So, the 2019 World Agility Open has come and gone – with some fantastic individual runs and results had by Team England handlers. But let’s talk about the Team Event in all of its complexity and tactical planning!
The Team Event runs like a Pentathlon; two agility runs, two jumping runs, finished by a speed-stakes team relay. Each country selects from its pool of handlers and dogs to run 3 dogs of different heights in each of the first four runs, before selecting one dog of each height to run in the relay. But these decisions are made on the mornings of the competition having less than 15 minutes to analyse the course maps and make the best selections.
The tactics start with these decisions – eliminations cost dearly so picking “clean” dogs for each course is a must, but speed must be considered as always. This leaves the team management with the difficult responsibility of considering each dog’s workload for that day and checking with each handler whether they are comfortable with the pressure of running for the team.
Pressure is perhaps one of the greatest mental factors to content with when competing – especially at these bigger events… but having been selected and run for the team, I can assure you that the pressure doubles as you have the hopes and aspirations of an entire team of handlers, grooms, management and supporters all riding on your shoulders for those short few seconds in the ring. Handlers that can cope with this added pressure are often good choices to run.
Alongside Nicola & Z and Steven & Digit, Thea & I were selected to run Bill Pinder’s “Team Jumping 1” – a fast flowing wide open course ideal for our dogs with their relatively high ground speeds. When walking the course, we did so together – considering aspects of the course and all agreeing on the tactics of going for clear over speed. There’s no room for taking risks in this event! The rules for us were simple: take the safe lines; don’t rush; and, above all else, recover and keep going if mistakes are made.
Everything came together for us in this run… it was the right dogs on the right course. We won this round and left the team in a good position overall going into day 2.
Ultimately, after 12 runs by a range of dogs and handlers over the 4 course, Team England made the top 8 to qualify for the team relay and have our shot at a medal. Unfortunately, no matter how well you plan and consider tactics, agility will always have an element of luck and we didn’t have that this year – finishing 4th overall. Regardless, the emotions felt watching all the runs across the weekend was that of pride and excitement. The team relay had one of the best crowd atmospheres of the week and I hope that I get to experience it again in the future.