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Pace, The Final Frontier

I’m sure there’s lots more Star Trek (mis)quotations I can use to sum up our trip to Lydiard Park last weekend, “Beam me up, Scotty, it’s bleedin’ cold here” being the first that springs to mind, but for the moment let’s stick with the pace one. Mop is pretty accurate on an agility course which is why after just four competitions we now have 19 individual clear rounds and another 3 in team or pairs events. Twelve of those 19 have also been places, which is an excellent percentage, but always 2nd to 4th, the place we are missing is first.

Now, I’ve never been a fast runner, and at my age I’m certainly not going to get any faster even if I cut down on the beer, wine and cake, and let’s be honest here, that’s not going to happen! There was a time when young ladies would look at me and I could almost see them thinking “hmmm, I wonder if he’s single?” Well, they still look, but now they’re thinking “hmmm, I wonder if I should give up my seat?” So, as I said, I won’t be getting any quicker. The trick therefore is going to be getting Mop to work further away from me so she can do all the hard graft. Something to work towards in the future. Nothing like a bit of delegating responsibility, eh?

The really important thing as far as I’m concerned is having fun at what we’re doing and we did have some very enjoyable runs over the weekend that didn’t get us any sort of prize or reward. We also had the pleasure of visiting Lydiard Park on the western edge of Swindon for the first time. As well as the house there is also a lake and 260 acres of lawns, woodlands and pasture to walk and enjoy. Or even, take part in agility competitions!

Pace Hosue and Lake

We arrived early on Friday afternoon and after setting up home we went to explore. As usual, walking anywhere means Mop finding a new playmate and me chatting to the owners, also as usual, about our dogs! This afternoon Mop met a young Spaniel which is always a treat as Spaniels invariably want to play and chase. During our conversation I was asked if Mop and I were local, so I explained that we were visiting to take part in a dog agility competition and were camped in the distant field where the show would take place over the weekend. This brought forth the relieved exclamation; “Oh so that’s what’s happening over there! We saw the caravans rolling in and thought ‘Gawd, it’s gypsies’”. Now I know that after a weekend’s activities and camping we can look a tad scruffy but do we really resemble a re-enactment of Dale Farm? I suppose at least it gives us scope for a new television programme; My Big Fat Gypsy Agility Show. Mop wandering round selling clothes pegs and lucky heather on sale in the secretary’s tent.

Saturday morning arrived direct from the Arctic Circle but it was beautiful and sunny so Mop and I took another walk down to the house before we started on our events.

Pace House

Then it was onto the main business of the day and our first event was steeplechase. Steeplechase at novice no less, having moved up from beginners during our last competition. Obviously the courses are going to be a bit more challenging but having walked it over and over I was confident Mop would do well. The only part that was worrying me was two tunnels running parallel to each other where Mop had to leave the first, ignore the jump placed directly in front of her, and instead do a 180 degree turn and head back into the second tunnel.

As it happened I needn’t have worried about that for two reasons; one was that Mop managed it perfectly and the other more important reason was that despite walking the course and watching loads of people in front of us run it I’d taken us the wrong way right at the beginning and got us eliminated. As soon as I’d gone wrong I realised, stopped in the middle of the course and said something like ‘oh gosh, how silly I am’. Yes, it was definitely something like ‘how silly I am’, but I don’t think they were my exact words. Those who watch me go wrong on a regular basis in training will probably have a pretty good idea of the exact words! Mop just looked at me with her usual ‘he’s done it again’ expression. A real shame because apart from my memory aberration early on it was a lovely run.

Shortly after we had a chance to make amends and we did it with a vengeance. Mop set off on her beginners jumping run like her bum was on fire and didn’t put a paw wrong. One slight handling error by me which probably cost us two or three tenths of a second but apart from that the run went completely as planned and the speed took me by surprise. One of the other competitors approached us after we’d finished to congratulate us on a fantastic run and added “that time’s gonna take some beating”.  Unfortunately for us it was beaten, but only by one other dog and I was more than happy with our second place.

By the way, I have asked if you can set fire to your dog’s bum to make them quicker but apparently whilst not actually written down in the rule book it is frowned upon.

Beginners’ agility was next and we just needed six points in this to move up to novice in performance. The second obstacle was twelve weave poles and despite Mop really seeming to have cracked this recently she just couldn’t get it right this time. Again, another real shame because once we left the poles the rest of the run was faultless.

We finished the day well though, a clear round in our half of the split pairs competition and a quick, clear round in steeplechase that gave us a 3rd place despite a little detour towards the end. The third last fence was directly in front of the timekeeper’s chair and as Mop jumped it she looked in front and thought “oh, he looks like a nice man, I bet he’d love to stroke me and possibly give me a treat”. I’m told they could hear me shouting in Swindon as she headed over to see him but at least it worked and Mop was back on track before she got too distracted.

Sunday morning we’re on early for another attempt at beginners’ agility which I’m glad about as Mop is livelier and keener first thing. We don’t take it too steady though as a clear round will give us 2 points but I’m rather hoping for the six that will move us up. Today when the weave poles come up we go through them with no problems. The dog walk is the penultimate piece of equipment and as I know we’re clear I slow Mop down and make sure she gets her contact perfectly before we clear the last jump. I know we’re clear and I think we’re quick but I have to wait for the prize givings to see where we’ve come. The clear rounds are announced and I don’t actually want to hear our names, I want to wait for the places. Fourth place is given and that’s not us either, then we’re called out in third and I know we’ve got the six points I’d been hoping for. No more beginners for us!

The day is completed with another clear round in steeplechase and then an unfortunate first attempt at gamblers in the games classes. Whilst I’m trying to make sense of the gamblers course and rules I’m approached by a man who obviously knows what he’s talking about and not only does he explain the rules but gives me a fantastic course to run which I follow to the letter. (In gamblers you make your own course up, collecting points depending on which equipment you’ve used and then when the whistle blows take either the easy finish for 10 points or the more difficult finish, ‘the gamble’ for fifteen). When the whistle does blow we’ve accumulated the minimum number of points needed plus several more and are also in the perfect position for the finishing sequence which must be completed inside 16 seconds, so I take ‘the gamble’. Five jumps to clear and then head to the final jump to stop the timer. I think we’ve done it perfectly as I watch Mop take all 5 jumps and then I turn for the timer which I arrive at just as Mop flies over to finish so I’m a bit shocked when my instructor from earlier comes over and says “Fabulous run, a terrible shame about the elimination, really unlucky”. It turns out that after I’d taken my eye off Mop she’d back jumped one of the finishing sequence to get to the timer. How many times have I been told about keeping your eye on your dog at all times? Hopefully it’ll sink in eventually! My mistake is then compounded when I’m told that the 37 points we accumulated would have won us the event had we not faulted. Oh well, onwards and upwards and as usual I can’t wait for the next competition.

Mark & Mop

(aka Team M&M)