Monday, June 24, 2013

Practicing / Trialing

Riff and I love to practice agility.  It's fun to run through the world together.  We love the green grass and blue sky...and the sheer challenge of taking obstacles.  Whenever I'm at an agility field, I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time.  That can be a mighty rare feeling on this earth, and it's magical.  Riff and Keeper seem to agree.

Practicing a short sequence of obstacles is as much fun as running a longer course.  Actually I think shorter sequences are more fun.  Riff and I really enjoy "going back to basics." We like bursts of speed, and the can-do moments.   We love figuring out how to get through a "tricky bit" by working a few obstacles, then stopping for treats or tug-toys or doggy hugs.  FUN FUN FUN!   Sometimes I think we'd be perfectly happy just practicing.  Our sessions keep his active border-collie brain engaged, and give both of us an avenue toward staying healthy.  Exercise! Woohooooo!  

Then the deadline for an agility trial approaches, and I'm back to making the choice.  Go?  Or...not? 

It's no secret that I worry about competition.  My tummy gets funny.  I start chewing my nails.  I wonder if we're ready.  Jeez.  Are we ever really ready?  I wonder if I really want to drive all that way, and spend all that money.  Sleep in the van or rent a room.  Deal with crowds.  (At heart I'm an old fuddy-duddy homebody.)

And then there's this issue:  Are agility trials too dangerous for dogs?  Watching some of the videos online gives me pause.  It's easy to see that agility CAN be dangerous.  Sometimes an agility accident is obviously bad luck.  But sometimes your dog will crash into a jump or fall off the dog-walk because you were reckless.  Maybe you were running as fast as possible in order to win, in spite of obvious risks.  Maybe the grass was too wet.  Maybe you yelled at the wrong time, or swung your arm up too far or too quickly, or turned your shoulders too soon.  These things happen to the best of us, and we continually - always and forever - learn from our mistakes.  Hopefully, please! not at the expense of our precious dogs.  We quickly realize that we should never let the idea of a blue ribbon sweep away our caring, well-thought-out, and often-practiced approach to an obstacle. 

Hmm.  Remembering accidents.  Feeling sore.  Thinking about how much I enjoy winning.  Worrying.  Do Riff and I really need to go to another agility trial?  Ever again?  Is the expense and effort worth it?  Is the risk worth it?

This morning I read a Georgia O'Keeffe quote that someone posted on Facebook: 
“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

Since I don't know the context of that quote, I can only guess what O'Keeffe was thinking about. 
From what little I know about her, she just wanted to stay at her home in the desert in New Mexico, painting sensuous flowers and animal skulls.  Popularity and paid commissions were not important to her.  She thought of those goals as fleeting concepts, at best.  But seeing and recognizing beautiful moments in the world around her was important.  And, by painting those moments, she helped other people share the beauty she found.  THAT was important. 

So now I'm thinking that one big reason we compete with our dogs at agility trials is to give other dog lovers a chance to appreciate our team work.  If I didn't bring Riff to the public setting of a trial, very few people would be able to enjoy how prettily he jumps. Another reason to go to a trial is to watch how prettily other dogs jump.  You can't fully appreciate it through videos.  You need to be there, with the grass beneath your feet and the sun warming your back.   

In the long run, it doesn't matter if we win or lose. Do we even remember which team won the 22" Masters Standard class on March __, 2013?  Do we remember how many yards-per-second that dog ran?  Nope and Nope. 

What DO we remember about that trial?  

We were out at a beautiful agility field with a bunch of friends, enjoying our dogs.   We saw some great teams.  We felt like a great team, for whole moments at a time...and some of those moment were even nicely strung together!  We hugged friends and played with dogs.  We laughed.   

What's important to us?           Yeah!  Okay! 

So...   .....    .....following that line of thought....

At the next trial we'll walk to the start-line filled with pride because we've already accomplished much, just getting to the start-line.  We've worked hard, played hard, and we've become a unique team, with a unique perspective.  We're like one of Georgia O'Keeffe's many paintings.  While at the start-line we are sharing a glimpse of something beautiful.  We're sharing the happiness we found at every practice session.  We're letting the unknown be known.  What could be better? 

                                               (by Georgia O'Keeffe)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Up and Down, Around and Around

It's been a while since I've been able to take a photo of four USDAA 1st-place Q ribbons. Good boy, Mr. Riffle!  After all the set-backs, we're starting to click as a team.  Sweet! 

These Advanced level ribbons were earned at the Bay Team trial last weekend in Petaluma, after Riff and I finally got that last Starter's Standard leg for our AD title.  I didn't pick up his ribbons, but stole these from Keeper's bulletin board, just to take a picture.  (Winning has been a rare occurrence.  Maybe I should keep track of these moments?)

The BEST PART of the weekend, by far, was the encouragement we received from some onlookers. We heard clapping and yelling!  People said "beautiful run" and gave us high-fives. 
Very kind.  Maybe it's the old theatre-girl in me, but that encouragement goes a long way toward keeping my "handler motivation" in gear. 

People love smiles and encouragement just as much as their dogs do.   

Riff has a great smile. 

Putting up a theatrical production is a lot of work.  Usually about three-to-six-weeks of rehearsals, then another three-to-six weeks of performances.  Working a production can be a solid three-month commitment - and that doesn't begin to count all the time you spend at home, memorizing lines and blocking (as an actor) or preparing paperwork and/or plans (as a stage manager or director).  It doesn't count the years you spend in classes, and/or working backstage jobs, building your resume.  Theatre people do all of that for the energy coming from the audience, and for the applause at the end of an evening.  That is our Big Reward.  Some plays are good, some not so good.  But the mere possibility of positive feedback from an audience keeps us going.  (And yes, there is money involved - for the union folks - but it pales in comparison...)

Agility takes a lot of commitment, too.  And a LOT of practice.  Most of the agility people I know love to learn, which seems to be the key to their success. 

Agility people learn, all day every day, from dogs.  Our dogs teach us much, if we pay attention.  We also learn by taking lessons from professionals.  We watch YouTube videos on-line, read training books, go to seminars, try to keep our memories sharp, and study.  Study, study, study.  Practice, practice, practice. 

We learn from our mistakes.  We probably learn more from our mistakes than anything else.  (But that's the hidden beauty of making them.  Mistakes are worth their weight in gold.) 

We do our best to stay fit, too, so we can keep up with our dogs on the agility course.  (For some of us, that's a huge part of the challenge...!) 

This agility life-style has its ups and downs.  "Clapping onlookers" is Up.  "Injury" is Down.  There are many kinds of Ups and Downs in agility, but it usually works out to Good Times, in the long run. 

Up and down, and round and around we go....experiencing ripples and waves of satisfaction and fun....learning something new every day....with smiles and words of encouragement keeping us afloat. 

So.  Yeah.  Ever Onward...!

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