The Good The Bad & The Ugly (USDAA NC Regional Recap)

Over the last seven days, Merlin and I have done more agility training and trialing than we’ve probably done in the last seven weeks. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend CSA’s Spring Camp which featured John Nys and Dudley Fontaine. The courses that we worked during the seminar didn’t leave me with any “How the ef am I going to handle this sequence?!?” moments which left me feeling pretty confident where our handling had gotten to as a team. I was able to get some wonderful insight on handling a low drive, nervous dog. We figured out some new games to play to keep Merlin excited and happy at the start of our runs, which made the seminars very well worth it. John covered a bit more of driving hard to the next obstacle, while Dudley focused on figuring out the fastest line of the course. It was a wonderful combo that really drove home some great information and I look forward to working with both John and Dudley in the future. Neither looked to re-do anyone’s style of handling and this was a great primer for the USDAA North Central Regional the following weekend.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in reverse order… who really wants to end on the ugly?

#NCRegional2015 The Ugly (Merlin The Broken Collie)
The majority of Saturday was a very emotional and frustrating day. We had some very nice team runs on Friday. Merlin was confident and flying off the start line as though he had something to prove. Later in the night I found out that one of our team members needed a Q for cynosports – no big deal, we were all running great. If Friday was our Yin, Saturday morning was our Yang. Merlin had decided that start lines were stupid and broke all three of our morning runs. He popped out of the weaves, which he’s been rock solid on since getting his first rib put back into place. Some how he managed to skip a set of poles and correct himself so he exited the correct pole. I missed the pop and that resulted in an E for team jumpers… CRAP! After our first run the majority of his back and pelvis was hot to the touch. We ran Fancy Jumpers next and he was moving slow and pokey. So slow that I was focused on his movements looking for signs of injury and forget where the hell I was supposed to be going for the course.

I got Merlin back to the crating area and started checking him out. His range of motion was lacking in the shoulders. His back was hot and bouncing up and down as soon as you touched it. The ribs were nearly as bad as the back. I got him over to Dr. Lisa and we gave him a good going over. He had been adjusted earlier in the week, and on Saturday it was as though he had never seen a doctor before in his life. Lisa got him to settle back down the best she could, but I now needed to figure out what the rest of the weekend would hold for us. Was he hurt and this was causing the stress and inflammation, or was he stressed out which then triggered the inflammation? Dammit Merlin, hold up a sign. I pulled him from Grand Prix, but really didn’t want to pull him from Team Snooker as it would mean certain doom for our chances at getting the Q our teammate needed. Lisa didn’t think it would be an issue, and I could come up with a plan that didn’t involve a lot of hard turns on his body or a start line stay…

We got through snooker and he was definitely running better. He was able to run in extension with no issue and ended up missing a weave entry since I was out of position. What the hell… lets go play some Steeplechase.

#NCRegional2015 The Bad (Questions With No Easy Answer)
Merlin has been running great over the last two months, so I was absolutely baffled as to what happened on Saturday. It once again left me questioning if I should be running him in preferred versus championship. Is it the a-frame that is causing his stress and flare ups, or is it just the environmental stress of trials that is causing his inflammation.

One thing is for certain, he does not enjoy start line stays in the least at trials. Keeping a connection with him when he’s in a stay versus when we sling shot the start is a night and day difference. For the foreseeable future, I don’t see us using a start line stay. I want to build his confidence out on course, and not shut him down. Those first 5-9 obstacles it takes us to regain a connection just isn’t worth the lead out. We’ll continue to work on it, but for now speed and drive is more important to me than a dog that can hold a stay at the line and be stressed.

High hits and managing of the A-Frame have been an issue for us for a few months now. They will have spells of being really good, or being really bad. He managed to miss an A-Frame while doing a 2o2o this weekend which cost us some points in Team Gamblers. He shot right past the contact zone and then rocked back. This gives us something to work on.

#NCRegional2015 The Good (Who was that dog?!?)
After everything we had been through on Saturday, we still had Steeplechase to run. The course had nice flow to it and I didn’t think it would do any harm to run him. You can check out the course map below. I had decided before walking that I would not hold him to a start line stay. We would sling shot the start and make the 60′ straight line sprint to the tunnel work one way or another. I ended up blind crossing between jump 2 and 3 which left him hot on my heels. At this point something magical happened. He was moving around the course at a speed I had never seen out of him. Anything that happened earlier in the day was clearly not in his head. Any inflammation that was present sure wasn’t slowing him down. He was a free spirit on course. We had connected immediately after the blind and kept that connection the entire run. He finished 9th out of 89 dogs in a very competitive 22″ class. This was quite possibly the best run we had ever had in a trial environment. I saw the dog I knew was hiding behind his mental and physical issues.

We were now headed to the Steeplechase Finals on Sunday. The course was a let it all hang out sprint, with the only real sticking point being a bitch of a weave entry. Once again we took a sling shot approach to the start line and off we went. Everything was going great until he had a high hit on the first A-Frame. I knew the fault would take us out of contention, but we kept pushing. He nailed the weave entry like a champ and the crowd started cheering louder. Merlin was feeding off of it and I found myself once again with a BC on my ass during a blind cross. I hope that someday my shoulder mobility will return were I can reach back a little easier. We finished off the course in 27.82, a full 2 seconds under the qualifying cut off time. I was beyond thrilled and didn’t give a shit that he missed the A-Frame. After everything he had done this week, the stress he showed physically and mentally, and now running in a finals with more people watching us than ever before… he was running, nipping at my heels and feeding off the crowd cheering us on. My boy was happy. I was ecstatic.

It really ended up being a pretty special weekend. I hadn’t planned on running much more than Biathlon, Grand Prix and Steeplechase yet I found myself on a team with Judy Riley and Mary Lou Hanlon aka “The East Coast Hotshots”. They are both very skilled handlers with some amazing dogs, and our team Batsh*t Crazy Fantasia ended up finishing 8th overall. It was very exciting and a privilege to be running with them. The three of us quickly became friends and had a wonderful time. Judy we are are very thankful for your extra loud cheering during the Steeplechase finals. I still think next time the team name should be “One Working Pancreas”.

Time to take a bit of a break, set some new training goals and work on some of our weaknesses to turn them into strengths.

Steeplechase Round 1 [Video] [Course Map]
Steeplechase Finals [Video] [Course Map]