Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where the dogs and the antelope play

Jonny and I took a little stealth vacation to Utah for a USDAA trial and then a trip through Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming on the way home. I have photos, I have video, I have lots to write about but dangit I'm tired after all that so it will take me a while and maybe multiple posts to get it all out.

One of the cool things about Wyoming is all the antelope.

It's a 7 1/2 hour drive to Salt Lake City but we took maybe 9 1/2 hours with all our stops. We stopped for a photo op with the creepy gigantic statue of Lincoln at a rest stop off of I-80 just east of Laramie, WY. This statue sent Lola into a tantrum the first time she saw it.

Yeah, I know, I'm shooting into the sun and the photo is crappy but I can hardly ask the statue to move and I'm an idiot with my camera so if there's a way to compensate I have no idea. In any case you get the idea of the monstrosity of this thing. I'm oddly fascinated with it.

We stopped again in Laramie for lunch at a great vegetarian cafe which has fabulous food but takes for freaking ever so by the time we left Laramie we were 3 1/2 hours into our trip and Laramie is only 2 hours away. Oh well, we were in no hurry.

The drive from the western end of WY through the canyon to UT is amazingly beautiful. I had no idea. SLC is a beautiful city as well though I didn't go right into the city itself but it's got mountains coming right up to it's eastern suburbs. The trial was at a horse facility in a southeastern suburb that was probably out in the middle of nowhere no too long ago but is now heavily engulfed in sprawl. Strip mall city. But still it felt like the mountains were towering right next to us and even the view from the hotel parking lot was beautiful.

The trial site was wonderful, lots of shade to crate in and the mountains in the background for scenic effect.

If you continue up the road past the trial site you get a spectacular unobstructed view of the mountains. Of course I discovered this when I didn't have my camera with me and I meant to go back there to take a photo but in all the hubbub of the trial it didn't quite happen.

So you want to know how the trial went? Ugh, I knew we'd get to that sooner or later. We drove up on Saturday while they were doing Team and I figured I'd wake up Sunday all rested up from the drive and ready to go. Unfortunately I didn't fall asleep until nearly 11 pm and Cody startled me out of a sound sleep and disturbing dream at 5:15 am or so by pouncing on me with his front feet. He almost never does anything like that so I figured he needed out like now. I barely fell back to sleep when the alarm woke me up. I started the day in a groggy, dizzy, disoriented haze and never quite came out of it. Thus, you can imagine how the day went. It was such a comedy of errors that really all I could do was laugh at the end of it all.

One of the Q's I cared most about was Snooker for Cody. He has a zillion regular snooker Q's still needs 3 super Q's. Oh, and we have a former world team dog in our class who's really good at snooker so I have to really go for it. Snooker is a bad thing for first thing in the morning anyway, at least give me a chance to let the fog clear before I have to think. This snooker course was particularly challenging with a threadle for the #6 obstacle in the closing and no good way to get ahead of your dog to manage it. Then of course there's a jump/weave combination for the #7 obstacle. I was still puzzling over my opening and how to handle the threadle when the judge called 'first dog on the line in 1 minute'. Oh yes folks, that would be me and Cody. And I was crated at the opposite end of the field, at least a 1-2 minute walk each way if I hustled which is fun when you have a sore foot and knee. It was only 7:52 and I figured we'd have until 8:00 to walk the course so I was a bit surprised to say the least. I scrambled from the ring and warmed Cody up as best I could, meanwhile trying to go over my plan in my head. Needless to say I made it through 3 reds and then something somewhere went oh so wrong. I then had to hoof it back to the set up to get Lola since there weren't all that many dogs in the class. I handled Lola much better and she was having a lovely run until I sent her over a red and the judge blew his whistle. Actually it was not a red I had sent her over but rather the finish line jump. I had walked the course thinking the finish line jump was a red. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day.

It turned out to be a hot day, low to mid 90's, which is never a great thing for my dogs especially when it comes to the table. Both dogs flat out refused to lie down on the table so both our Standard runs ended there. I was hoping to get a quick down so I could release and run out of the ring to reward but no dice.

I thought for sure we would redeem ourselves in pairs. I can usually keep it together for 10-11 obstacles and we usually do o.k. in that class. First off one of my partners was out with an injured dog so the gate steward told me to pick a partner off the gate sheet. I stood there ummmming for a minute because I'm from out of town and don't know most of these people and then thankfully Stacy Peardot happened to be standing there and offered up her husband who is also a really incredible handler to run as accommodating dog. I balked at that until I realized that he's not getting a Q anyway so I can't screw him up so hey, yeah, I will accept that very generous offer. Still, it's a bit intimidating to run with the top handler and the impeccably trained dog when you have a Cody Baloney for a partner and you're not so coordinated and easily confused yourself. Plus you're clearly having 'one of those days'.

