Agility for all competitors run by competitors
The World Agility Open (WAO) was created by well known international agility competitors Greg Derrett, Mark Laker and Monica Percival to provide a chance for all competitors and dogs to compete at the very highest standard, no matter what the dog's breed or size. The inaugural event on 13-15 May 2011 in the United Kingdom at the Hand Equestrian Centre. Over 200 competitors from 18 different countries travelled to the event to compete under judges Andy Hudson of England, Dave Grubel of the USA, and Mia Laamanen of Finland. So how well did they succeed? Mandy Wallington sent this a post-show report.
The arena looked spectacular with flags from all 18 competing countries suspended from the ceiling. Against this backdrop, nations competed using top quality equipment including the latest aluminium, rubber coated contacts from First Contact. Winners were awarded Bronze, Silver and Gold medals to the music of their National Anthems. For both competitors and spectators, it stirred feelings of great pride and created a truly top class, international feeling.
There were also some lovely personal touches. Competitors and spectators alike could leave comments in a book, and everyone got to sign a giant England flag.
It's not often in the UK that you find yourself cheering on a pug competing in a world class competition or applauding a corgi standing proudly on a first place podium. This, along with the vibrant team spirit that was evident in every competitor's run, is what made the World Agility Open Championships 2011 so memorable.
England were overall Team Pentathlon winners.
Many teams had brought along a loyal band of supporters to cheer them on in their own style. Many were dressed in the colours of their country, most notable orange for the Dutch. One of the most vocal were the Welsh team's supporters, whose 'Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi' chant could be heard even in the outside rings.
The most remarkable teams was arguably the Australian team. Due to Australian quarantine laws, they were unable to bring their own dogs so they had to borrow dogs belong to British handlers. Host dogs are not easy to come by. Not all dogs will run for someone else and it a big ask to lend someone you hardly know your precious dog.
The Australian visitors had less than a week to get used to their new agility partners. Altogether they only had six days to get acquainted and form a bond with their borrowed dogs before they had to go into the ring to compete for their country. It must have been intensive!
Simone Tolhurst from Perth, Western Australia explained that Aussie agility players would have loved to be able to take their own dogs to these big international events one day. However, the law requires that our dogs be placed into quarantine for 30 days upon their arrival back into the country, which is not only expensive but owners are only allowed to visit twice a week for an hour each time. Many owners do not want to put their dogs through this experience on top of the long travelling time.
The Australian Team was selected from a series of events in which they ran their own dogs, plus some borrowed dogs. The final team was a mix of sponsored and self-funded competitors, plus one ex-pat living in the UK, Sherie Vicary-Carter.
In the end they did pretty well. In the short time they had with these dogs they had managed to form very close bonds and some of their runs were amazing! Megan Bell-Jones with George finished 4th overall in the Agility Biathlon 550, Gina O'Keefe with Tippy finished 5th overall in the Agility Biathlon 400 and Simone with Noonoo finished 12th in the Pentathlon 550, managing to avoid elimination in all five rounds, Nearly all of the AUssie player made the final round of the Pentathlon.
Simone said, 'The Australian team of six intrepid travellers and one ex-pat Aussie would like to take this opportunity to give our sincere and heartfelt thanks to all those who so generously offered us their dogs to run, and to all the fundraisers and the Agility Club of WA for making our dream become a reality.'
Also competing were many crossbreeds and non-pedigreed breeds. Although non-pedigrees can compete at top-class level in the UK, some international organisations do not allow non-pedigrees to compete in their official agility tests. The inclusion of these perfectly able dogs by the WAO allows gifted agility teams with WSDs and JRTs to flourish in the international scene.
Mick Byrne with his rescue dog Molly from the Republic the Ireland is an example of one such partnership.
Molly came into Mick's life in 2006 as a tiny stray puppy. Little did he know that just a few years later they would be representing their country at the WAO. When his son-in-law Daniel found Molly, Mick and his wife Bernadette were reluctant to keep her as we both were middle-aged and had no experience with dogs let alone a puppy. But when nobody came forward to claim her and they found that they had fallen in love with her so they decided to keep her.
As she grew into adolescence, they looked for something to keep her mentally stimulated and started agility training at Dublin Dog Training, run by John Ward. Molly loved it. However, she also loved the other dogs, the fields and all her surroundings - sometimes she would stay with Mick but other times she would jump over one fence and then away.
It was hard going, but they stuck to it and in 2010 started winning competitions. At the WAO trials in 2010, Mick never expected to get chosen to represent the Republic of Ireland.
He said, 'Words cannot express what an honour it is to represent your country. Molly and I came 7th in the Individual Pentathlon. It's hard to believe that a little puppy that was found in the bushes would come so far in such a short time. I cannot imagine our lives without her now. She is part of our family and the agility is a big bonus. I have met lovely people throughout my journey and hope to meet many more!'
I asked Iris Richards, Competitor and Spectator Support Manager, what things were like behind the scenes. With 18 years of experience, she thought the arena looked brilliant with all the country flags on display. She praised her team of nine ladies who manned - or should I say 'womanned' the door throughout the event, warmly welcoming spectators. They also helped at the check in when the teams came for practice on the Thursday before the show.
Agility folk really do seem to have the knack for queuing. This was evident at the gala buffet when an expectant queue formed for the dessert but then who wouldn't queue for Malteser chocolate pudding?
Speaking of lines, between each event a row of officials, carrying a stream of flag bunting, literally swept competitors off the course when the course walking time was over. This may sound a little draconian, but it was done with such good natured grace that no competitor could take offence especially when the rope-carriers are all dancing away to the Scissor Sisters. This did make me smile.
To conclude, I would like to say that Greg, Mark and Monica should all be extremely proud of the event as they most definitely achieved their ambition of bringing a high quality agility competitions of this level to this country so it could be enjoyed by so many. It was a huge achievement.'
Next year the show moves to Belgium.
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Photos: Mandy Wallington
First published 30 June 2011