Ian and I had the weekend of a lifetime at the AKC Agility Invitational. Ian was invited on the second round, because for the 2007 qualifying period, he was the #6 Belgian Sheepdog and they invite the top five dogs of each breed. Lucky for us someone declined the Invitational. I figured we should go because you never know when the opportunity will come along again!
We arrived in Long Beach on Friday, Nov. 31, in the pouring rain. I left Indiana on Tuesday afternoon, and we drove all the way. After setting up and moving Ian into the crating area, he looked up at me, and I could swear he was thinking, "We drove 3 days for an agility trial? Couldn't you have found something a little closer to home?" That put it all in perspective! Ian was just there for another agility trial, so I decided that should be my attitude too. After all, we had nothing on the line -- we couldn't accumulate MACH points or double Qs and we were the lowest ranking Belgian Sheepdog there!
So, with that perspective, we ran the exhibition FAST class Friday evening. It didn't exactly go well, but we didn't have a meltdown either. We headed back to the hotel where Ian chilled out with his half-sister Donita and his "Grandma Julie," Julie Hite his breeder. I went to dinner with two high school friends who now live in Southern California, Julie and Lauri. It was so great to see them and I was thankful that they took time out of their busy schedules to come to Long Beach in the rain! We went to Outback, and I brought home my leftover steak and tucked it in the hotel refrigerator for "just in case" treats.
Ian ran beautifully Saturday and Sunday. He was calm and collected the whole weekend, and I wasn't at all nervous for the early rounds. Ian wagged his tail and took cookies up to the start line, a clear sign he was ready to work and not stressed. Round after round, Ian was clean. After Day 1 and two rounds, Ian was #18 out of 97 dogs in the 24 inch jump height. There was one other Belgian Sheepdog that was clean at the end of Day 1, and he was #5.
Round 3 on Sunday morning was a tough Standard course, but Ian was again clean. Rings, the other Belgian Sheepdog still in the running, had two errors in Round 3, eliminating him from consideration for the Finals and clinching the Top Belgian Sheepdog Award for Ian. At the end of Round 3, Ian was #11 -- the top 12 dogs make the Finals. Ian had to be clean in Round 4 to make the finals, and the Round 4 Jumpers class was the toughest yet.
Frankly, I wasn't nervous until Round 4, because I never expected Ian to do this well! My goal for our weekend was for Ian to handle the whole experience well, and he surpassed my expectations in many, many ways! Ian felt the stress about two dogs our as we waited to go to the start line. He stopped taking treats, but he never missed a beat on course. He ran that round clean, earning us a spot in the Finals and ending the four qualifying rounds #7 out of 97 dogs.
What I didn't know immediately after our run was that Julie, his breeder, watched Round 4 from the back corner of the ring, screamed loudly when we finished and then turned and raced back to her setup to grab Donita and run into the Best Bred by Exhibitor Group ring. Donita also made "Grandma Julie" proud by winning Best of Opposite Sex and Best Bred by Exhibitor at the AKC Eukanuba National Championships.
The other good memory I will always have is friends Esteban and Sarah at ringside hugging me and cheering us on! Esteban and Sarah have a Gaylan's Golden, but they were at the invitational with their Rottie Sammie, who won Round 1 of the Invitational. As we walked out of the ring after Round 4, i got hugs and cheers and Esteban handed me the phone so I could talk with Gayle (Devon's breeder) in New York! Esteban had called her and given her a "jump-by-jump commentary" as we ran Round 4!
The Finals were amazing. It was so fun to have the crowd go nuts when we walked out for our walk through! Ian was tired (we got in the building at 5:30 a.m. that morning and we ran the finals around 6:30 p.m.). Good thing I saved my leftover steak from Outback in case I needed it! That got Ian to the line. He was stressed, but he handled the cameras and the new things in the ring just fine.
We got to obstacle #14 where he took an off course into the wrong end of the tunnel. We finished just great, placing 11th in the Finals. So I guess if Ian had to take an off course, I'm glad he did it in the finals! He worked his butt off all weekend, and he provided me with the weekend of a lifetime.
Oh, and if I'm EVER nervous before a run again, someone shoot me! If Ian and I can make it to the AKC Agility Invitational Final Round, what's a weekend trial???
This is the medal that Ian won for being the top Belgian Sheepdog at the Invitational. Thankfully, he is large enough to wear the medal without falling over. ;)