Our experiences in the main arena...
Crufts is the largest annual international Championship dog show in the world. Organised and hosted by the Kennel Club, it is currently held every March at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, England. To be asked to judge whether it be in breed, obedience or agility is the ultimate compliment. But what did the judges really think?
When Lynne Shore received the official invitation to judge at Crufts 2012 in September, it was the nearest she has ever come to having a heart attack It was a bolt out of the blue, a little secret dream that she'd had but never expected would happen. Needless to say she accepted.
My initial concerns were that everyone would be judging me, my courses and performance so much rested on my shoulders - the responsibility to the competitors everyone is a ringside judge and with TV cameras etc it was quite a daunting thought. However, I soon realised that I can only do my best and am only human and I was able to put those negative thoughts behind me well before Christmas.
I needed a plan of action!
My primary concerns were the ability of dogs to cope with the carpet on my courses and whilst it is very easy to design a hard course, I wanted courses that would flow', routes be logical for the dog but not necessarily so for the handler and trying to give some options if possible. My philosophy for finals is that competitors had already done the hard work in getting to there and many would make their own mistakes through nerves etc on the big day. Once I had my basic plans sorted it was then back to Youtube to look again at clips from previous years would the turns / angles work and a big worry - have I designed courses too easy? Finally I was happy and I sent the courses off before the Feb deadline.
Time then passed rapidly and the new concern was what am I going to wear? I hate shopping at the best of times and am much happier wearing my jeans and fleeces but, as a judge, the rule of thumb is Dress to Impress'. Luckily friends went out and found suitable clothing and dragged me kicking and screaming to fitting rooms!
So on Thursday 8 March, I stepped onto the green carpet for my first class. What nerves I had just disappeared and I was able to relax into the competition and judge some stunning runs. On the three days I judged, all the competitors and their dogs were stars producing some fantastic work. I absolutely loved the experience and believe I gave the best I could to the competitors and their dogs who really are the reason many of us take up judging.
If you want me to name some outstanding performances it has to be the competitors in the Crufts Singles Final and the International the atmosphere in the arena was electric before the agility started and when I walked out onto the carpet the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. As each of these classes progressed you could feel the tension mount, where was it possible to shave a fraction of a second off the leading time? WOW! Whether by luck or good fortune both classes gave me a real buzz and I felt were as exciting for the audience and the competitors alike.
I am slowly descending from Cloud 9 and would like to thank all the competitors for giving us some great entertainment and sportsmanship. And, on a personal note all the people who were so supportive ....the Committee behind the table, Dave & Kate, Graham and Pat, the fantastic ring party and all my friends and acquaintances who supported me at Crufts with kind words and finally the Kennel Club for extending to me the invitation to judge.
As a judges trainer for the Kennel Club Bill Glover receives letters from them now and again. However, the one he opened in November 2007 was far from routine. It contained an invitation to judge the Agility Championships on the last day of Crufts 2012. That seemed a very long way away, but, of course, the time flew by. Having his son Max born a few days later probably played a part in this!
The Crufts Agility Championships are for dogs that have won an agility Championship Certificate (CC) in the preceding 12 months. If you've ever wondered why a CC is sometimes called a 'ticket that's the reason. It's the dog's ticket to Crufts).
The format is the same as a normal Championship class i.e. Jumping and Agility qualifier rounds, followed by a final. However, winning the CC at Crufts immediately makes the dog an Agility Champion, if it isn't one already. Normally three CCs are required for the title of Champion, so the Crufts Certificate effectively counts as two.
Designing the courses
Obviously there's a lot of pressure involved the competitors are running in front of thousands of people in the main Arena with lights, TV cameras, live commentary and huge overhead screens all adding to the atmosphere. From a practical point of view the timings are pretty tight, with a sixty-minute slot for the qualifying rounds. In that period the course has to be built, checked, walked, and run by over fifty dogs (including two height changes), then the ring cleared and prize giving completed. The ring itself is smaller than we are used to outdoors, and although much improved from the original green baize carpet it still has an artificial surface that most of the dogs are not familiar with. The course plans are submitted well in advance to be printed and given to the competitors on the day (because of the short time allowed for walking), so there's very little scope for last-minute changes. And finally all three sizes of dog have to compete over exactly the same courses.
