Agility for people with disabilities
There she was, cheerfully chatting to her new friend Rowena Beall at an agility show in Newbury when, in an unguarded moment Sheila Partridge mentioned that she was suffering from arthritis in her knees and would eventually need replacement joints. Conversation then drifted, as it does, to the subject of disabilities and agility came up and that is how Sheila and Richard Partridge got involved with the Alternative Handlers.
Rowena said that she and her husband Steve has recently set up an informal group of disabled agility competitors with a view to demonstrating that it is not necessary to be able bodied to enjoy our sport. By adapting training methods, they believe that most difficulties can be overcome.
Rowena told me that I could qualify as disabled and invited me to join the group. At first I thought that my own problems were very minor compared with others and possibly did not count. However, Rowena pointed out that the disability restricted my movements and that I had adjusted my training to take account of this, especially avoiding the need for rapid starting and stopping and violent twists and turns - I have become an expert on blind crosses - and by training my dog in a way which was more comfortable for me.
The upshot of this was that Smokey, my Papillion and I found ourselves at Earls Court demonstrating with Alternative Handlers at Discover Dogs. This was a great success and enormous fun. Angela Lucas has reported on this much more ably that I could.
Going to the PAWC
We told the others only to find that we were the only ones in a position to be able to take part in the event so here we are, all chipped, injected, blood tested and passported - The English Team of two - me with Smokey and Richard with Murphy, the infamous Irish Twerphound. He will run in the parallel International Mix & Breed Championship for able-bodied handlers.
Watch this space...
The Partridge Family Introduction to International
Other members of the cast
Amersfoort, Holland is a beautiful, small city with a traditional centre. The event was held in an indoor sports hall offering splendid facilities. The running surface was carpet.
Flying the flag
Thursday was taken up with Registration, a check of all dogs by a local vet and a training session for all competitors giving us and the dogs a useful opportunity to acclimatise to the conditions. Notably our dogs went well, which gave us a sense of confidence albeit false. In the evening we were invited to a BBQ where we all had a chance to meet each other and relax in the lull before the storm.
Friday, after the razzmattaz of the Opening Ceremony, the competition started in earnest. The opening competition was for IMCA Individual Large Jumping (gulp) including Richard and Murphy. Moving quickly on... we soon came to the Small PAWC Jumping, where Sheila and Smokey strutted their stuff. Perhaps we’ll gloss over this, too.
Saturday was mainly teams, with all the partisan cheering that goes with this and one run in Agility for Sheila and Smokey. Smokes was well on his way for a podium place when he decided that seesaws are best jumped off!! Big 'E'.
Sunday saw another run each with a further collection of 'E's. Frustratingly the mutts were very good except for one little bit of mind blowing daftness, but hey ho.
We did not go expecting to win Gold, so were not disappointed in that respect. However, when all of the points were added up we were amazed to find that we came 11th our of 15. When you take into account that this score is taken from the total points of the whole team, and we were only two against much larger teams, we feel pretty chuffed.
Was it enjoyable? You betcha! The event was extremely well organised in a very friendly way. Add-ons were that Susan cheerfully found us a very good campsite locally - we took our caravan - and arranged an appointment for the local vet to carry out the check DEFRA decrees we need to bring our pets back to UK. All of the organisers were very friendly and helpful. Their regret was that they were too busy to relax and get to know others as we could.
We met some lovely Agility people, but then that's no surprise. All agility people are nice!
At the higher levels of IMCA the standard of competition was very, very good. The event attracted national champions from, at least, Holland, Italy and the Czech Republic. In some counties the IMCA is so popular that there are qualifying competitions for the 20 places maximum allowed.
To see the PAWC handlers was amazing. It is humbling to see how the disabled handlers overcome their disadvantages and complete the courses. One particular moment came at the final presentation when the Czech national anthem was played. It became apparent that the winner, Marie Pangracova, was completely deaf. A friend opposite her was signing the words to the anthem and Marie was signing them in unison, this being the only way she could 'visualise' the tune. The burly German chap next to her dissolved in emotional tears, and I defy anybody there to say that their eyes were completely dry.
We were constantly asked why, as Agility started in England, there were so few English representatives. That’s a bit of a tricky one to answer without being snooty and admitting that we tend only to support the 'posher' Championships. We did, however, say that we would vigorously wave the IMCA and PAWC flag.
Would we go again?
Next year the Championship will be in Girona, Spain. We have already declared our hope to go. If anybody else out there is brave or daft enough to follow let's make a team!
There is a whole lot more information on the web site, www.para-agility.nl where there are zillions of photo’s, courses, details of competitors and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
Photos by Ron Baltus