Sunrise in Tyler, Texas. Great start of an agility trial.

Pushing our limits in Tyler, Texas

In September we had the opportunity to really test our skills in so many ways at the UKI Texas Cup in Tyler, Texas.

It was an event that I didn’t feel like we were ready for, as far as being competitive, but I wanted to push my team to see what we could do under pressure. Emma and I have so many areas of this sport that need huge improvement and this event posed special challenges for us. Travel distance, level of course challenges, extra internal pressure, a new venue, new to UKI, lots of very experienced handlers in the same ring, and a new camping location. All aspects that had potential to cause extra stress.

So how did we do?

Well, rolling into town later than expected didn’t help, arriving at dark and not being able to find the campground was frustrating, to say the least. Turning around on a narrow road with towing a trailer is always nerve racking. Thankfully we found a familiar face that ended up helping us to the right location. And setting up camp was fairly easy even in the dark since the camping area was somewhat level and neatly arranged.  The area is quite beautiful, green, rolling hills, huge trees. The event location was very nice as well, very well manicured and well maintained.

Emma and I ended up having the whole campground to ourselves with made life pleasant for her. So mornings and evenings were very peaceful.

The first event day, Friday, started quite late in the day compared to what we are used to, so we had plenty of time to get settled. I made use of the extra time walking Emma around the whole arena over and over, inside and out. Treating her for being calm whenever something new or scary caught her attention. It was a two ring show and had an unusual access to the second ring. It either had a long path partitioned off or you had to go to the other side of the building. Not a big deal for brave dogs, but something I did have to take into consideration and work to keep Emma focused on me when entering the ring.

What about the trial challenges?

Well, when we got the maps, I have to admit I did think, “OMG, what have I gotten us into?”.  And the other aspect, sharing the ring with expert handler teams might have been more intimidating had I actually known who any of them were…LOL. But I had my ‘agility music’ preloaded on my little mp3 player in case I felt extra stressed for the walk-throughs. Mostly I did OK keeping calm and not having a negative inner dialog. It’s been a problem in the past, but this event was a big test for that in particular. I’m happy to say that through persistent effort, you definitely can change from being awfully hard on yourself to being kind. Of course having more experience and training goes a long way towards that effort. The confidence we’ve achieved through classes and trials, not focusing on achieving a Qualification, but just on having fun and letting things happen in a more relaxed way has really helped a LOT!

Even with the very challenges courses, I never got lost. I never felt like I didn’t know how to handle a particular path and I never thought that we couldn’t manage. No we aren’t super fast, but we definitely showed improvement. Emma completed most of the weave poles without shutting down. I remembered to not focus on the ‘winning’ but rather having fun with my dog. I had to really ramp up my own energy, which in and of itself is exhausting. But mostly Emma was doing better than usual. We had some really amazing moment for us that made me so proud of my little girl. Glimmers of what we will be are nice to see, along with progress for our hard work.

I’ve made a few changes to my start line routine, lessons learned from Melanie Miller seminar and trying to learn what my dog wants, needs to be happy and excited for this game.

It was a great event and we look forward to the next one like it. Plus I would recommend everyone try UKI since they are very kind to handlers and dogs alike. Still very challenging, but allowing for some training opportunities that the other organizations don’t provide.

What did other people experience?

I hope to hear from you…