Our 2011 USDAA Cynosport Experience - With Videos

25 Oct 2011Steve Schwarz

Meeker and I drove to Louisville, KY for our first USDAA Cynosport Games, aka USDAA Nationals, two weeks ago. We were qualified for Steeplechase, Grand Prix and were in a team with two experienced handlers and dogs called "Old Age and Treachery". We were qualified but with no byes in to the semifinal rounds so we had to earn our way out of the quarter finals, and if all went well out of the semi finals and into the finals. My goal for our first Nationals was to make it out of the quarter finals. It was also possible for our team to be highly ranked enough after four team events to make the cut for the final relay round on Sunday.

I was glad to have visited Cynosport last year so I was familiar with the expo center layout and the general flow of events.

Tuesday - Play It Again - Grand Prix Finals

We left Chicago around 6:00 AM and got to the convention center around 1:00 to check in and setup in the crating area. Check in was fast and I had plenty of time to walk Meeker and get ready for the warm up/fun run; last year’s Grand Prix Finals Course.

I didn’t take a look at the course before arriving and didn’t remember it from last year. So it was new to me (here’s the course. My main goal was to get him used to the surface and see how he looked on the contacts.

The big challenge in the course is navigating through the “box” of jumps/tunnel entrances at the end of the dog walk/weaves. I thought I could just use deceleration after the dog walk to pull Meeker to the tunnel and avoid the, very close, off course jump. But I drove forward and he correctly locked on to the off course jump. Good boy! But otherwise I was very happy with the run:

That was our only run on Tuesday. That night Anne, Sam, Robin and I went to a nice little Mexican style restaurant: Santa Fe Grill I had some excellent fish tacos!

Wednesday - Team Gamblers

On Wednesday we only had one run, Team Gamblers (here’s the course). We were scheduled to walk around 8:00 AM and run at 3:45 PM. I got there early and there was chaos during the walk throughs! Many questions and discussions delayed the walks. There were two gambles available on the course. One weave-jump-weave combo for 10 points or for 20 points if you layered a tunnel while the dog took the jump. The second had a gamble line for 15 points with a jump, jump, tunnel, jump. The teeter was worth 5 points so it was beneficial to take it twice. The last twists were ending before 28 seconds earned a point per second under time or a loss of three points per second over time…

I was fortunate to have so long between walking and running so I could watch dozens of dogs run and tweaked my plan to take the teeter again after the traditional gamble. It turned out to be a nice run:

I was really happy with how Meeker ran, Gamblers is one of our least qualifying games - although I’m getting better at being in position at the right time. At the end of the day we were in 3rd place out of ~280 22” dogs! It turns out the complicated scoring required reviewing many (all?) of the scribe sheets and by morning we were pushed down to 4th place. But I am still thrilled!

The bad news of the day was our teammate Kevin missed his run with Shade. He read the running time for his group as the time for the performance group of the same name. Unfortunately, that group started running after his actual run. Someone ran back to get him and by the time he got to the ring it was too late and they wouldn’t let him run. He was really upset. But that kind of thing happens. So we were in 91st place out of 170 teams.

Thursday - Steeplechase Quarter Finals & Team Standard

Here are all the courses for the day.

For us the day started with the Steeplechase Quarter Finals. Teams who had earned “byes” into the semifinals (by qualifying at a Regional) didn’t run this course but the rest of us were trying to make the cut for the Semi finals. This was our first run in one of the main rings. I have to admit that the bright lights and the stadium seats made me feel like I was at the Championships; I felt a little bit intimidated as I led out from the line.

This course was a very un-steeplechase like course, not a lot of flow, sharp turns. There were a few spots where I felt I needed to be in position to avoid an off course. Other than that wrapping the dog to the left on the jump preceding the A Frame gave the best approach. I had planned to Front Cross on the approach to the weaves and put Meeker on my left, but forgot after watching his beautiful contact performance! So I had to trust our training and Push On the Last Weave Pole to turn Meek to the tunnel. After watching a lot of teams run the Rear Cross handling of the final line was the way to go. We ended up in 19th place and made our way to the Semi Finals!

