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Crufts Ring Party

   Supporting agility dogs with specialist lifetime cover

Not all heroes wear capes... sometimes itís a pink t-shirt...

Photo: Linda Gore

The Agility Ring Party at Crufts may be one of the few groups of people who can go unseen in fluorescent pink. Every year the team of Eukanuba-pink clad Crufts ring party work tirelessly - and often unnoticed - in front of thousands of spectators viewing the agility competitions that could not run without them. Our Agilitynet reporter Kaye Medcalf spoke to several members of this years Ring Party.

I spoke to Nigel Rudd who has been a member of the Crufts agility ring party for approximately 17 years, showing outstanding dedication especially since all ring party are all who do not get their expenses paid. When asked what kept him coming back each year, he answered that quite simply he enjoys it and likes to promote the sport to the general public.

He said, ' I think 2017 was the best year ever for me at Crufts. Fantastic ring party to work with and great courses from all of the judges. Great for the sport. The more professional we can get it out there each year, the better it looks. People say this is really good. Itís nice to get it right. That's how it should be.

'We are the best ring party you can get,' Nigel continued with pride, a statement strongly supported by the long waiting list of people waiting to get a place on the Crufts ring party crew.

Rachel Rogers, a Crufts ring party member for seven years, spoke with similar enthusiasm and dedication about the urge to give back to the sport she loves and enjoying being a ring party member as her main motivation for driving to Crufts early each day and working long hours on the ring.

This wave of enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to the situation at most agility shows where often unanswered call outs for ring party volunteers seem to be becoming as regular as announcements for the end of classes.

Ring party responsibilities
The Ring Party covers all agility and flyball events. They are responsible for building the course and, of course, clearing the arena.

Amanda Pigg explained, 'We cover calling which is no easy task when nervous handlers wonder off and do scribe duties and leads. We also have to ensure the course is checked after every dog has run to ensure nothing has moved. The job is quite physical but fun. We get to see the best agility around. A good sense of humour is essential.'

Ring party members arrive each day around 7.30am and are provided with the courses the judge has set for that day.

There are usually about four people per corner who are responsible for setting up and breaking down each of the agility courses that take place over the four days. That team will only look after the equipment specifically in that part of the arena/part of the course. There is also the Scrime who will watch the judge and mark down any faults and log the time for that competitor. The scribe sheet then gets passed to the scorer. Ring party is also responsible for getting each competitor to the line in time for their run. They also help with the flyball and assist where needed with the activities events, such as the police demos, the rescue agility demos and the Golden Retriever displays.

Mandy Melville-Love added, 'Working at Crufts is very demanding as we have strict timeframes to work to and so must be set up and finished as directed by the programme. Dependent on the day, we are usually finished around 6pm.

Laura Gardner, a volunteer on the YKC ring, spoke about how the experience she gained while volunteering with the YKC both at Crufts and at other shows had helped her get her first job. Whether volunteering at Crufts or elsewhere, the skills learnt are real and can help elsewhere in life, yet this is not often spoken about. Many people see working as ring party as something that is not as worthwhile or as important as competing. From conversations I've had with agility people, volunteering as ring party seems to have a large number of positive effects for individuals as well as agility as a whole.

While the attraction of front row seats for the best international dogs at the biggest dog show in the world obviously has a strong allure, volunteers have to wait years of a chance to ring party at Crufts. The same quality of competition can be found throughout grass fields all summer at various agility shows yet fails to attract the same numbers.

Rachel, who organises TAG agility shows as well as volunteering at Crufts, has also noticed the decrease in ring party volunteers at her shows, saying that there are less people offering to help or it's the same people all the time.

However, maybe the crux of the problem is the assumption that volunteering is solely about the individual. It was notable that all the interviewees spoke first about enjoying volunteering, and  'giving back' to the sport before they spoke about what they had personally got out of volunteering. As agility grows, the community ethos is changing from resembling a small village where everyone knows everyone and shifts into a town mentality where there is less focus on community and working together.

As the discussion of dwindling ring parties and judges at many shows rises so do the conversations about how to tackle the situation.

Some suggestions include:-

  • One hour mandatory ring party service for all competitors

  • Paying ring party for their time

  • Mentoring by more experienced competitors for newer competitors who may not know how to ring party

The last point suggests that at least some of the community atmosphere of agility is surviving the sudden expansion in numbers of people competing. Doing ring party helps newcomers build that 'agility-family' bond.

The absence of Chris Hickman and Yvonne Goode, who sadly passed away since Crufts 2016, was notable amongst the ring party who were missing the two familiar figures who had volunteered for years at Crufts and were commemorated through the wearing a small ribbon for cancer. It is perhaps this creation of an agility family and contributing to something that will go on beyond our own personal involvement in the sport that will change the tide on ring party volunteers for other shows. Chris and Yvonne contributed to the advancement of the sport in many ways including, a legacy which will continue to live and grow.

It is dedication like this from members of the agility community that has forged the way forward on the path, taking agility from a haphazard hobby to the sport it has become.

Through celebrating the contribution of individuals and teams, we can maybe start to bring back the appeal of volunteering. After all most people want to belong to something bigger than themselves and be part of a thriving, loving and supportive community.

About the author...
Kaye Medcalf has competed in Agility since he was 13 and reached Championship level.

He currently does not compete but intends to get back into the sport once his living situation is suitable to bring a puppy into.

In the meantime, he is happy to enjoy spending time with his original agility dog who is a grand age of 14 1/2. 

First published 3 May 2017