Will they ever rival the TTs Races...
Debbie Martin first set foot on the Isle of Man on honeymoon - not for her the beaches and sun of totally foreign shores - and she immediately felt like she'd come home. So just a year or two later in 1988, she and her husband made the life-changing decision to move from West Sussex to the Island, and she hasn't looked back. It wasn't easy to begin with, but she's never regretted the decision.
For those of you who haven't a clue, the Isle of Man is set in the Irish Sea about half way between Liverpool and Belfast. Don't look for us in the English Channel 'cos that's the Isle of Wight! The island is 33 miles long and 13.5 wide with a population of just under 85,000 and probably best known for the TT races which see an influx of thousands of motorbike enthusiasts to see the roads of the island turned into a race circuit. Slowly but surely we are also getting a faithful following for our annual agility shows as the sport is becomingly increasingly popular here, though its unlikely to rival the mayhem that is the TT!
So back to the early days...
At that time, only the IOM Dog Obedience Club offered agility training on the Island and many handlers, like myself, did both disciplines. In time, I took the decision to join Ramsey DTC, purely for geographical convenience although they only did Obedience at that time so, being me, I started to do my own agility training locally. Eventually I pushed and persuaded the club to take it on and we began our own classes with begged, borrowed and home-made equipment. Like many things, health and safety, rules and regs were a little more relaxed then – you could drink from a hosepipe without fear of imminent death and we got on with our agility without much concern as to what sort of contact surface the dogs were using. And the tyre was exactly that... a tyre, probably one off the less successful TT bikes!
Very few Manx handlers travelled across the water for UK shows up until this point but this was to change as handlers began to get a thirst for more competition. I remember the Wyre show at Cartmel being an early favourite! More recently a third club has added the increasingly popular sport of dog agility to their agenda, and now Douglas DTC is primarily agility-orientated.
With the increased interest in competition, many handlers are now travelling regularly to the UK - remember we are officially a separate country with our own government so we're on the Mainland, not you - to compete and more than hold their own at the shows they attend. We are even allotted our own competitor as part of the International Agility at Crufts, but we did have to prove our independent status to achieve this.
The cost of travel is always a big consideration as we have to factor in a return ferry fare, not just a tank of fuel! So for us camping on site at shows is always a plus and most would be looking to get a good range of classes to make the trip worthwhile.
It's not an easy task
If you are a Show Secretary or a member of the Show Committees, you probably wonder sometimes why you do it, but the fact is that we do and, on the whole, we feel we make a pretty good job of it, too!
Enjoy a Manx agility holiday
Smaller entries does mean that our shows only have two rings running so handlers can get back to a taste of the ‘good old days' with the opportunity to pull up a chair at the ring side and watch some of the competition, without having to worry about running around like a headless chicken between numerous rings. You won't even need to bring a bike just to get around the showground! And you'll be relieved to know that we do now have proper refreshments available so you don't have to drink from a hosepipe - unless you really want to - and all of our equipment is professionally made and complies with current requirements!
There is no doubt that, although we still don't have our first Agility Champion, the standard of handling from the Island's competitors is as good as any even though we may not all have the same level of experience. Very few now are multi-purpose handlers as most have focused on one or other discipline but some (including myself) still like to have more than one string to their bow! The Large dogs are primarily collies, but there are a great variety of other breeds making their mark in the Medium and Small groups.
So there are many similarities between us and you, but there are a few things here that I for one reckon we have the edge over you with! If you're not so sure, why not pay us a visit and decide for yourself.
About the author...
Debbie now has two collie bitches, having lost her boys over the last two years. Amy (Foxbarton Bee's Knees) is still working on making her mark on the dog world, although she has more than made her mark on Debbie's heart! Sadly following an injury while competing at agility, they've had to give this up and move their focus on to competition obedience instead. Bea (Mykellnmark’s Silver Lining B Ex, AW(S)) is now ten years young and is due to make her sixth appearance at Crufts 2013, completing a hat trick in both obedience and agility. She is a dog in a million and is just one elusive win shy of Grade 7 Agility and C only obedience, a rare achievement by any standards.