Spectator report from the Obedience World Cup -Crufts 2014

By: Susan & Gemma Henshaw

The fourth and last day of Crufts 2014 and we are back at Hall 5 of the NEC for the Obedience World Cup competition. This year we have 9 countries competing as we welcome back the Republic of Ireland, the other countries being Wales, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Canada, Germany, Belgium and Holland.

Canada is once again represented by the one-man team of David Holzman and in a brilliant show of sportsmanship the team from Holland have got the okay to lend their reserve pairing of Annemarie Ibelings and her WS ‘Phoebe’ to the Republic of Ireland who were only able to bring a team of two with them.

The judge for today’s competition is Stella Henstridge who first became interested in Obedience in the early 1980’s and competed at the Crufts Championships for the first time in 1993, she has been the manager of the England team for the past 6 years so obviously knows this competition really well.

At 8.40am the judge and her party take up their positions at one side of the ring ready to wish the teams good luck. Then we have the parade of teams, each one introduced by Gerard Paisley, the Northern Ireland fans certainly making themselves heard as their team enter the ring, Holland were in next and their fans seem to be sporting rather ‘elegant’ bright orange fluorescent tabards, very affective if any of them lose their way in the halls as you could probably see them from far off! The Welsh team enter to the music of ‘here comes the girls’ and loud cheering from their supporters. As their team enter the ring there is a mass of blue and white wigs, hats and flashing blue lights on display in the section of the main stand that has been taken over by the Scottish fans. The ladies from the England team treat the audience to a short ‘dance’ at each side of the ring to the music of ‘rockin all over the world’, the parade had certainly set the atmosphere for the rest of the day.

As the show officially opened we had the introduction of the judge and her ring party, with a brief history of Stella’s obedience and judging career. The judge was wearing black trousers, black top with a lace effect and a very smart black and grey panelled jacket over the top. The ladies in the ring party were in black trousers and pale blue fleece tops and the gentleman was in black trousers and shirt with a pale blue tie.

The order of exercises for today was directed retrieve, retrieve over a hurdle, heelwork, recall with distance control and send away. The competition is run over three rounds with 1 team member from each country competing per round. In the directed retrieve each of the first round teams would be using dumbbell no.1, second teams dumbbell no.2 and third set of team’s dumbbell no.3. The send away markers were 2 small black boards with a white diamond on them as the front markers and a larger black board with a white trophy on it as the back marker.

Getting the competition underway was Germany’s Christine Pestka with her BC ‘Argo’. Starting with the D/retrieve the dog went out straight to dumbbell no.1 ran on slightly in the pick up but returned quickly into a good front present and finish. In the heelwork the dog tried hard to maintain a good position but some of the turns were a bit loose and not finished off squarely, but the attention from the dog was lovely throughout all three paces and he was obviously enjoying the work. In the send away the dog went straight out at a good speed, followed by an almost instant down on command at the back marker, losing just ¾ mark on that exercise.

Coming in for Northern Ireland was Alison Pell with her Malinois, ‘Zara’, a dog used to the atmosphere here at Crufts as she has been in the Inter regional competition three times and now makes her debut in the World Cup. The R/hurdle saw the dog give a lovely high jump on the way out, she picked the dumbbell up neatly then decided she would go round the jump on the return, costly as they lost 10 ¼ marks on the exercise. In the send away the dog ran out at a good pace then decided to have a sniff at the back marker before going into the down, but finished the exercise with a smart pick up into the heelwork position. Running first for Wales was Helen Connolly and her GSD ‘Georgia’ starting with the D/retrieve, the dog went straight to the right dumbbell picked it up with great care and returned to a very straight present and finish, they lost ¼ mark for the exercise. The heelwork from this big dog was lovely to watch, good handling from Helen bringing out the best in her, a straight working line and worked the turns with ease, the attention on the handler was superb, and they complimented each other nicely. They finished off their round with a cracking send away, a loping run out and an instant drop on command into the down at the back marker then a very tight pick up into heel position, a lovely round overall.