So, just a few things to bear in mind then! In the end I came up with three courses that I hoped would flow well, giving people the opportunity to gain a time advantage through good handling rather than being particularly 'trappy.' I tried to reduce the chance of dogs slipping by using tunnels and other obstacles to achieve turns wherever possible, remembering of course that nothing can be rigidly pegged down (including the cloth tunnel, which has to be used in all the courses). To keep things moving, I avoided the need for long recall starts, and kept the finish obstacles a reasonable distance away from the start.
At the show
I had also booked the Thursday and Friday off work to relax and sort out any last-minute preparations, and then I drove back up to Birmingham on Saturday with my wife Pia. We were able to watch the afternoon agility classes from 'backstage' which again was very helpful. Things looked quite different with the Arena packed out! After an early night, we checked out of the hotel next morning and made our way over to the NEC, where I gave a single briefing to cover the rest of the day. I had decided to give the medium and large dogs the same course times but slightly longer ones for the smalls, and this worked out well in practice.
The order of judging had been arranged so the different sizes of dog rotated between rounds, and the jumping started at 11am with the Medium dogs. This was a fairly straightforward course, with the sequence 15-19 largely being where the top places were decided. Despite that there were still a number of eliminations three each in the medium and large, and one in the small. Jump 18 gave a variation in route, with some opting to turn left and others going right. Jump 12 was a single hurdle for the small dogs as the equipment didn't allow a spread to be set up.
The final results were:-
After a quick lunch we were back at 1:30 for the agility round. The major choice on this course was the approach to jump 5; going left (towards the edge of the ring) or right (through the gap between the hurdle and the dog walk). A number of people went left as the safer' option and regretted it in fact the elimination toll was reversed in this round with two in the medium, four in the large and eight in the small.
The top places were awarded as follows:-
So with the qualifying rounds completed and the scores collated we had our finalists. As I had hoped, all three finals had the maximum number of dogs ten each in large and small (both with seven going through on double clears), and seven dogs in medium (five with double clears). The overall combined places were:
We now had a bit of a break just enough for the nerves to start to kick in! At about 4pm, we were able to access the ring and build the finals course which the handlers then walked there being no time allowed for this later on. Part of the ring then had to be cleared for the Royal Marines who traditionally open the evening performance with a spot lit fanfare. The position of each piece of equipment that moved was carefully marked so it could be quickly put back in exactly the same place.
The finals started a little ahead of schedule just before 5pm, with the qualifiers running in reverse order as is normal in a Championship class. Obviously the pressure is really on now, and this undoubtedly contributed towards the eliminations that occurred two in the Medium, three in the Large, and four in the Small. In the Small and Medium categories, the last dog to go produced the winning run. In the Large final the opposite happened, with everybody chasing the time that Will Rolfe set as first to run. Commiserations to Shaun Young who was last to go and unfortunately collided with his dog after the cloth tunnel, resulting in her knocking a brick off the wall.
After some brilliant runs the top places in the final were as follows:-
The CC and reserve CC are only awarded for clear rounds so I was relieved that there were enough of them - just, in the case of the large dogs! I was also very pleased that one of the winners gained the title of Agility Champion that day well done Will! Congratulations also to Natasha and Bernadette for keeping their cool till the end and producing a couple of fantastic runs.
So after all the planning and hard work it was over. It was a great experience and although you can never please everyone I was pretty happy with the way the courses had worked out. My job was made much easier by the outstanding support I received from the ring party and other helpers too many to mention by name, but you know who you are and my huge thanks to you all.
Finally if you're interested in watching any of the action, it's all available on the official Crufts channel on YouTube just search for Crufts Agility Championships 2012.
First published 24 April 2012
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