Posted Date: November 2, 2007
OH MY GOSH there are some fast accurate dogs out there now! Karey Krauter shares her views as a competitor.
Day one is over and we're all breathing a sigh of relief to get a few runs under our belts; we're feeling reassured that our dogs are as well prepared as we had hoped they would be, or maybe we still missed that particular weave entry but we didn't die and our friends cheered us on and our dog was still happy to play tug with us afterwards.
With walkthroughs being at the crack of dawn and the runs not starting until a more sane time (after cycling through two hours of walkthroughs), here is the game plan (if you're staying in an RV onsite). You get up in the morning, allowing enough time to dress and become publicly presentable, and walk over to the kenneling area as soon as the gates open at 6:30. That allows 30 minutes to exercise and feed the dog, kennel him, and walk over to the rings to pick up the course maps. After a few minutes of studying the course maps (especially snooker) and then the walkthrough schedule starts. Each of the eight rotation groups get their own 10 minute slot in each of the six rings. I was in three classes today with one 22" dog. The classes were Team Jumpers, Snooker, and Steeplechase Quarterfinals. I wrote the following on the back of my hand before heading over to the walkthroughs to help me know what ring to be in at what time (and I replaced this with my running schedule after the walks were over):
700 - R5 - JMP
725 - R3 - SNK
742 - R1 - STP
It was very cool to find the course maps for all the courses at every ring, and it was very cool that the maps were complete and clear about any special rules (there were none, really). After finishing my walkthroughs by 8am, there was plenty of time to head back to the RV and have breakfast and potty the dog before walking back the couple football fields distance to the rings to check in and watch my group run.
The rotation groups are working out great, so no one has to be in more than one ring at the same time no matter how many dogs or how many different heights they jump. The time slots are timed a little tighter this year, with less down time between the groups, so I wonder when the judges are getting any breaks at all! There did seem to be some confusion over whether or not fault limits were being invoked; this seemed to be decided on a judge by judge basis. However we all agree that we don't want to be running after sunset like we were last year! Another interesting thing to get people talking about here is the differences between the multiple rings in which the courses are intended to be identical. Team jumpers was run in two rings (one had all the Championship 16" class and 22" entrants, the other had everyone else), with the "everyone-else team jumpers" seeming to be a little tighter and the Championship 16" and 22" course being a little straighter. In theory the grid system or the baseline course building system should result in identical courses but what an interesting challenge in practice! Having Dave Hanson and Tim Laubach as course quality control judges with the responsibility to tweak all the courses to be the same is a good idea, and having all the dogs of the same height running in the same ring mitigates the differences.
The Steeplechase Quarterfinals were held in the main ring which will hold the Finals in a few days time. It was like having a chance to stand in the Super Bowl stadium before the big game, to be able to run a course beneath the grandstands and on the same classic made-for-looking-good-on-television equipment that the finals will run on. These jumps are a page out of USDAA history with their gorgeous milled solid wood construction! The course definitely had herd-thinning characteristics about it, shaping up nicely for the end goal of the leanest and meanest in the final round.
The opening three jumps were almost but critically not quite a straight line, aiming the dog directly into the second pole of the weavepoles (perhaps there was more of a bend between #2 and #3 than I think the map shows). Handlers either trusted their dogs to make the soft entry on their own (many with awesome success at speed), or pulled the dog away from the weave entry after #3 to straighten the line out a tad before redirecting them into the entry.
I thought we would see more variety at the long jump, of handling on the inside versus the outside of the long jump, but most handlers handled it on the outside rather than tempt the dog with the wrong end of the tunnel that was facing the long jump if the dog curved in at all to the inside. Interestingly, to get on the outside of the long jump, just as many handlers front-crossed in front of jump #6 as front crossed in front of the A-Frame, just about all with good results. It was after the second set of weaves that many great runs went awry. Several off-courses were had after jump #13, the dog continuing in a line over jump #18 if the handler hesitated at all before booking it up the #13-#14-#15 line. Many dogs went wide from #15 to #16 taking a good look at the off-course tunnel but there was plenty of time to save that. And if the dog did go long over #15, they were nicely lined up for the #16-#17 line (albeit with the wide turn time penalty). However if the dog turned brilliantly and took an efficient straight line from #15 to #16, then the risk was high of also taking (because they were flying now) the off-course #2 after #16, especially if the handler followed the dog into the box that #16 was at the top of. With apologies to current cutting edge handling systems, layering the #3 jump without going into that box after #16 did seem to be the way to remove the risk of the off-course #2 jump.
The fastest clean runs were in the 29 second range and they were just breath taking!