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A great way to say thank you

Many agility clubs do not have sufficient members to run a show without outside help. They rely on volunteers to stand car park attendant,  pick up poles or lend a hand moving equipment and they are rewarded with a free lunch or T-shirt. Axstane Agility Club invited clubs and individuals who had helped at their annual summer show to a Team Challenge the following November organised by Tony Warren. Mary Ann Nester was there.

Not content with a special 'helping hands' class for volunteers, Axstane AC staged a two-ring 'helping hands' show! It is a wonderful way to say thank you to the many people who ensure that agility competitors have a great day out with their dogs.

Are You a Team Player
This was a TEAM challenge, and there were no awards for individual classes. Teams consisted of four to six dogs with at least two handlers and could include Maxi, Midi or Mini dogs. Most of us in agility are striving towards personal bests and those in the mini/midi world have few opportunities to enter team classes. Was a Myers-Briggs Type questionnaire really necessary to confirm compatibility? 

Keeping the team mentality was easy. My favourite bonding exercise was drinking coffee and chin-wagging. We also walked the courses together, exchanged handling tips and watched each other run dogs. Team events call for a touch of utilitarianism - the greatest happiness for the greatest number - go for clear rounds! This is not the time to experiment with weaving on the right or a new command for the contacts. It was nice to have a team's support - jubilation for getting it right, sincere condolences if it all went wrong, and no recriminations (everyone has off days). Best of all, a chance to choose your own name! I belonged to the "Poodle Plus" team consisting of three Poodles plus two Collies and a Lurcher.

There were three types of classes: Team, Pairs and Singles (agility and jumping). I have never been any good at maths and the point system was a nightmare for someone like myself who can neither add nor subtract. I was assured by the more numerically gifted that it was not only an easy formula, but one that could be repeated next year. If you would like to stage a Team Challenge, Tony Warren is only to pleased to pass his experience. Basically, the highest points were awarded to the winners of the class and these points were accumulated into a team score. There were 28 teams entered, and the team with the most points won the Challenge! I concentrated on running my dogs and left the scoring to the experts!

I am always happy to abdicate responsibility for myself to someone else (except in an air plane - I'm the passenger with the rosary who will not open their eyes). Our Team Captain assigned us partners for the pairs, gave us our running orders and posted us directions to the venue. Our Captain's most difficult decision on the day was to nominate four dogs from our six to run in the team class. Who was showing form in the morning's classes and would continue to be consistently brilliant in the afternoon? Would our Captain suffer terrible indigestion from too much lunch time deliberations on this question? The final choice was made and the dye was cast. Who knows whether the dogs left out would have made exactly the same mistakes as the ones that were included?

At the end of the day, the equipment was put away and everyone gathered round Tony Warren to hear the results of our labours. The judges, Roman Pitwon and Martin Clayton, were ready. If I had known that there was going to be a booby prize, I wouldn't have tried so hard. I know from experience at quiz nights that the lowest scoring team always gets the chocolates. Linda's Five had the honour of coming last and will be putting on some extra pounds round the hips.

The prize-giving ceremony moved on and not to be outdone by the Olympics, medals were awarded to teams placed third to first. I expected to hear something patriotic over the loud speaker. Is there an agility anthem? Third place was taken by the Big Cats with 891 points and second was taken by Oh Eck! with 903 points.

Much to everyone's surprise, the winners were the Poodle Plus Team (Go the Poodles!) with 958 points. I didn't mind missing out on the chocolates for my bottle of wine!

Special mention goes to Wagner's Woofers who came fourth with 833 points. Richard Wagner demonstrated extreme stamina and ran six dogs on his own, thus redefining 'teamwork.' However, the biggest winner of the day was Axstane Agility Club who will have lots of helpers at the next agility show hoping for an invitation to next year's Challenge.

Would I help at Axstane again next year? You bet I would!

Mary Ann Nester (left) is a member of APDT. Born in the USA, she came to Britain in 1972 as a student. She has pursued a mixed career - fruit picker, gymnastic coach, keep-fit instructor and academic librarian. In 1997 she set up Aslan Enterprises, a dog-training school named after her first agility dog.

Running Aslan, a lurcher dog, at agility competitions got Mary Ann hooked on the sport and Bounty, a German Shepherd Dog, and Tam, the Border Collie were soon added to the household.

Mary Ann's most successful dog to date has been Brillo Pad, a Miniature Poodle who took her to Olympia and Crufts. Brillo also competed in the Draw Challenge on National Lottery Live!, winning Mary Ann the privilege of pushing the button that released the evening's lottery balls in front of millions of television viewers.

Daz, another miniature poodle and most recent addition, was bought for competition in the Mini ring, but grew too tall! He has proved that size doesn't matter. He entertained the crowds at Olympia as one of the 'fun dogs' and has strut his stuff in the ABC competition (Any Breed but Collie) at Crufts.

Photos: Mary Ann Nester