For Scotland we had Helen Murray with her BC ‘Diva’ first time representing their country. In the heelwork this team started with a nice active stride and good definition between the paces, just crabbing slightly in some of the slow pace. The dog held a very attentive position on the straights and tried hard to maintain that position on the turns. In the Recall/DC the dog came on command at a fast run and the handler just mistimed the down command, leaving the dog a full body length past the second of the two taped marks, but the positions were very precise with little movement. Last of the teams in the first round was the only competitor from Canada, David Holzman and his BC ‘Alison’ unfortunately not a good start as the dog returned with dumbbell no.2 in the D/retrieve and then went on to miss the jump both ways in the R/hurdle. The dog seemed a little overawed by the surroundings in the heelwork exercise but redeemed herself a little in the Recall/DC, a fast reaction to the call and an almost instant drop to the down on command in-between the taped marks followed by good solid positions.

So by 10.25am the first set of teams had worked and looking around it was a shame to see that apart from the blocks of each countries fans there were not many more people in here, although the fans were loudly supporting each competitor as they came in so there was a good atmosphere round the ring.

After a short break the competition got underway again and coming in for Belgium was Heidi Demon with her BC ‘Darcy’, the third time they have represented their country at this event. Starting with the D/retrieve and the dog went straight out to dumbbell no.2, ran on a little on the pick up and looked to be crooked in the present, they lost ¾ mark. In the Recall/DC the dog came up quickly on command but ran on a little after the down command was given, the positions were almost instant and very accurate. Finished their round with a very nicely controlled send away, a fast, straight run out with an instant down at the back marker, then a quick but accurate pick up into the heel position.

Into the ring for Holland was Guus Scholten with his WS ‘Gucci’, in the heelwork exercise this pair gave a display of drive and commitment, lovely upright handling from Guus and the dogs attention never wavered throughout the heelwork. ‘Gucci’ was very responsive to the changes of pace, just occasionally crabbing in behind on the straights especially in the slow, the fast pace simply flowed and they lost just 8 marks on the heelwork. Onto the Recall/DC and the dog came at quite a pace, dropping into an instant down on command but was just over the taped mark, the positions were carried out with ease and you could barely hear the commands from Guus, showing superb concentration from the dog. Following then into the ring was Michelle Dunscombe with her WS ‘Maverick’ representing Wales. An excellent start in the D/retrieve with the dog going straight to dumbbell no.2, a careful pick up then back into a very good present, but a little crooked in the finish, they lost just ¼ mark. Onto the R/hurdle and a text book exercise from this pair, a long but straight throw, the dog jumping with ease both ways, neat pick up on the dumbbell and an accurate present and finish, they were the first pair to be marked clear on the exercise today. The send away saw a very fast run out and an almost instant down at the back marker, a little slower in the pick up into the heel position and they lost ½ mark, carrying forward a total of 7¾.

In for the Republic of Ireland was Diane Collie with her WS ‘Crystal’ another team who were marked clear on the R/hurdle, following a good throw of the dumbbell by the handler the dog cleared the hurdle with ease, the pick up was very neat and then a good jump back into a very straight present. The Recall/DC was a bit costly as the dog crept forward as the handler left her, then came quickly on command but dropped just past the taped mark, and although you could see how hard she was concentrating on the handler she missed one of the positions but the rest were performed well. Coming in for England was Pat Watson with her WS ‘Flick’, they showed a confident start in the heelwork with the dog totally focused on the job in hand. The slow pace was well measured and very accurate through all the turns and this accuracy was consistent in the flowing fast pace. A very ‘together’ team who made this exercise look easy. In the send away the dog started her run out at speed but slowed as she neared the back marker, a good drop on command and a steady wait until she was called, they lost just 1½ for the exercise and carried forward a total of 10¾ marks.

So now mid day and lunch break until 1.10pm and that gave us plenty of time to have a walk round and look for those last minute purchases, of which there were quite a few! The arena seats hadn’t really filled up much during the morning but hopefully we will see more people in the seats during the afternoon as the competition builds to its climax.

