Our Cynosport 2012 Experience

04 Oct 2012Steve Schwarz

I wasn’t going to go at all; and up until the week before I didn’t know if we could go! Well Nancy, Meeker, Milo, and I are back from our road trip to Commerce City, CO last week for the 2012 USDAA Cynosport games. It was our second nationals and I’m very happy with how well Meeker and I did.

Not This Year

When I heard Nationals were going to be outdoors in Colorado I wasn’t going to go to this year. I think you want as close to perfect conditions as possible for a National competition - I was worried about heat, rain or wet grass. I didn’t want to take a week of vacation, drive 1200 miles, spend all that money, and have to consider not running on a safe surface.

I had planned on treating the North Central Regionals as my Nationals. So we hadn’t earned our second GP and Stpl Qs to qualify for Nationals. But a month before the close of registration my friend Dana asked me if I’d be on a team with her 12 in World Champion dog Tangle and Andy Mueller and his World Champion 12 in dog Crackers. I was floored! It isn’t every day I get asked to run team at Nationals with two of the world’s top handlers and dogs! So I said yes, and scrambled to get my additional Qs to qualify.

But nothing is easy and it wouldn’t be nationals if Meeker wasn’t injured for an extended period before the event. Last year he had a back injury, got over it and then 5-6 weeks before Cynosport he hurt his right from toe. So that meant crate rest, leash walks and twice a week laser treatments for 5 weeks. So the first time we got any practice was in the Play it Again round at Nationals.

So this year his back injury flared up again and it was four weeks of lasering/leash walking starting five weeks out from the games. So I got one week of limited practice prior to leaving for Nationals. Just enough for me to know how out of sync we were! But a least I had found religion and had been insisting on him holding his start line stays and hitting his A Frame contacts in the weeks before his injury and in the week before we left.

We decided to take 14 year old Milo with us on the trip. He can’t be left with a dog sitter he really needs us to take care of him. He sleeps pretty much now-a-days and has always been a good traveler.

Let's Go!

We left Monday morning and drove to Lincoln, NE; stayed overnight and drove on to Commerce City the next day. All told about 16 hours of driving. I really hate long distance driving, even with XM radio and good company, just the sitting and driving knowing you shouldn’t stop makes me stir crazy. We got to the facility in time to unload everything and setup under the tent. Met up with a bunch of Midwestern competitors and went out for dinner. It was good to see so many “regulars” from local trials at the big show.

Play It Again

Wednesday we only had the Play It Again run of the 2011 Grand Prix Finals course because we had earned byes for GP and Steeplechase at the regional. Meeker was a little tentative on the turf surface, he normally loves turf, but he was “chipping” a lot of his jumps - so his time wasn’t that fast. We were clean and in sync through the run and ended up in “31st place” among 22 in competitors. A nice start and Dr. Christine looked at him after his run and his back/toe were fine.

Here’s our team photo after our last run:

Snooking and Steeplechase Semis

Thursday was our start of competition. We had Team Snooker in the morning and Steeplechase Semis in the afternoon. I have mixed emotions about Snooker; I love it and it feels great when it works. But it is so frustrating when it goes wrong. When running in team I feel extra pressure about screwing up because I don’t want to hurt the team; doubly so with two such experienced team mates in such an important event. I watched runs for hours and saw competitors going for maximum points blow up or run out of time for the last 7. So I decided to go for a 4 red solution with fewer points but almost “guaranteed” success. I went 1-4-1-5-1-7-1-3 in the opening; it left Meeker facing the 2 for the close and we got all the way through with 50 points in about 60th place. My super speedy teammates, also benefiting from additional time for small dogs, got near to and maximum points and put our team in 7th place overall at the end of the day.

Meeker and I went clean through Steeplechase semi finals. It was a pretty straight forward course with an interesting little “dance” section around three jumps and a tunnel in the middle. There was also an onside weave entrance with speed that a lot of dogs missed. It was run on turf and Meeker still wasn’t flying around the course - so we had a very respectable 36th place finish but not fast enough to make the cut for the finals.