Lola's run was first and we made it through the tricky opening only to have me forget a jump on a fairly straightforward sequence to a tunnel. Why oh why did I have to do that for pairs? Isn't it embarrassing enough to forget the course when it's only you?

Cody & I made it through the tricky opening then he ran right past the weaves. Yes, I gave him plenty of warning, yes he was set up with a nice path, yes we've been practicing this very thing most mornings before work in the backyard. Still, he ran right past them. But I got him back in and we're fast enough that maybe we'll be o.k. This time I remembered the jump but I was way too late cuing a turn and he took off for an off course tire that only Cody would spot. I noticed this when I walked the course but didn't manage it during the run as I was rattled from missing the jump during Lola's run and focused too much on that. It's extra fun to screw up when you have the fabulous dog & handler team helping you out.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's had that agility dream where you're chilling out at your tent well away from the ring and next thing you know there are loud screams from the ring calling you to the line. You don't even know what class is running and you sure didn't get your walk through. I pinched myself repeatedly but unfortunately this time it was not a dream. I thought they were running Steeplechase Finals which is what was listed in the running order and I was so far from the ring that I couldn't see or hear what was going on. I had made so many trips back and forth from the ring and it was so hot and my knee was getting sore so I was trying no to neurotically go back & forth too much. It turns out they'd run the finals yesterday on the same day as Round 1. I've never ever heard of this but there you go. So it was in fact master jumpers running and I had in fact missed the walk-through and was being summoned to the line. I grabbed Cody & ran to the ring. They had started without me and the gate steward was so nice and said I could run one dog at the end of the 22's then run the other at the end of the Perf. 16' and right before the Champ. 22's. I couldn't walk of course and I didn't even have a course map on me but pffffbbbttt we don't need no stinkin' walk through, we'll just watch the few remaining dogs and wing it. Which might have been a doable plan if this was standard (I did that once no problem when Cody was in starters) but master jumpers?? Yeah, you can imagine how that went. Trying to run and handle a tricky jumpers course while reading the number cones is not a recommended style of handling. I made it through about 10 obstacles then sent Cody off course while trying to read a number cone. We kept going like we knew what we were doing and I made it up as we went along. Cody was none the wiser and we had a fast fun run. By the time it was Lola's turn I had a better idea of the course and I think I ran it properly but she ran past a jump somewhere and I didn't go back to fix it so no Q but it sure looked & felt smooth. Q's are overrated anyway. Jonny spotted that bumper sticker in the parking lot and kept pointing it out to me. Anybody else with a sarcastic spouse feel my pain? No no, I'm not complaining. He took vacation days and drove all that way to sit around an agility trial in 95 degree heat so I can hardly complain. The woman crated next to me told me I had such nice smooth runs but it was a shame I'd walked the course incorrectly. All I could do was laugh.

I think that's the first time ever that both dogs were completely shut out of Q's on the same day. What a flaky day and the dogs seemed a bit out of sorts as well. Maybe they were tired from the trip and loopy with the heat as well. Lola in particular did not seem all that happy during her standard run which was the second class. I thought I might pull her from jumpers but she seemed o.k. during pairs and I wanted to end the day on a high note as she usually likes jumpers. Ah well, what can you do but laugh?

I didn't sleep all that well Sunday night but I woke up Monday determined to keep my wits about me and have a serious, focused kick ass day of dog agility. I had Jonny bring me a mocha when he went for coffee for himself. I usually ban myself from having caffeine of any kind during agility trials because it makes me nervous & jittery and all sorts of other bad things that don't typically lead to a good day of focused kick ass dog agility. But I thought maybe the sugar & caffeine would jolt me awake and jump start my brain a bit.

I felt plenty awake for Gamblers which was the first class and thankfully I was not first dog on the line. It was an easy gamble for both my dogs so all I had to do was pick a simple opening and time it properly. Unfortunately Cody took an extra jump which happened to be 2 gamble obstacles in reverse order so even though I timed it perfectly and he got the gamble we got no Q. Lola missed her dogwalk and A-frame contact so again even though I timed it perfectly and she got the gamble we ended up one stinkin' point short of the required opening points so no Q. But at least I felt like my brain was working and the dogs seemed more relaxed than yesterday.