The Team Standard course had an interesting Serpentine Serpentine Handling TechniquesSerpentine Sequence across the width of the course with the middle jump pushed substantially away from the other two jumps. A lot of handlers were racing to get a Front Cross on the take off side of the third jump but that was cuing extension over the middle jump and when the handler rotated to the third jump the dog was turning very wide over the jump; giving a bad approach to the chute. I decided to risk a little and handle it from a Single Side and front cross on the landing side of the second jump and then cue the third jump using a Ketschker. It worked perfectly. The tunnel wrap to the dog walk close to an illegal approach angle (over 30 degree angle) so handlers had to be in position to help the approach. I was pretty happy with the run and ended up in 30th place.

I got some grief about using the Ketschker, but I think it was an appropriate and good choice. I heard at least one other handler did it too.

With three good Team Standard runs we moved up to something like 46st place

Friday - Steeplechase Semis/GP Quarters/Team Snooker

This was my day of the most runs (here are the courses). Our walk throughs were back to back from 7:30 to 8:15 with our first run around noon.

In the Steeplechase Semi finals I thought I heard the start “Go” and got going on course. Then as I got to the weaves I saw the judge was adjusting the tunnel! So we restarted. I was so jazzed up (and watching Meeker to see if he’d miss the A Frame down contact) that I almost over ran the tunnel entrance! He was such a good dog and took it going around me! We ended up in 24th place 0.13 seconds out of 21st place, only 21 teams go on to the finals. If I hadn’t overrun the tunnel we might have made the cut(?). It doesn’t matter. I’m so happy with how well Meeker ran that course.

In Team Snooker the “cool kids” all went for 7-7-7 (only three reds allowed). The 7 was a jump, A Frame, jump with a tunnel under the A Frame as an off course. The time was tight to pull it off but it was definitely possible. With Meeker’s sore toe and his propensity (there is a word you don’t get to use often enough) for hitting the upside too hard I decided to go for 5-6-6 where the 5 was a two jump combo and the 6 was a jump tunnel combo. The six left you in a good position to take the 2 jump for the closing. I had walked many permutations of 5-6-7 but didn’t really like any of them too much. I can’t remember if I saw someone run 5-6-6 or if I pieced it together from another 6-6 run. While running the second 6 I realize, just in time, how Meeker came at the jump after the tunnel without a clear indication of which side of the jump to take… a moment of excitement! Got it sorted out and the close went fine - but he was very high in the A Frame contact zone - and I didn’t verbally mark it… We got 47 points and ended up in “47th” place an indication of how many teams were successful in achieving three sevens.

The Grand Prix course had two main challenges: the Serpentine to 180 opening and the turn after the A Frame into a box of jumps and tunnels (very much like the challenge in the Play It Again Grand Prix course). I had a good plan and got a good opportunity to walk the course. The Serpentine/180 and approach to the A Frame went well… but Meeker was above the yellow on the A Frame downside and jumped off. So we were done. We got the next challenge and completed the course with a good time and the one fault. But in GP you must run clean (without faults) to move on to the next level. In the spirit of the “shoulda woulda coulda” game people like to play, I “woulda” been in 16th place without the fault.

At the end of the day we had three good Snooker runs and were in something like 31st place.

At night the Performance Grand Prix Finals were held and the Illinois/Wisconsin/Indiana/Minnesota contingent was one of the loudest cheering for the talented handlers and dogs we see regularly at local trials: Laura, Deb, Sherry, Loretta, Tim, Diane, Terri (ex-local :^), and Marie. Super big congratulations to 2nd place finishers Laura and Bruce, Diane and Streak, and 1st place finisher Marie and Tilt! It is always great fun to watch the finals.

Saturday - Team Jumpers

With good Snooker runs our team had moved up to 31st place. So we needed clean Jumpers runs and some luck to make the cut for the Team Relay finals. It was still possible. The course was exactly the kind of technical course I love (here is the course map). There were a number of ways to handle it. I was very happy with my handling up to the jump before the weaves. I was late cuing the turn to the weaves and used a heinous call off to keep Meeker out of the off course tunnel. I glad I’m comfortable with back side of jumps, the jump after the weaves was a problem for a number of teams. The big dog’s line was to the back side of the jump before the tunnel and was another place where things went wrong. I got Meeker through it all and ended up in “46th” place with all the time I wasted on the way to the weaves.