Friday Team Day

Our two events on Friday were Team Jumpers and Team Gamblers. The Team Gamblers close required taking a designated “gateway” jump and then a 1, 3 and 5 point obstacle (in any order and only one of each) before the exit jump. With Dana’s strategizing I ended up with a 55 point run; just missed getting 3 more points and was in the top 60 dogs or so. My teammates kicked on this course again and got 60+ points each.

The funny part about the jumpers course was that it had more international elements and difficulty than the IFCS jumping course also being run that day! I hope I can make time to outline some of the handling options/challenges for that course. It was by far the ugliest handling I performed all week; I ended up reacting to Meeker’s wide Rear Cross Jump Wrap at a critical point and was all about the reactive handling until I could get ahead again. But we ended up without any faults and probably in the top 50 due to all the eliminations. My teamee’s were top 10 and an E. After all the dust settled we were in 17th place.

Team Standard and GP Semis

Saturday was Team Standard and Grand Prix Semi finals. I had a clean standard run after many hours of fretting how to handle it. I’m going to steal the opening of this course for a future Seminar course. It was our best placement of the week: we ended up in 25th place. Funny it felt like everything was happening in slow motion when we were running. I got a couple tight jump wraps using Ketschkers that probably helped our time. Both my teammates did their part in Standard and we were the 5th place team going in to Team Relay on Sunday.

We ran the GP Semis very late in the day and it was hotter than any other day; but we went through the course clean; had a wide rear cross jump wrap (again) and overall Meeker wasn’t driving through the course and neither was I on the final line. So we ended up around 35th place and didn’t make the cut for the final round.

Team Relay Finals

On Sunday we donned our team shirts and took the field for the Team Relay. Being the odd sized dog Meeker ran the middle relay section. Now that is a challenge, because for Meeker watching small dogs run is one of the most exciting things in the world! He held his stay next to me when I took the baton from Andy as Crackers rocketed by. I released him and he was off like a shot over the first jump. I got my front cross a step sooner than I’d walked and almost didn’t leave Meeker room to take the second jump. He wrapped it super tight and beat me out of the chute. I kept him from passing the run out plane of the tire but still earned a refusal as he came back to me. I got him back and we rocked the rest of our sequence. I handed the baton to Dana and made sure I had Meeker on his leash. The next thing I saw on course was Tangle shooting behind Dana and into an off course tunnel. So we ended up in 23rd place. I am thrilled we got to run in relay in the “big ring” with the “big kids” and am happy to have done our part to help our team get there! Thanks Dana and Andy for having us!

Thanks to Nancy, Jaime, Brian, Dana, Melanie, and Brett for videotaping! Here’s video of everything but the relay finals:

What's It All About?

So that was the play by play and the statistics. Does it mean anything else? What about short and long term goals?

After last year’s nationals my goals for this year were to get into the Semi finals in Steeplechase and Grand Prix and make it into the Team Relay (essentially the team finals). I had achieved the first two of my goals at the NC Regional where we earned byes into the Semi Finals for GP and Stpl; something I hadn’t considered beforehand.

My more recent training goals were all around start lines and A Frame contacts. We’d been working on them and they paid off at Nationals. Meeker held all of his start lines and I was able to lead out every time I needed one. He also made all of his A Frame contacts and was deep in the yellow. I couldn’t have been happier.

So much went well this time around. I was calmer and more confident and a little more aggressive in my handling for team events. But there is one skill that I discovered we need to work on: Rear Cross Jump Wraps when Meeker is coming into the jump in full extension. Both times things went “wrong” were due to this hole in our training. He reads the wraps fine but didn’t execute them tightly so I had to stick around and make sure he was on line to the next obstacle. The delay put me behind and, in the case of Team Jumpers, almost cost me the run.

In looking at the videos I’m always surprised at how slowly we are moving. In the moment things seem to be happening quickly! One other thing I can do to help our speed is to increase mine. I really noticed in the GP semis how my having to rear cross the final jumps slowed Meeker down. He didn’t drive forward over them. During the walk through I practiced driving to a Front Cross instead. But during my run I was even with Meeker and didn’t feel I could drive in for the Front. Had I been in better shape I could have either gotten the Front Cross or run the whole line with him on my right. My lack of fitness is not helping Meeker move as fast as he could.

There are always things to learn and improve. So glad we made the trip!

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