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COURSE ANALYSIS: Steeplechase Quarterfinals 2009

Fast and fun! By Clair Lofthouse

From the fun opening to the blindingly fast closing, this year's Steeplechase Quarterfinals course is "in the spirit of the game of Steeplechase," as Renee King eloquently described it.

Steeplechase can have either two A-frames or two sets of weave poles.  Sue Dowel's (and her dog Sizzle's) favorite thing bout this course was that there was only one A-frame. "My favorite part is the A-frame!" Linda White agreed.  It's Linda's sixth time at the Cynosport World Games with her eight-year-old Sheltie, Echo. Though she has never made it through the Quarterfinals before, she hoped that this would be her year.

When Olga Chaiko was asked what she thought would be the hardest part of the course, she answered that it would be the whole course. "I look at courses for what they are and I respect them," she said. "Do the exercises all you want at home, but when you get here, it's a [whole] course," she added.  After a pause for thought, she said that the hardest part would be the bigger jump wings. Her dog may start asking her, "Am I a horse?" Olga said with a smile, "See what happens after I run."  Olga ended up running clean.

Steeplechase courses are supposed to be slick and fast, to push dogs and their handlers harder and faster than they would be pushed in any other type of course. With this amount of speed there are going to be mistakes. Most mistakes were made in two key areas. The first was the turn from the #10 jump to the spread jump. Many dogs were going too fast to make the turn because they thought they were going to power down the last couple of jumps in line with #10. This caused these dogs to take the spread jump at an angle. The dogs that couldn't make it at that angle would hit or run over the panels.

The second part that many people struggled with is the left turn from the #15 jump to the weave poles. Some dogs overshot them and entered several poles in, and others' handlers overcompensated for the turn, and would end up forcing their dogs to cut the corner too much and enter the weaves several poles in. Though many dogs had serious problems with this manuever, there were some that did not even blink and did flawless entries.

This course was very exciting to watch. It really was a breath of fresh air to see courses like this because of its smoothness and its flowing sections. But it did have the tricky bits for competitive handlers to watch out for. Though some of the Quarterfinalists will not make it to the Semifinals, this course will let the best pass so that this year's final Steeplechase competition will be as fierce as ever.

Clair Lofthouse is currently enrolled as a junior at Westlake High School in California. She loves running her Shetland Sheepdog, Rugby in agility, plays guitar, and writes her own songs.  She also rides horses in dressage and jumping. Clair would like to someday write a book and become independently wealthy. Contact Clair at


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