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Moving up

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To win or to wait...

That was the question. Lindy Margach and her lovely yellow Labrador Bracken (Saffron Last Chance) started the 2008 agility season with her Bronze Warrant almost upon them, but with clear words of advice from her 'wonderful' trainer Lin Bergan of Sunniday ringing in her ears: 'You can go up on points if you want to, but why go into Grade 2 if you can't beat the other dogs in Grade 1?'

Of course it was sensible advice, but I yearned for more diverse courses... for the more difficult handling we enjoyed in training and especially for the days when a new and blisteringly fast collie would not be waiting to run last in class and push us down the rankings.

Twice during the season we led agility classes for more than four hours, only for a youngster with legs up to their ear-lobes and a blindingly fast collie alongside to squeeze that extra tenth of a second from the course time. And yes, I'll admit it – I was occasionally reduced to tears on behalf of my lovely dog when she was pipped at the post.

Not that Bracken cared, of course. She was happy to come training twice a week, to do ever more complicated turns, push-outs, pull-throughs and weave entries. Happy to bounce along at my side at shows, tugging cheerfully at her blue and yellow tuggie and spinning and twisting to win another 'sweetie' while waiting in the queues.

Sometimes the sun shone. More often it was grey or wet. But Bracken was always happy – smiling at her people friends and wagging at her canine companions.

Second best...
She started the season in style with a 2nd at Gary Dawe's agility at Kernow K9 before rushing off to the beach for another game and a swim. At Working Belgian Shepherd in Newbury the coveted AW (Bronze) became ours – with yet another 2nd place – in Mel Ashwin's lovely Agility course, which she whipped round in 28.26 seconds.

Then it was north to Shrewsbury and her third 2nd place in quick succession – this time with Mandy Melville-Love – and yet another in Penny Cockerill's ring at Thames.

'You'll win soon,' I was assured. 'She's working brilliantly.'

I knew that and, to be honest, I think she did, too, but by this stage the frustration had almost boiled over. I was beginning almost not to enjoy agility and the tension and suspense of the 'winning soon' business was really getting me down.

But it was all smiles at Bretons where Audrey Rogers' lovely jumping course demanding good handling skills really gave Bracken the opportunity she was looking for. She shot round in 26.018 seconds to go clear and bring home her first red rosette and the coveted trophy! We were on our way.

By this time, I should add, we had exhausted our first Agility Record Book and were well on our way to the Silver warrant, carrying 265 agility points and 97 jumping points forward.

'You really should go up,' came the advice from so many friends. 'What are you waiting for? You know she's good enough.'

But now our dander was up. Still aware of Lin's advice that there's no point going up if you can't compete in a higher class, we were determined to win our place in Grade 2.

And so it was onward and upward, with a remarkable record of at least one top-10 place every weekend and a consequent gradual increase in our points total. One Agility win or two more Jumping wins to go.

Letchworth, at the end of August, found us celebrating again, with the second Jumping win achieved in Donna Hurlock's jumping course – albeit in a surprisingly slow 30.202 seconds, one of Bracken's slowest jumping rounds of the season.

'You can't possibly go up on three Jumping wins,' came Lin's voice at training as we munched our way through the obligatory cream cakes. 'You've just got to win out in agility.'

Nothing like stating the obvious!

But by this stage of the season the elusive A-frame contact had decided to go AWOL and Bracken was pinging happily over the top and straight off the other side! Back to basics we went, with happy games up and over the apex and down to the sweetie pot at the foot of the contact.

Suffolk Five Rivers, the last camping weekend of the season, dawned. The sun – having hidden itself away for so much of the summer– shone in an almost cloudless sky. All the dogs were happy and I felt really relaxed.

So it was off to Richard Brains's 1 and 2 Graded Agility course. I thought we had acquitted ourselves nicely - well, I couldn't breathe at the end of it, anyway - but when I went to the scorer's tent to record my time I was told 'Why couldn't you just have run faster – you're in 2nd place....again.'

Strangely, I didn't really care. I knew we had done as well as we could and if we hadn't won, it really didn't matter any more. At peace with the world, Bracken and I took ourselves off to our caravan, collected Shannon and Ree and disappeared for a walk.

By the time we returned, everyone had suddenly become very animated. The scorer, it seemed, hadn't realised the structure of the class. Grade 2 and Grade 1 scrime sheets had been piled up together, albeit in time order.

Bracken was still the second-fastest dog to have gone clear on the course. But she was the fastest dog in Grade 1. We had won – we had won out on an agility course – and we would even have been in second place if we had already gone up!

So here we are. Grade 2 at last. We've done it on merit in time for the 2009 season. Bracken has achieved her KC AW (silver) and the only one who is going to be disappointed is young Ree, my 18-month-old black Lab who now has to start her agility career in the dizzy heights of Grade 2!

Will we get further?
I hope so. I know Bracken is capable of doing far more complicated courses than she currently faces. But I'm not so sure about my own capabilities. We shall just have to wait and see what the year brings.

But one thing for sure: We know we deserve to be where we are. We won out – and that's a fact that will never go away.

About the author...
Lindy Margach is a journalist and PR consultant who lives in Wallington, Surrey, and shares her life with three wonderful Labradors – 8-year-old Shannon, Bracken who will be four in December, and the youngster Ree (Katajack Guinevere) who will make her agility debut in spring 2009.