts.
If you want any more information please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
There are lots of photos on our Facebook page, and loads of vids on U Tube, go to ParAgility or IMCA. Next year will bring its own challenges. The larger the team the higher the costs, and although we only pay for entry fees and clothing it still costs over £100 to field each dog on average. I hope next year we will be as successful in Austria, and although I won't be boss I will still be involved and, along with everybody who went to Italy, am looking forward to another wonderful weekend of Agility.
I have been a supporter of IMCA/PAWC British team for nearly 10 years - ever since Richard and Sheila Partridge first talked about it and were the only members of the team! We have managed to collect a proper number of handlers together for the last three years, both for the IMCA side (able-bodied handlers) and the ParAgility side. And the team have grown in confidence, competence and strength in that time.
This year far exceeded any expectations any of us had, but we all had gone to Italy with a very positive feeling that something good had to happen to the team this year. To come home with over a dozen medals - only given out to 1st, 2nd and 3rd places - between less than 20 dogs in total, has got to be a significant result for any team that goes abroad.
If I concentrate my comments on the ParAgility side - and leave the able-bodied IMCA to those who competed in those events - it will be shorter! We had three new handlers as PAWC entrants, and they all won a class. Milie Roberts also won 2nd place out of all the ambulant ParAgility handlers, while Sue Drew came 2nd out of all the wheelchair users.
My observation of the ParAgility section of the competition is that it is now going from strength to strength. I went in 2012, and was blown away by the standard of the handling by people who have disadvantages. But this year, having missed a year, I saw new faces and regulars - all having improved their standards and even putting in times that were similar to the able-bodied IMCA handlers.
We don't ask each other 'what's wrong with you?' Looking at how some of the handlers practiced together, wheelchair handlers were using similar swap techniques as the ambulant handlers, so they must train together or learn from each other. One lady from Switzerland apparently has her adapted wheelchair now sponsored.
We have the recognition of the Para-Olympians, the games recently for the disabled service men and women. These people probably train and compete against able-bodied athletes, but there is honour in having a contest just against your peers. And they compete just as hard. I saw that determination in great capacity at this year's PAWC championships. The PAWC organisers received this year requests to make the courses for the handlers more challenging, such is the growth in confidence.
When you mention being a disabled handler in agility here, people tend to say 'I don't want to be thought of as disabled.' or 'I wouldn't want to compete against other disabled people.' Don't fall into the trap of thinking it's about men and women looking for sympathy. New members of our team admitted they had this in the back of their minds, and it was all out of the window at the sight of the first competition. Don't forget, a lot of disabled handlers have had to fight and compete to be recognised in everyday life, never mind agility
I feel in this agility world, there should be more acknowledgement of the agility handlers who cannot run across the ground, need a walking aid, etc. The introduction of measuring courses and making stricter course times is taking away the chances of those who are slower across the ground in being able to have personal achievements. I believe that there is no dishonour in stating I have a disability and I must handle my dog in an alternative manner to some. If there is a movement to get agility recognised as a sport then, as in other sports, recognition of those who could be under the ParAgility section should also be included.
does the IMCA/PAWC Team UK go from here?
On the first day of competition, Gracie was 12th with a lovely clear round and on the second and third days she was eliminated for thinking she knew the course and I didn’t! For an inexperienced dog, she handled the atmosphere and crowds pretty well, only getting spooked once by the crowd after she’d been eliminated. As on the Continent, when a dog is eliminated they do a slow hand clap which is not meant in a derogatory way. It’s for encouragement. She then of course played to the crowd.
I also ran Max, a Border Collie, for Dianne Maylam who, along with her husband Dave, couldn’t make it, but all Dianne’s dogs had been promised to other people specifically, Nichole Turner and Jennifer Bannister who run them at shows regularly. So Milie Roberts got to run Fudge and I got to run Max.
I met Max on Wednesday, had 10 minutes training with him on Thursday, and was meant to compete with him on Friday but he was slightly lame so we decided to pull him to see how he was on Saturday. On the day he was fine so I went ahead ran him in the Jumping class. We got 5 in the weaves - totally my fault I didn’t give him enough encouragement - and came 12th. I ran him again on the last day, Sunday in an Agility class and he was an absolute super star and flew round the course. We won the class by threeseconds!! I was in total shock when Nichole told me we'd won the class and by how much.
The days were full of Agility and the evenings were full, too. We either had BBQ’s or went to the bar/restaurant to eat. It was really social and fun. Even my Dad, Mick Smith had fun and he doesn’t 'do' camping or agility. He just came with me to help me with the driving. The journey there was exhausting amd the journey back was even more so as, for some unknown reason, the Sat-Nav decided that we were going to go back to Calais via Switzerland!! But he ended up having a great time and really got into the spirit of things.
And finally from Wendy Fassam...
First published 4 October 2014