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Course Analysis with Judge Jelinda Pepper

USDAA Judge Jelinda Pepper reviews two of her courses for us.


by Jelinda Pepper

The first course is a Grand Prix I designed in 2015. When designing, I look for a course that has safety, flow, and handling options. A point I often discover after designing the course on the computer -- it has to be judgeable! I have to get where I need to be, without interfering with the handler's or the dog's projected path. Some of my best courses have never been used in competition because I simply cannot judge them. And I'll admit, as I've gained ring time as a judge, I do prefer a judging path that does not have me running from one end of the arena to the other!

This Grand Prix was run outdoors on grass. This course had some option for the opening sequence of six obstacles, most notably how to get the turn to #5 after the opening line. Then a sequence from #7 to #9 where you had to keep your eye on the dog to pick up #8 and not simply run by it. Coming off the dogwalk, I like the dogs to move out ahead so that I'm not caught in them coming back at me near the down contact. The ending #17-19 offers some choice in side and path to finish the course.

How did it run? The opening saw some handlers standing behind the plane of #2 and #3, meeting their dog as they came over #2, pushing them out over #3 into the tunnel. Some chose to run with their dogs from the start. All dogs had some speed built up as they entered tunnel #4, which then caused some grief at #5. If they were too fast out of the tunnel, they were past the run-out plane of #5 before they knew it. The large dogs ran first, and had this issue, and later handlers handled it differently. These handlers did not ask for full extension, did not push as hard, and used a "slow it down!" call. More than one person commented that using this opening with the backside of #5 in a Challenge course would be a good idea.

For me, one surprise was the sequence of #6 to #9. This sequence was the downfall of many teams. More than one dog took #7, then carried out far enough to take the backside of #19 on their way back to #8. Some dogs turned tightly after #7, and incurred a run-out at #8. Not quite a 180, the turn from #7 to #8 was harder than it looked.

After the A-frame it was pretty much straightforward until the closing sequence of #17-19. It was fun watching handlers do different things here! Choosing which direction to wrap #17, which side to turn off of #18, and then enough speed to clear the spread at 319. If you were late cuing the turn off of #18, the A-frame was sitting right there and did attract a dog or two. A popular choice was to turn right off #17, turn left off #18 and then drive to 319. The second option, left off #17, right off #18 was a nice figure-eight to #19.

The second course is Steeplechase Round 1. This was run indoors on mats.

When I design for Steeplechase, I have the same thoughts: safety, flow, speed, extension, and judgeability! I like to see the dogs really be able to move out in Steeplechase, with challenges out on the course where control is needed, then back into extension! If I can, I like to have something out there that will be challenging, especially at speed, but may not be obvious when looking at the map. Someone once told me that you don't have to stick the off-course obstacle right up in the dog's face, you simply have to get them to consider it. Some handlers may call it "sneaky," though I like to call it "subtle challenge out on the course." Here you have, for example, the dogs coming into a pinwheel #8-9-10, with #3/16 and the weaves just sitting out there in view as the dog comes over #9, not super close, but enough to let the dog perhaps drift a bit wider on the turn from #9 to #10.

How did it run? For the opening line, the dogs had a lot of speed built up as they came over jump #3, making the turn to the weave poles difficult for some. Once in the poles, it was a straight line up and over the A-frame. The open pinwheel, #8-9-10, gave many dogs problems. It was a long handler distance to #8, and handlers were hanging back between #8 and #10, calling out the pinwheel. However, this caused some dogs to turn tight after #8 and incurred the run-out at #9. Once this was spotted, handlers chose to drive their dogs more forward over #8, getting in a front-cross between #9 and #10. Others stood in the center of the pinwheel, keeping the dog on their left, then getting their cross in between #10 and #11.

Slight push to confirm #11, then meet them at the second A-frame, which was a bit harder with tunnel #13 staring them in the face. Several dogs decided that holding their two on, two off was less exciting than diving into that tunnel! Handlers offered nice support to the long jump, then an open line to the finish. This course ended up running extremely fast, and it was fun watching the larger dogs really open up.

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