Back into our seats in plenty of time for the first competitor in after lunch and that was Germany’s Dominique Ficek with her BC ‘Spice’. In the R/hurdle the handler gave a very long throw, the dog then jumped cleanly over the hurdle both ways but ran on a little as he picked up the dumbbell. They went on to give a lovely display in the heelwork exercise, smart upright handling complimenting the dog nicely. Superb definition between the paces with the dog giving total focus and commitment to the handler, similar to other dogs today there was some crabbing in the slow pace, but they lost just 7½ marks on this exercise. Following them into the ring was Melissa Vercauter with her BSD ‘Emma’ representing Belgium. They had a good start in the heelwork with the dog trying hard to keep full attention on the handler but as the round progressed she started to lose position a little in normal and fast pace. Going into the slow pace the dog seemed to settle more and held a much tighter position. Onto the Recall/DC and the dog was very quick to respond to the commands, a fast run and instant down just past the taped mark, the positions were lovely with the dogs attention fully on the handler.

Next into the ring was the popular Northern Ireland team of Tracy McKinlay and her BC ‘Storm’, who have represented their country for 6 years at Crufts. In the D/retrieve the dog went straight out to dumbbell no.3, a slight run on in the pick up then returned quickly, was crooked in the present but finished closely. Onto the R/hurdle and a long straight throw from Tracy, almost up to the ringside boards, the dog jumping careful over the hurdle, picked up the dumbbell neatly and returned back over the hurdle to an excellent front present. In the Recall/DC the dog came on command at a good pace and dropped into the down just in-between the two taped marks then gave super positions, they lost just ½ mark for that exercise. . Next into the ring for Holland were Karin Stegmeijer and her WS ‘McCay’, winners of the Dutch Obedience Championships in 2013. In the heelwork the dog held a very close position from the start and this did not change throughout any of the paces, which were measured and well controlled. Just odd bits and pieces took the marks with some of the turns not quite squared off but lovely handling from Karin allowed this dog to work with ease and with total focus on the handler, a pair that looked at home in this big ring.

Last team to work for Scotland was Ellen Herries and her BC ‘Gabi’. In the heelwork the dog held a good strong position in the normal pace but going into the slow there was some crabbing in behind with the dog almost sitting on some of the turns. Seemed a different dog in the fast pace which was performed at a good measured stride and with the dog holding lovely attention, certainly looked as if this pace was the dogs favourite one. Finished their round off with an excellent send away, a fast run out straight to the back marker, an instant drop on command and a steady controlled pick up into heel, they lost just ½ mark on this exercise.

Throughout the competition we had the introduction of each handler and dog by Gerard Paisley and Dawn Cox gave a commentary on each exercise and what the judge might be looking for in each one, which was very informative especially for those new to the sport.

So down to the last team to work and that was England’s Mary Ray with her WS ‘Levi’, last years Individual Obedience World Cup Champions. They were another team who gave a textbook display of just how to do the R/hurdle, controlled jumps, neat pick up on the dumbbell and straight present and close finish, marked clear. Into the heelwork and the dog gave instant attention as they moved off and held a very tight position in all three paces with the turns neatly squared off. The slow pace was a pleasure to watch as the look of concentration on the dogs face showed that he was very determined to maintain his position. There was a lovely extended stride in fast pace from both handler and dog with precision turns in all the paces. They lost just 5¼ marks on the heelwork exercise, the best of the day and carried forward a total of 7¼ marks.

2.20pm and the main ring work had finished, the audience had been growing during the afternoon and people seemed to be enjoying the work on display. The stewards then prepared the ring for the stay exercise, which in this competition is a two-minute sit stay with the handlers out of sight. Unfortunately Pat Watson’s ‘Flick’ (England) decided to follow her out of the ring, which cost them 18 marks. Both Germany’s ‘Lacey’ and Belgium’s ‘Darcy’ lost quite a lot of marks when they decided to lie down and Northern Irelands ‘Billy’ decided to join them in a down just as his handler returned into sight.

Once the teams had left the ring it was prepared for the scent exercise, the audience were really getting behind the teams now and building the atmosphere, the main stand being almost full and hardly any spare seats in the free stands.

