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Cynosport Course Analysis: Steeplechase Semifinals

A close look at how competitors handled this course. By Julie Daniels

This course opening invited speed, with just enough angles in play to keep it interesting. 

Handlers set their dogs at various degrees of slice behind jump #1, and almost everyone chose to serpentine (handle from one side while the dog makes an S shape) from #2 to the A-frame.  The #3 jump was presented at an angle which was a problem for many dogs.  The dogs had to be mindful in order to clear it as they rushed the A-frame.  Some handlers led out to the takeoff side of #3 and then kept their dogs on the left for the A-frame and rear crossed at #5.  This played just fine.  It served to protect the #3 bar and also created a smooth outside turn from the A-frame to #5.  Among the handlers who used the serpentine opening and then pulled to #5, a surprising number of dogs either went straight off the A-frame or flicked away (turning away from #5), and a dog or two even took the #17 tunnel there.  Some dogs clearly thought they were being sent around the back side of the tunnel.

After the A-frame, the course called for an arcing line over the double to the long jump and the #8 tunnel.  Some handlers who took the correct line for granted saw their dogs veer off course.  And then the tunnel presented a discrimination (which is the right entrance?) which got the better of many teams.  Some handlers who exaggerated their lateral distance also saw their dogs disconnect and shoot off course there.  The handlers who veered left and caused a big zig-zag wasted some time and in some cases caused the dog to overshoot the correct entrance, adding seconds to their time.  The handlers who had the fastest line and time there used their location ahead of the dog to move straight toward the #8 opening while actively cueing the dog.  The dogs who understood had no problem.  They accelerated along the correct line and dived without hesitation into the proper tunnel entrance.

The handlers who went in closer to the tunnel entrance could either stay on the side down the next line and rear cross (change sides behind) jump #11, or they chose to front cross (getting ahead of the dog and turning in toward him) or blind cross (getting ahead of the dog and turnning away from him) on the landing side of the #9 jump.  Either path worked fine.  We did not see the rear cross option tighten the turn to the weaves very well because the fast dogs were far enough ahead to jump #11 in full extension regardless of the turn.  With the dogs coming in wide, that first weave entry at #12 took its toll.  But by and large the dogs did a beautiful job of seeing and finding that entry.  And there were some beautiful independent pole performances as some handlers moved ahead and laterally to set up the exit line.

The #13 jump after the poles did come down now and then, and the occasional team failed to push to the correct tunnel entrance.  There was no particular trouble with the line to the #15 jump, but that jump and then the 180 turn caused some problems.  Most handlers handled with dog on the right and then front crossed at the landing side of #16.  This choice played very well and allowed for an accelerating line to the #17 tunnel.  Other handlers chose to rear cross at #15.  Unless the handler was close to the bar at the cross, this option did not tend to tighten the turn back to #16.  There was a tendency to run quite wide here.  The notable exceptions saved a second or two.

After the 180 degree turn, some handlers chose to pull to the #17 tunnel, and that option did not play as well as the front cross.  That choice caused many confused dogs and lots of wasted time.

This closing, from the #18 jump and into the weaves at #19, was the biggest trouble spot of the course for all jump heights.  Even the finish jump at #20 came down regularly.  Beginning with the tough line from the tunnel exit to the weaves, handlers had to help, and they were divided in how to do that.  Some put the dog on the left for #18 and had to push the dog out to ask for the entry.  Some put the dog on the right and worked an outside turn to the entry.  At full speed coming out of the tunnel, some dogs just could not keep the bar up as they flew toward the weaves.  Others managed the bar but then couldn't make the adjustment into the weaves, or managed the entry but then couldn't hold on and instead came out of the poles.

The very tightest work was done by a few handlers who had the dog on the right and then were able to pull laterally to the left as the dog was weaving.  This set up the tightest line to the left side of jump #20, which was closer than the right side.  There were some dramatic misses but there were some fantastic successes.  This second weave entry was far more challenging than the first, and the dogs who could see it and get it without the handler's help were a joy to watch.  We were privileged to see some great handling and some brilliant dogs who could do it all at ferocious speed, keeping up the bars and running all out, making steering adjustments without guessing or hesitating.  This level of teamwork was inspired by the smart course design.  This course was a challenge which showcased the high level of proficiency and speed we enjoy in Steeplechase.  This was a great class to watch and a great course to set up and run at home.


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