Standard again was all about the table. Cody had a beautiful clean run going up until the table. I did eventually get him into a down but he was wound up after that and ended up with an off course the details of which I will spare you. Lola took one look at the table, pinned back her ears and ran around it so I said to heck with it, no way I'm getting into an argument over it in 95 degree heat so I didn't even try to get her on it. Poor thing looked so upset about it. I got her going for the rest of her run though and she ended it up fast & happy. I realize I'm teaching her that she can avoid the table and get to keep going but I was more concerned with her motivation and getting her fast & happy in the ring so I didn't want to take her out right at the table. I did that yesterday and obviously it did no good, in fact might have made things worse.

Grand Prix was the final class of the trial and this was the other Q that I cared most about. Lola still needed a Q to qualify for Regionals and this was her last chance. The course looked fast and fun, a good course for both my dogs if only I could keep my head about me. My heart was racing and I was jittery from all the caffeine and sugar and I was wondering if I'd made a good decision there but it was too late to do anything about it. I felt confident about my plan, watched the CH dogs for trouble spots and the only one I saw was something someone had pointed out during the walk-through so I'd planned for it. The only part I wasn't sure about was the last 2 obstacles, the dreaded dogwalk to jump at the end. I think our success rate on that particular challenge during a trial is something like 8% (NADAC loves that particular challenge for some reason and we've had plenty of practice blowing it). I think both dogs have only ever got it once.

Cody was up first and had a beautiful, smooth clean run. He got that contact at the end, just. I'll have to watch the video but I'm guessing it was super close. I hung way way back behind and told him 'ease up there buddy' which doesn't mean anything to him but I thought maybe some calm words would calm him down and for once he slowed & collected himself instead of launching from mid-plank.

Lola was up next and she popped out of the weaves poles (3rd obstacle). She was zooming through them no problem then about halfway through came to a stop and ran off the sniff at something. I finally had my head enough about me to remember that in USDAA you can have the dog re-enter the poles wherever they left so I called her to me, sent her back in and she continued on no problem. The rest of the run was beautiful and she hit all her contacts. She was plenty fast so even with the detour she was still well under time and got her Q just by the hair of her chinny chin chin.

The icing on the cake was that Cody won the Grand Prix so he's got a bye into the finals at Regionals. I'm excited about that. Lola ended up in 2nd place. We ended the trial with only 2 Q's but they were the ones that counted. Plus the last runs of the day finally felt connected and good.

I've got video and photos from our drive through Medicine Bow but those will have to wait for another post.


  1. Roxanne4:49 PM

    I enjoyed the travel tips and the trip-by-stumble account of your runs. Congrats on Cody and Regionals. Is that the one here in early July? Maybe I can come watch.

    I think this is my favorite part, though: "I told him 'ease up there buddy' which doesn't mean anything to him..."

    It's been a long day, but that made me giggle.

  2. Good job on the Grand Prix Qs! I hope that made up for the rest of it ... which you should now forget because you should focus on the positive ;-)

  3. Oh dear. I giggled in several places where I could very much relate. Haven't we all had trials like that. Well, maybe not *quite* like that. Yay for ending the trial on a great note with the GP Qs!

    I'm impressed that you were able to put Lola back into the weaves mid-way. Unless my dog misses the last two or maybe three poles I have to restart all over -- impossible to figure out where they popped out of. Is there a trick to doing that?

  4. Yes, Regionals is the big trial over 4th of July weekend down at Adams County Fairgrounds. You definitely should go watch, lots of top handlers from across the country will be there. Grand Prix finals are on Sunday, Round 1 is on Saturday along with Steeplechase Finals.

    I'll post the video of Lola popping out of the poles and me putting her back in. I stopped as soon as she popped out which I think was a pole or 2 beyond where she popped out. I stood my ground and called her back to me to put her back in so I had some reference of where she needed to go. I think I've only ever done that once or twice before usually when she's at the very end. I guess with all the mistakes I'd made all weekend I was bound to get something right.

  5. The trip sounds lovely, especially when you can ponder something mysterious like that Lincoln statue. Your antelope photos are way better than mine from Arizona last month. I got only way teeny photos even with the telephoto and wasn't even sure that they WERE antelope until I got home and blew it way up on the computer.

    Congrats on the GPs. Much better to end a crappy weekend with some good Qs, I think, than to start the weekend with something good and then fall to pieces the rest of the time--makes me feel like I've wasted my weekend, whereas finishing well makes me feel like I was just working out the kinks. ;-)


  6. The antelope were sometimes fairly close to the road and I finally splurged and bought myself a telephoto lens. Now I have to learn how to use it.