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Talking with Steve Drinkwater

Deborah Davidson Harpur interviews another judge from the upcoming 2010 Cynosport World Games.

Name: Steve Drinkwater
Hometown/Country: Brisbane, Australia
Years active in agility: 23 years

Deborah Davidson Harpur (DDH): Have you judged for the Cynosport Games in the past?

Steve Drinkwater (SD): I have never judged the Cynosport Games before. However, I have been a judge many times at our Agility Dog Association of Australia (ADAA) Grand Prix over the past ten years. I have also been a judge and/or chief judge at the IFCS World Agility Championships (WAC-s) in Spain, Netherlands, Belgium and England over the past 8 years.

DDH: What classes are you judging at this year's Cynosport Games?

SD: European Standard, Team Gamblers, Team Standard, Grand Prix Quarterfinals, Grand Prix Semifinals, and Team/Performance Versatility Relay.

DDH: Are you doing anything in particular to prepare for judging the games?

SD: Nothing specific! I live a pretty hectic life style trying to juggle my work responsibilities and travel with my sporting responsibilities as a judge and administrator, so spare time is a luxury.

DDH: Do you find that designing courses for Cynosport is different than designing courses for a trial for a local or regional event? If so, how?

SD: I have never designed for a Cynosport or any USDAA event before. But I can say that USDAA-style course design is very similar to that used by ADAA in Australia and in fact is not too far removed from most courses you will see at an IFCS World Agility Championship (WAC).
DDH: What breeds of dogs do you currently have and do they compete in agility?

SD: I have owned and handled three Australian Working Kelpies in the past 23 years. I am a one dog man and never get a new dog until my older dog is about ready to retire.  Sometimes this means a break for competition for a year or so while the new dog is in training. My first two dogs (Tessa and Tommy) were among two of the most competitive and winning dogs in the country.  My latest Kelpie, Echo has had two cruciate ligament injuries and surgery, so will never make it to top level competition.  But I do have hope we can still compete in the near future.
DDH: Why did you become an USDAA judge?

SD: I am a co-founder of the Agility Dog Association of Australia Ltd and the senior judge within the organization. I hold the position of Director Judging on the ADAA Board. As a co-founder of ADAA and a leader in the sport for the past 20 plus years, I had to be a judge, an administrator, a competitor, and chief cook and bottle washer [laughs]. Judging provides the best seat in the house to watch the talent we call dog agility and course design and course nesting is very satisfying when done well. Dog agility has given me so much over the years that being a judge is my way of giving back to the sport.
DDH: What do you think are the qualities that make a good agility judge?

SD: I like judges that do not become stereotyped with a style of course design. I like the competitors to never know what to expect from the style of course I will provide on any given day. I think that qualities that make a good judge include confidence, eye for detail, professionalism, and a firm but friendly manner when in the ring.
DDH: What is the biggest challenge in judging that you have experienced?

SD: Judging at world championship level is always going to be a challenge for any judge. Judging in an overseas country with a set of rules that are slightly different from what you judge at home is also another challenge for most judges.
DDH: In terms of judging generally, not just at the Cynosport Games, what do you see as the role of the judge in terms of our sport?

SD: The judge is no doubt an ambassador for the sport. The judge is expected to know every rule and be beyond approach when it comes to ethical behavior. The judge is also the one that can push, shape, and move forward the sport through new and innovative course design and challenges set. Senior judges must also act in the role of teacher and must always be passing down skills and experiences so that the next generation judge can grow and mature.
DDH: How would you describe your style of course design?

SD: Unpredictable! I was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) engineer for 20 years, so by default my thought processes are like that of most engineers, and that means I compartmentalize and take a systematic approach to course design. I like to swap between course designs that very fast and flowing and provide subtle challenges for the very fast dog or the unsuspecting handler and course designs that have a more obvious and technical aspect, yet still remain flowing.
DDH: What advice can you share with competitors who hope to come through with a clean run on one of your courses?

SD: If you put in the training beforehand on individual obstacle skills and you can work as a close knit team, handler and dog in tune with each other around the course, then you have done all you can and may the Agility Gods be with you on the day!
DDH: What do you enjoy most about USDAA agility?

SD: USDAA agility is very close to the ADAA style agility in Australia, so I know I will enjoy the diversity of Cynosport with regards to celebrating not just standard agility and jumping but also the corner stones of gamblers and snooker.  As always, I will enjoy watching the skill and team work that a great handler and dog team can display during a faultless run at speed.

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been active in dog agility since 1998. Before that she raced karts, was a nationally ranked driver, and was a writer/editor of Karter News Magazine, a national publication.  Since her move from racing on the track to running different breeds of dogs on the agility course, she and her dogs have really embraced all that agility offers. More about her team at


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