Maria and Flyte get a taste for agility right here in The Cotswolds

What a lovely surprise it was to receive an unexpected invitation to the Low 550 National Jumping Cup Final 2018, an event introduced to champion and support a “4th height” for those smaller large dogs in the agility world who are not as comfortable with the 650mm jump height as their larger counterparts. We had taken part in one of the 10 heats held around the country, at the Godmanchester Agility Show back in June where we had finished just outside the qualifying places and now, fortunately for us, one of the qualifiers from that heat was unable to attend and Flyte and I were only too pleased to step into their shoes. The final was to be held at the Prestbury Park Premier Agility Show at Cirencester Park, a picturesque country estate and home to Cirencester Park Polo Club, by kind permission of the 9th Earl and Countess of Bathurst. So, with our personalised polo shirt ordered and our commentary card submitted, we were all set for the big day.

The event was split into two categories, Grades 1-4 and Grades 5-7 (our category) although all dogs would run over the same course with separate results for each category. This presented experienced Judge for the evening’s Final, Anthony Bray, with the challenge of creating a course to test each handler/dog combo, be fun to run and entertaining for all the spectators. The course was unveiled an hour before the start and we had a very generous 45 minutes to walk it and plan the fastest route and best lines for our dogs to hopefully give us that winning edge.

Before we knew it, the 5 pm start time was upon us and as the crowds gathered ringside in readiness to support, cheer and applaud, all 39 dogs and handlers assembled and waited nervously in the collecting area to be called to the start line. A random draw had been made for running orders and Flyte and I had been drawn at no. 38 out of the 39 entries, not a bad draw for us if we could only hold our nerve that long. As the commentary for the event began and the event photographer took his place, what is known as a “white dog” ran the course so that we could all get a feel for how the course would run and with a beautiful clear round the experienced white dog partnership made the course look easy!

As with any big event, nerves do play a huge part on the day and even the most experienced handlers can make errors and the simplest of sequences can go wrong so nothing is guaranteed and there is everything to play for. The course was cleverly designed to test both the dogs’ technical ability and their understanding of their handler’s body language and verbal commands and it was evident from the course design that all this would be played out at speed! The competition was strong in both categories, with all partnerships putting in excellent performances.

Finally, it was our turn and as we stepped up to the start line I knew that we couldn’t play safe and had to pull out all the stops going for the fastest lines and tightest turns possible and keeping our fingers and paws crossed that we didn’t knock any poles. Flyte definitely attacked the course at top speed, with first class weaves, tight turns and full speed on the flat. In our haste we just disconnected for a second or two on a sharp left turn to gasps from the spectators (and me!), but somehow we managed to get back on track and flew across the finish line in a good time and to my amazement secured a podium place, finishing 3rd in the G5-7 category.

Thanks to the generosity of all the sponsors, SMART Clinic, Norton Rosettes, Tick Tock Trophy and Fun with Fido there were first class trophies for the top three in both categories and really cool Finalist rosettes for everyone and toys and treats for all the dogs, so nobody went home empty handed. The group photographs were another fun addition and the event came to a close with all dogs and handlers performing a lap of honour!

Our awesome day was rounded off with a celebratory Pimm’s and Pizza before it was back in the trusty VW Caddy for the long drive home!