The scent test in this competition is the same as in our ‘B’ class, handler’s scent on the cloth and a decoy. The handler will face towards the main stand with the pattern of cloths being, one blank, then next row two blanks, third row, from the left, a decoy, a blank, then the handlers cloth. Next row two more blanks, next row a blank and last row a blank, so quite a nice spread out pattern.

The teams work in the same order that they ran in this morning, and from the first set of teams Germany’s Christine Pestka with ‘Argo’ lost ½ mark, the dog finding the right cloth very quickly, but mouthing a little on return. Helen Connelly with ‘Georgia’ for Wales also lost ½ mark, the dog only checking one cloth before returning with the right one into a lovely straight front present. Philomena Barnes with ‘Jezzie’ for England lost ¾ mark, the dog taking a long time to work around the scent area, checking and re-checking each cloth, slightly messy on the pick up but very positive that she had found the right one.

Then onto the second set of teams and in for Belgium was Heidi Demon with ‘Darcy’ the dog found the correct cloth very quickly hardly bothering to check the others and returned to a lovely straight present and finish, they were the only pair to be marked clear on this exercise today. For Holland we had the team of Guus Scholten and ‘Gucci’ the dog deciding he would keep his owner waiting as he worked over the cloths for what seemed an age, looked like he was going to pick up a decoy then checked again and returned with the right one, losing 1 mark. Following them into the ring for Wales was Michelle Dunscombe and ‘Maverick’, a fairly quick find, and returned into a slightly off centre present and a close finish. Then the dog moved as the judge went to check the finish from behind, they lost 2 marks for this exercise but that didn’t alter the overall positions. For the Republic of Ireland, Diane Collie and ‘Crystal’ came in and the dog worked the scent area quickly, a slight lift on a blank then found the right one and returned to a very nice present and finish.

So onto the final set of teams and in for Germany was Dominique Ficek and ‘Spice’, the dog methodically checking each cloth, then a positive find on the right one and returned quickly to the handler, just ¾ mark lost. Northern Irelands team of Tracy McKinlay and ‘Storm’ came in and he was another dog that did a very thorough check on all the cloths, found the right one but was a bit untidy in the pick up, returned to a very straight present. Coming in for Wales was Jane Walker with ‘Mair’, the dog went out quickly, checked the scent area once and was very confident that she had found the right one, a very neat exercise from this pair and they lost ¼ mark. Scotland’s team of Ellen Herries and ‘Gabi’ came in and the dog worked slowly but methodically over the area, found the right one and quickly back to the handler, just a little wide on the finish. The last team to work was Mary Ray and ‘Levi’ for England, a good quick find on the cloth but just a bit untidy in the present and finish, costing them ¾ mark.

By 4pm all the exercises for the competition were completed and whilst the scores were totalled and checked for both the Individual and Team places the audience was encouraged, although they didn’t need much of it, to join Gerard in a chorus of ‘We will rock you’, with flag bearers from Wales, Scotland and England (we saw you Bev and Sheilagh) dashing up and down the aisle by the ring boards, the Dutch fans were rocking in their seats and the Scottish and Welsh fans tried hard to out sing each other, a lovely party atmosphere.

Then the return into the ring of the judging party and the parade of teams back onto the green carpet, greeted with total enthusiasm by the audience. This was followed by a presentation and thank you to today’s judge Stella Henstridge who received a long round of applause.

We then had the announcement of the Individual Winner of the Obedience World Cup 2014 – Mary Ray and the stunning Levi, from England, and this was greeted by a huge cheer and loud applause from the crowd, second year in a row that they have won this title. Then there is another huge greeting as Michelle Dunscombe and Maverick representing Wales are called into second place, another very popular team. Germany’s Dominique Ficek with ‘Spice’ were third and Helen Connolly with Georgia were fourth for Wales.

Then the final result of the competition and the winning team of the Obedience World Cup Competition 2014 were the Welsh team, and they were greeted with thunderous applause from the audience and a loud rugby style chant went up from their supporters as the team came forward to the place boards looking absolutely delighted. The team from England were called forward into second place, Holland were third and Germany fourth and all are greeted with rounds of applause and cheering.

So another Crufts over for the obedience folk and once again we have been privileged to see some of the best that our sport can offer

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