Big congratulations to member Robert Carver and his ESS Ringeaux, who competed in the AKC Rally National Championship and finished 9th in Rally Excellent. Robert graciously agreed to share his story (and some photos) with us. Thanks so much, Robert, for the interesting read!
A Newbie’s First Year in the Ring
by Robert Carver
When opportunity knocks, sometimes it pays to answer. So when I qualified for the 2015 AKC Rally National Championship in my first year showing my dog Ringeaux (pronounced Ringo), I decided to take the leap and attend. Even though I have owned English Springer Spaniels in the past, Ringeaux is the first dog I have gotten serious about training, and the prospect of competing at the national level was intimidating. Although Ringeaux swept through Rally Novice, Advanced and Excellent as an "A" dog (with an "A" handler) with high scores, I knew that at this level, I would be up against dogs and handlers with far more experience and the judging would be much more strict. One of the things that convinced me to attend was watching a video from the previous Nationals, and seeing how other dogs and handlers performed. After seeing the video, I thought, "Hey, we can do that", and I figured that at the least it would be an awesome learning experience. So after speaking with my wife and others in our local club, the Louisiana Capital City Obedience Club (LCCOC), I decided to send in my entry form, and make the commitment to attend. I set my goals as (1) to have fun, (2) don't embarrass myself, and (3) place in the top 10.
To prepare, I downloaded Excellent level course maps from the previous Rally Nationals and from any other source I could find, and began to practice the individual skills with an eye toward being more precise. I set up courses not only at our club's regular practice location, but in other places like parks, where I could depend on lots of distractions. Initially those practices weren't the best, but with time, effort and advice from folks in our club, things began to come together and we began looking more and more like a team that could be competitive.
When the week of the Nationals arrived, I packed up my car and got on the road. I arrived for check in on Thursday, March 12th at Purina Farms, and walking into the main exhibition hall where the rings were set up, there were hundreds of exhibitors and their dogs, and it was at that moment the nerves really set in. After check in, I set up Ringeaux's crate and spoke with a few other exhibitors, many of which offered advice and good luck to an obviously nervous newbie.
Arriving the morning of the event, we soon met ESSFTA members, Jon & Sandy Pidde, and Marley Loomis. Getting to talk with them was really helpful, and they made me feel welcome and offered encouragement. Just one more reason to love the Springer community! Checking in at the ring, we received our course map, and although difficult, it wasn't any more so than other courses we had practiced on. Since we were in the 2nd group, I was able to spend some time watching the first group and see where they might be having problems. The judge was very strict and some of the scores were very low. One thing that many had trouble with was a broad jump with a short takeoff and landing with an almost immediate left 270 to execute. So if you didn't have control of your dog from the moment his paws hit the ground, you were in trouble. Thankfully, getting control after jumps is one of the things we had worked on a lot. When our group and turn finally came around, Ringeaux was definitely acting nervous and distracted, but that was just him picking up on my own anxiety. Once we stepped off, things began to click, and I was delighted when we finished with a 93! I believe that if he (and I) had been a little more settled, we would have done even better.
When our second run came along in the afternoon, Ringeaux and I were both much more relaxed, and it really showed. We spent a little time in the practice ring, but for the most part, we were ready to go. Once we entered the ring, Ringeaux was poised and looked fantastic. Everything fell into place, and we left the ring with a score of 99, giving us a cumulative score of 192. Many of the folks there were surprised to learn that he was still under two, and that this was only his third event ever because he looked more seasoned than most dogs his age and experience. After what seemed like forever, the top 10 finishers in each category was announced in no particular order, and when they came to Rally Excellent and announced #350, I realized we had made the cut and I had met the goals I had set for myself. Finally they announced the final placement, and I was thrilled to learn we had placed 9th, making him one of two English Springer Spaniels to place in the top 10 (the other finished 8th in Novice) at the Nationals.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience and I encourage others who have the opportunity attend a national level event to take advantage of it. Yes, stepping on a "big stage" can be pretty intimidating, but the outstanding facilities, professionalism of the AKC's staff, the many beautiful and talented dogs, and the really nice folks in attendance, really made it worth it.