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Betel's Big Adventure: What I Learned at the European Open

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

I've been involved in the sport of dog agility for a long time and this year I finally got the chance to travel abroad as part of the AKC's "Team USA" to compete at the European Open held this year in Denmark. Honestly I thought this would be a one and done for me. I didn't love the idea of making my dog travel so far and I wasn't sure it would really be my thing. I'm happy to report that it was very much my thing. Despite some not so easy travel on either end of the trip I truly enjoyed the experience and can't wait to do it again! I started agility in the late 90's and the person I mentored with was on the AKC "World Team" so when I started out I just assumed that's what everyone aspired to and that had always been my goal. It didn't even occur to me that some people just did agility as a hobby and had no plans to compete above a local level. For me it was always about competing at the highest level, while also always realizing that not every partner I've trained has been interested in the same goal! I've been an alternate on a handful of teams over the years but this was the first time I'd actually had the opportunity to go. This adventure started with the EOTT in December of 2022. This team tryout event is held in Latrobe PA (my hometown area) at B&D Creekside Activity Center, an agility paradise. It is probably my favorite US event of the year. One ring, super judges, fun, challenging, and long courses, and amazing competition. Plus my favorite pizza place, Jioio's is right around the corner, and I get to visit family too. This was Betel's first tryouts and we were only going for the experience as he was only 2.5yo at the time. We had lots of really good stuff, and quite a bit of baby dog stuff too (I even fell in round one). Luckily we had one really good round when it counted and landed ourselves an alternate spot on the team. I figured that was the end of it. Order some cool team swag, attend the team practice and then continue training for the 2023 tryouts. I did all that, but as time went on one team had to pull, then another. In May I received the call that I would be needed in Denmark. Panic set in and we started planning the trip. My wonderful husband, Mike agreed to go along with me which was SO helpful, and fun. We left on the Monday morning before the competition started but ultimately did not make it to Copenhagen until Wednesday at 7 am. Off the plane and straight to our first team practice and then an evening team dinner at the hotel. Thursday was an official team practice at the show site followed by team vet check and measuring. A little bit of sightseeing and then back to the site for opening ceremonies (think dog sport Olympics). This part was really cool to take part in. Friday was the start of competition and our two team runs. Team USA had 24 members. Each height was split into groups of four to make several smaller teams that competed together. We all did great and I think ended up with an equal split of clean runs and eliminations which put us out of the running for finals. Saturday we ran our individual runs, jumping and agility. I loved so much about our runs but they were ultimately eliminations. Sunday was both team and individual finals, and while the weather had actually been quite nice for agility the first two days Sunday was a bit of a mess and definitely added to the challenges in finals. It was kind of cold and rainy all day long and by the end of closing ceremonies I was ready to be back at the hotel and a hot shower. Monday we got to have a fun day of touring the city and Tuesday we headed home. The travel was rough. Traveling with a dog right now is no joke, regardless of how you do it. I'm hoping it's not always like this but the travel days were long and stressful. Plus the whole international health certificate *before* you even get to the travel part was a whole other level of stress that doesn't sound like it gets any easier. Betel was such a trooper through it all, no matter what we through at him. He got out of his crate at the end of each flight like "hey guys, what's up?". This trip also made me realize how important that part is. I currently have five dogs and he may be the only one who could do this. Ursa is super young and hasn't even started competing yet, but I'm not sure that I can imagine her handling all of this in the same way. Our crating tents at the show site backed up to a chain link fence with railroad tracks on the other side. The first morning I was playing with B behind the tents when a high-speed train went whizzing by, maybe twenty yards away. Betel kind of turned his head, looked and then just barked at me to throw his frisbee. That stuff makes a huge difference. Sleep. I was really jet-lagged, and really nervous. That combination kept me up most of the night for Wednesday through Saturday. It wasn't until the competition was over for me was I able to sleep. So I was really tired. Next time I would definitely add more time onto the front end of my trip, and I would bring some sleeping aids with me as well. That part sucked. The competition. Everyone was good, like REALLY good. I've never been to an event (aside from AKC WTT or EOTT) where the playing field was so level. And everybody went for it ON EVERY SINGLE RUN. There was no playing it safe. Everyone wanted to make finals and the only way to do it was to trust your training and go for it. Lots of good handling and solid dog training. Some countries are so sharp and the training, just spot on. Almost no stopped dogwalk contacts. And, one of the big differences between the US and other countries... MEN. Some teams are almost all young, athletic men. Another big difference is the smoking! Everybody is either smoking or vaping. I don't know which is worse; having to smell smoke or watermelon vape. My runs: I've competed for a long time and I don't get super nervous over much. This definitely did it! I was so nervous before my first run that I was sure I would throw up. While waiting my turn with a couple dogs to go I suddenly couldn't remember which was #2 and which was #3. I never really straightened that out in my head but suddenly I was on the line and running. It wasn't our best effort ever but we did it. I secretly had a goal of just having one run that wasn't an "E". Not even clean, just not an elimination. WE RAN A CLEAR ROUND IN OUR FIRST RUN AT OUR FIRST INTERNATIONAL EVENT!!! We finished maybe 30th out of about 180. After that I felt better each time I went into the ring. Even though all three of those runs ended in "Es" I felt like each one got closer and closer to the way I want us to run. My baby dog had killer weaves and dogwalks, no bars, and two absolutely perfect teeters which I had worked so hard on in the months leading up to the event, but still thought would be our downfall (who wants to ride a teeter all the way to the ground when there's other fun stuff to do?). There was nothing I felt we couldn't do out there, handling-wise. The big takeaway for me is that we need to be running more courses in training. We had the skills but trying to piece together that many challenging skills rapid-fire was where I struggled. I will also be working on my strength training. I definitely need more power running. See our runs here. Our team and coaches were top-notch. Annette and Sheyla were there every minute "herding cats" and giving each of us exactly what we needed. I loved seeing teammates have amazing runs, and some "almosts". Our international teams have come so far. I can remember doing AKC WTT in the mid-2000s where we would walk courses and literally have no clue how to run them. We just didn't *ever* see that type of course in the US. Now we have UKI which has helped so much, and the addition of the AKC's ISC program is helping those of us interested in this tract of international competition a way to actually get to compete on these types of courses under actual European judges too. If you are interested in competing overseas someday, go for it! Take advantage of all the great resources we now have available to us. If there's none in your area...get started. If you build it they will come. Our Florida ISC days are usually on a Thursday and consist of about twenty of us, but it's growing, one by one. I also created a Facebook group "US Agility Goes Abroad - Travel, Training and Competition Outside the Country" Betel and I are already hard at work getting qualified for this year's tryouts so we can hopefully do it again next year! Some scenes from Betel's big adventure.

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