Balançoire, Palissade, Passerelle, Pneu ,Slalom, Saut en Longueur ….these are all words in my new agility vocabulary…..luckily, tunnel rigide, tunnel souple, and table sort of speak for themselves….phew.
So how did I find French agility ?? Well surprisingly WET if I’m honest. The Clubs grounds are on the banks of the river Charante which although hasn't had to cope with much in the way of local precipitation,HAS received the bulk of the water descending from the flooded North of France which has in itself enjoyed(if that’s the word)the same sort of weather as England. The result ?? Well the need for football studs for starters !.
My two trips so far, once my “paperwork” was in order and we could “play”, have plastered me in mud and left my Nikes reminiscent of the 2012 Tuffley weekend. I have been told it’s not “usual” for this much of a quagmire (where have I heard that before?) in January and that usually it's snow we are grappling with, but I just answered that I’m more than used to it and "where do we start ?".
My fellow agility enthusiast’s are all French, no English spoken, thank God, as I have to find the incentive to expand my vocabulary somewhere. A real variety of dogs,only ONE Border Collie (so far) but a Bull Terrier (!!) 2 Belgium Shepherds, a Rough Collie, a Setter Cross, a Norfolk Terrier, a Chihuahua, a French Bulldog, 2 Jack Russell’s, a Retriever………..etc ,etc, in other words a real mixed bag. They all seems to have English names though, like Dora, Elliot,(that’s right Sarah Campbell) Magic, and Gadget….go figure, yet they struggle with a name like “Stitch”. Which maybe should be “Point”(Stitch in French)
It’s a good job everybody’s dogs mingled well as of course being in France everyone performs “La Bise”,(the French gesture of kissing each other on the cheek), before the lesson started. Imagine THAT at every class in England with a bunch of worky collies. I was introduced and “kissed” the entire group, including the instructor Michel,which left Stitch looking quite confused….I must remember to tether him up upon arrival next time. I think he was beginning to wonder whether I wanted HIM to pucker up too, so he was glad when the agility started.
The agility itself, same spec equipment, weaves ,tunnels etc, although the tyre was the dreaded old “slung” type on chains,although well padded,and of course,the European obligatory table,they laughed like a drain when Stitch went at it like a steeple-chaser on his first run and refused to “throttle off” and therefore hit the brakes just as he fell off the back ledge. Oops. We don’t use them ourselves often enough maybe !. He gauged it better the second time….once bitten and all that. One thing that took me by surprise was their obsession with “UPS” . Imagine my horror when unleashing the beast on his very first run when he got criticized on the see-saw for only having a toe on it !! I could see the instructor doing a charade of “only just” and it caught me so much by surprise that I thought he was challenging my 2o2o…sort of difficult when the dog is still on the bloody thing in the classic “Look at me Mum” pose. It was only then that I realized he meant the “up” which caused me to reflect after the run, has Stitch ever got marked on an up ?? Answer, no never. No one seems to sprint past their dogs on contacts as they are fannying about checking their stride pattern before they commit. They seemed quite surprised that I really appeared not to give a Merde but he didn't miss any, so I presume they will get used to my lack of concern.
Handling systems, hmmm they appear to have got caught up somewhere in the 90’s, plus they have an unreal reluctance to rear cross, and the much publicised “European”Ketschker was nowhere to be seen (So I threw in two just to stir things up) ! Certainly at my club they don’t seem to “drive” hard but seem happy to “accompany” their dogs around a course. They get the job done, and the dogs are keen, motivated, and competent. The handlers too are kind, considerate, fair, and use positive reinforcement, but there is a real lack of frenzied excitement generated, they prefer instead to keep the dogs calm and low-key. Seeing Stitch running around like a headless chicken at full chat screaming at the top of his voice must have been a real shocker. He did however achieve what I like to call the “grin” factor, as he hit the weaves at an impossible angle 15 feet ahead of me directly infront of the assembled masses and I heard an audible gasp as I picked him up on the end having run in diagonally at him. He didn’t let me down he is,..... after all, .....a superstar.
So why the gap in technique and attitude ? Especially as these folk have represented the Poitou Charante and the Instructor has run for France ?? Well I put it down to the size of agility in our area. The Poitou Charante has 4 CNEAC(the KC equivalent) registered clubs, and is an area larger than WALES!!!!!. As I understand it to compete you cannot do so as an individual, but do so for your club and Region. Also not just anyone can train you, they have to hold a very specific certificate to do so. Added to this the need to travel vast distances to attend shows in other regions and the non-existent grading system, making every class a 1-7, isn't IMHO particularly conducive to the growth of the sport. The club I now belong to runs a CNEAC show each year and is applauded for people coming from all around France making numbers totaling nearly 100 competitors !!!!!!!!! Could you imagine that at any Kennel Club show. LOL
But this isn’t me having a downer on French agility…FAR FAR far from it. Having started agility myself over 20 years ago I find the social side of it very refreshing as it is very similar to how it was back then. Lots of folk having a lot of fun with their dogs not taking it too seriously and welcoming foreigners with ballistic terriers into their midst even though the only language they speak fluently is, agility itself.