Anne and Ya Ya had a nice Jumpers run with a bar down on the jump slice on the way to the weaves, Kevin and Shade got bit by the jump before the tunnel - Shade missed the jump and either contacted the tunnel or broke the plane of the tunnel entrance for an E. So when the dust settled we ended up in 41st place and didn’t make the cut for the finals.

Saturday night was another big celebration at the Steeplechase finals (Championship and Performance). So many local teams made it in: Laura and Bruce, Beth and Tori, Tammi and Splash, Anthony and Chassis, Diane and Streak, Janet and Benny, Dana and Tangle, Jen with Britain and Taser, Nita and Peeka, Loretta with Gator and Flink, Brian and Blaze, Jeremy and Ronin, Ann with Synner and Scream, Linda and Wonder, and Terry and Presto. Had a great time watching, hollering and clapping.


Since our team didn’t make the cut for Team Relay we didn’t have any runs on Sunday. So Meeker got a final laser treatment for his toe - he had almost no swelling/soreness and I packed up our stuff. After leaving Nancy taking care of Flyer all week I wanted to get home to relieve her!

So I missed a bunch of great runs in Team Relay and the Grand Prix Finals. So many “locals” were in the GP finals: Dana with Tangle, Andy with Crackers, Angie with Duncan, Beth with Mikey, Jen with Britain and Taser, Nita with Peeka, Rosemary with Remy, Emily with Homer, Loretta with Gator, Ann with Scream, Terry with Presto, and Bill with Soda. Super big congratulations to Dana and Tangle for 1st place, Andy and Crackers for 2nd (both on IFCS world team too!), Jen with Britain and Taser in 2nd and 3rd place (not a bad followup to the previous night’s 1st and 2nds!), Terry and Presto in 1st and Ann and Scream in 2nd place. There is a lot of tough competition in the Midwest!

Lessons Learned

I can’t begin to list everything I learned at this competition. Most importantly I respect Meeker’s abilities even more than I did before. I’ve often thought of us as being a good team: quick but not blazing, smooth but not intense. I’ve always thought our forte is the technical course, we don’t have the blazing ground speed/contacts of the top teams. But Meeker even challenged that belief. That Steeplechase semi finals run was fast. Top 25?! Dogs and handlers competing to get on the world team had to “go for it” on every run, points were earned on team placements too. So seeing Meeker almost make the finals in the fastest USDAA event against hundreds of top dogs was mind altering. I had imagined it might be possible in Grand Prix, with more technical courses, but Steeplechase is “run and gun”; it is where only the fast dogs go through to the finals. So I’m still thrilled.

Heck we were in the top 25-50 all week. I didn’t have any expectations in that regard. But it feels good, especially with as little training as we were able to get in this year. I wanted to see how I’d do as a handler at “the big show” and how we’d do when competing against the best teams and I’m so happy with our performances.

I am also so lucky to have such nice agility friends who helped me out all week. A special thanks to Anne, Robin, Sam and of course the “Food Sherpa” Alan :^)

Thanks too to everyone who stopped me with kind comments about my website, videos and courses! It makes all the work behind this blog worthwhile.

So what now? It looks like Meeker’s front toe soreness will be a chronic problem. It has kept us from practicing more than sporadically since June (and we had no practice for the three weeks leading up to the Nationals). It can be managed with mild anti-inflammatory meds. So I’m torn. I really need to work on his A Frame contacts, but don’t want him to put in the repetitions that are probably needed to do so. Retirement from agility is another possibility.

So I’ll probably get him qualified for USDAA Nationals in Colorado next year - I’m really unhappy that a town with Breed Specific Legislation was chosen as the site for nationals. I know a lot of people have mentioned they are strongly considering not attending for that reason. But I’ll get us Q’d up and see what the next year brings.

If Meeker stays healthy I’ll probably focus more on AKC/CPE. The lower jump heights (20 inch) and lower A Frame (Meeker is more often in the contact zone with the lower A Frame anyway) should be slightly easier on him. I still have a goal of getting his MACH and CATCH titles and I’m not that far away (15 QQs and 50Qs). For AKC it is also only 2 runs per day, for CPE I’ll only run a few runs a day anyway. But for now rest, taking it easy, and taking it day by day.

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