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The Great Innovator...

When you next step up to the line, think of Dave Ray, one of the pioneers of our sport and a real agility legend. For those new to agility, he was known as Mr Olympia for many years. So many competitors and people who worked with him had great memories of Dave at events like Olympia, Crufts and Discover Dogs. He was a fantastic guy. And that's why Steve Croxford and Michael McCartney have nominated him for the Agility Hall of Fame.

Dave Ray joined Rugby DTC with his wife Mary in 1978. Although not a dedicated dog handler, his business skills were soon put to good use. After election to the Committee, he held various positions for many years including the Club Treasurer and Show Manager. He was a RDTC member for over 40 years and, until he became ill, he was the the Vice President and Show Manager for the various events run by the club. Dave was also Chairman and trustee of a Rugby-based charity called Avon Valley Canine Trust.

Dave was involved in agility from the very start, running his lurcher Sasha. Television took an interest in the new sport In the early days of dog agility, and Dave and Sasha made their TV debut on Pebble Mill at One. That was the start of a lasting relationship with the media.

Events organiser extraordinaire
Dog handling, however, was not really Dave's thing though. Early on he decided that he should leave the dog training and competing to his talented wife Mary. The 'Silver Fox' had, however, found his calling as an events organiser par excellence.

As dog agility grew more popular during the early years, it became clear that a group was needed to oversee the sport. Otherwise shows would descend into confusion. Individual clubs were drawing up their own classifications for shows, and the Kennel Club had made it clear that they were not interested in overseeing agility until it was more established.

It was at this point that a small group of people including Dave Ray, John Gilbert and Peter Lewis decided that a degree of uniformity was required and they discussed the idea of forming a national agility club. They asked a few fellow competitors whether they would be interested in participating. The idea quickly caught on and a collection was held. Enthusiastic agility competitors put a pound in a bucket and, within a few short weeks, The Agility Club was up and running.

Dave was responsible for organising the very first weekend agility show in 1981 - the Rugby Agility Weekend.  The first few of these weekends were held in the grounds of Onley Prison which was rather appropriate looking back on it!

The first few involved 'talent nights' where hapless (hopeless) agility folk got on stage and performed their party piece. The audience voted for - or shouted - for their favourite act with the winner receiving a valuable prize, one of which was a weekend away in Paris!

The talent show element eventually morphed into an amateur entertainment evening with infamous agility handlers performing sketches on stage to the delight of the audience. So popular was the agility act element of the evening that one year Dave had to pay off the 'professional comedian who he had booked as a warm up act early as he was in danger of being booed off the stage.

Dave Ray with Angela CarterMr. Pedigree
In the early 1990s, Dave became the agility consultant for one of agility's main sponsors, Pedigree Petfoods. He was involved with the Olympia Christmas Horse Show right from the start. The then organiser of the show, Raymond Brookes-Ward, had seen the first agility demonstration at Crufts in 1978, and he had persuaded the Kennel Club to bring it to Olympia. Initially it was run by Norman Hills.

Then Dave took over the organisation, and the event never looked back. He remained in this position until Pedigree's withdrawal in 2009. He then continued organising the remaining agility events on behalf of the Kennel Club until his retirement in 2019.

In his role with Pedigree, he was involved in developing and organising a Team competition (not Crufts Team), the Pedigree Pairs Relay, Mini Agility (before it was a thing), Gamblers, Power & Speed, Irish Agility Dog of the Year, Scotland's Highland Agility Stakes and the Novice Grand National Jumping. At one point, he was in charge of overseeing 77 heats for Pedigree-supported agility competitions, held at 35 of the UK's premier open agility shows. In addition to this, he was also organising 20 finals and semi-finals as well as the Pedigree Olympia Stakes final together with his commentating duties in the main arena at Crufts.

Dave was elected as Midlands representative on the KC Agility Liaison Council and later elected as Chairman of the Agility Council. He was a member of the Activities Sub-Committee, the International Agility Working Party, the Heelwork to Music Working Party and the Agility Festival Working Party.

For a long period of time there weren't many working dog activities or events in the UK that Dave didn't have a hand in organising!

Steve Croxford
I have known Dave since the early 90s, initially as the organiser of the Pedigree agility event. After Olympia 1992, I was invited by Pedigree, along with others, to represent the UK in Belgium at an international event which was the forerunner for the FCI Agility World Championships. Dave organised the trip, the first of many he was to organise for UK-based competitors during a period when it was not possible to travel abroad with their dogs.

In 2000 Dave attended the FCI World Agility Championships in Finland, after which which he helped to persuade the Kennel Club to sponsor a GB Agility Team to compete at the FCI World Championships. The teams representing the Kennel Club have done so with great success ever since. His interest in international agility led to the creation of the International Invitational event which has become a feature of Super Saturday at Crufts.

Dave was also very involved with Crufts Dog Show and was renowned for the his knowledgeable commentary - stunning, in fact - on the working dog events Agility, Heel-work to Music, Flyball and Obedience. Even when he did get his words mixed up now and then, he always saw the funny side and took the ribbing he was given in good heart.

It would be impossible to list all his achievements during his time with the Kennel Club. He was active everywhere in Agility and Obedience. He saw to it that Heel-work to Music (HTM) took off as a competitive dog activity, having taken a punt with Peter Lewis at organising the very first HTM Show licensed by the KC and run by Rugby DTC.

It was Dave who persuaded the Kennel Club that a Heel-work to Music demonstration would be an interesting addition to the schedule for the Special Events ring. And so it was that Mary Ray began the first of many classic demonstrations of working with her dogs to music. Great music, great choreography and, most of all, a brilliant dog trainer in her element working with precision and timing, Mary's HTM demonstrations became so popular that the crowds were ten deep at times - something that Dave was very proud of.

Eventually Heelwork to Music became an established sport in its own right with the initial rules being adopted by the Kennel Club. The sport soon became popular all over the world and once again Dave had the foresight to persuade the Crufts Committee to invite international competitors to compete in their own event on ‘Super Saturday'. These Heelwork to Music events are now well established and Dave's knowledgeable and enthusiastic commentary on all the Heelwork to Music events was appreciated by all.

Michael McCartney
I personally am so glad to have met Dave 40 years ago. I have said it before and will say it again, Dave Ray's name really is an agility legend, not only in the UK but all over the world. 

For us in Northern Ireland, he took a great interest from the first time he and Mary visited us in Lisburn. When he saw the agility equipment we all used, he said to me and Ronnie McAleese 'Leave it with me, and I will see what I can do.' A full red and yellow Pedigree set of equipment was duly sent to Northern Ireland, followed a few years later by another upgrade.

In this part of the UK, we really do owe so much to Dave. He set up the Irish Agility Dog of the year and Jumping Dog of the Year - all sponsored by Pedigree. He also arranged for the first dogs from Northern Ireland to represent us at both Crufts and Olympia, the forerunner to the International event at Crufts.  The very defibrillator that we all use in our show's both Obedience and Agility was arranged by Dave. The list goes on.

That was Dave. Giving far more than he received, especially at Crufts, Olympia and to the Kennel Club. Loved his commentary at Crufts. Took dog TV to another level. Thinking about Mary. Morecambe and Wise, Torvill and Dean, Best and Charlton. Mary and Dave. You always got a laugh with Dave. Even at Kate's and my wedding, he had us in stitches with his travel arrangements to Northern Ireland

First published 4th November 2023



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