The 2016 European Open that just concluded marked the 3rd time that Luna and I have traveled to Europe to compete at the event. The event is probably the largest agility event being held currently. While it is not the most prestigious event I believe it is by far the hardest event to compete at and actually medal in. Just the sheer number of competitors means that anything can happen. On top of that, all of the big names in agility from every country are generally at this event competing. All of the names we “grew” up with as well as the up and coming handlers we are starting to become more familiar with are all running balls to the wall trying to be the best. If you’ve never been it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced in agility.
The week leading up to the event didn’t start out on a good note for Luna and I. Tuesday was our first scheduled team practice. Since I had a car rental this year we arrived earlier than the team bus. So we were able to practice before everybody arrived. As I was practicing I noticed that Luna really didn’t want to get into her normal starting position which is a down between my legs. And when she did she would lay crooked. I didn’t think too much of it as the turf we were running on was very abrasive. However, once the bus arrived Ken Bain, one of our dog body practitioners traveling with the team, was able to get his hands on Luna for her first session with him. Right away we noticed that she did not want to sit. If I told her to sit she would start and immediately stand right back up. Alarm bells started going off at this point. After some trigger points were released she was still doing the same thing. Upon hyperflexing the left knee she would visibly flinch and fight. Uh oh, now we’re concerned about a knee injury. However, nothing other than the hyperflexing of the knee indicated there was anything wrong with the knee. Upon deeper inspection Ken finally 2 or 3 trigger points located near the hamstring / gracilis convergence. We now had a reason and a plan of action. No practicing on Tuesday or Wednesday. Daily sessions with Ken and lasering 3 times a day the trouble spot.
Following the plan we were going to give it a go on Thursday at the official practice at the event site. We had 2 minutes on the course and the plan was the run full out for 2 minutes and see where we were at afterwards. We did just that and afterwards Ken said that the area felt better AFTER the workout than it did prior. So, based on that and barring any setbacks, we were cleared to be able to compete! As an aside, in December of 2014 Luna presented with an “injury” in which she behaved pretty much the same way. Back then, we were scared of a knee injury, but ultimately via consultations with Dr. Canapp at VOSM determined that it was a psoas issue. Upon further work with area rehab vets we determined that it was tight muscles around the sternum causing a tight psoas. However, Ken said that he could feel some scar tissue around the trigger points in the hamstring / gracilis area. So now I’m wondering if Luna didn’t have a partial hamstring tear back then that just healed on it’s own with the 2-3 months of rest she was given. It’s something I’ll have to keep in mind in the future.
Now back to the competition. It’s a 3 day affair Friday-Sunday. Friday is “team” day so we have an agility and a jumpers run for our small team. This year Luna was on a team with Jolt, Ray, and Totem. Friday started out overcast and rainy. Since we were running on grass it was a bit of a concern about traction while running. Not only for the dogs, but for us humans too! Unfortunately, I would find out about that in our first run which was agility. We were going along just fine when Luna exited the weaves poles and on her path to the next obstacle she was taking a line for the wrong side of the jump. I tried to stop my motion to block her and give her the correct information. Unfortunately, my sudden deceleration caused me to slip which was all the opening Luna needed to continue to the wrong side of the jump. So we accumulated an E.
Our next course I was excited for as it was a jumpers course designed and judged by Alex Beitl! He’s one of my favorite judges right now as his courses are amazing! There were a couple of tricky spots, but mostly it was a runners course. At obstacle number 2 Luna flipped the wrong way on the jump, but I was quickly able to recover and still make it down the long, fast line to the eventual backside at #6. The rest of the course saw no surprises and we ended up with a clean run. I was so happy to A) run the course clean and B) have it be on an Alex Beitl course.
Day 2 was our individual runs. Once again, I would be running agility first followed by jumpers. The agility course had a somewhat tricky opening as we had a tunnel / dog walk discrimination challenge that was preceded by figuring out which way you wanted your dog to take a jump. I chose to have Luna go the long way on the jump so that she was traveling at a high rate of speed for the dog walk and was coming at it straight on. Sadly, I suck as a handler and it all fell apart. I went too far in for the send to the tunnel at 3 and so was out of position for the jump preceding the dog walk. She ended up turning the wrong way on the jump which caused me to stay behind to make sure she took the dog walk. Staying behind meant I couldn’t get to the end of the dog walk so she faulted that and then because the next obstacle was a backside I couldn’t get there and now we just had another E. To say I was disappointed/disgusted/upset with myself would be an understatement. Everything I did from obstacle #2 to #6 was wrong and frankly embarrassing considering the level we’re competing at.
After a long walk around the park (lots of nice trails!) I had to let that go and get ready for jumpers. Jumpers had a killer weave entrance made even harder by the tunnel about 8 feet away staring at the dogs. And the ending had a backside out of a tunnel that was super tight and required you to be there if you wanted any chance of not getting an E. We nailed everything (had 1 wide, unacceptable line) and finished with a clean run. However, coming off the course I knew our time had no chance of even sniffing the top 25. We finished 2.97 seconds slower than the 1st place dog, but ended up in 84th place. As a competitive person that finish is really a downer. I know we had a wide line, but I think even without that wide line we still don’t crack the top 50.
In the end, we finished with 2 clean runs at the EO this year. Better than we did last year. So, we’re steadily getting better every year. Who knows, maybe next year is the year? The event is being held in Italy next year. Tryouts for the team are in December in Pennsylvania. We’ll give it a go for tryouts because high level agility is my crack and I’ll need a fix by then. 🙂