Photo Credit: Lisa Berglund
As excited as I was, when I first entered the trial, and when I bought my plane ticket, and when I flew out, and when I landed, I had no clue what I was in for. I tried as best as my circumstances allowed to prepare for this but as much as I practiced precision, and depth perception exercises I don’t know that it would ever be enough. The level of handling isn’t something that this Idaho potato was used to and I still haven’t quite grasped.
Before I left, everyone was so excited to hear about what kind of trouble I’d get into when I was over there. I mean I was going to be in the most liberal country on the planet and be staying about an hour (give or take) from AMSTERDAM! This was a little scary because, lets face it, I know myself and I could easily have lost my mind in that city! However, when I was over there I chose not to explore Amsterdam because I wanted to spend the day taking Nell for extra long bike rides and getting caught up on rest. Jet lag is a real thing! Ricky suggests beer as an antidote, but there’s only so much beer in Holland! So I had a couple peaceful days riding a bicycle through the country side in Holland and keeping my dog as fit as I could. I did take a day trip to Cologne, Germany but just went sight seeing and got a haircut.
Being surrounded by some of the best dog trainers and handlers in the world was pretty cool, I’m not gonna lie. Having them come up and tell me that I did a good job or that they liked my dog was even better! But the lessons that I learned will hopefully never be forgotten! So here’s a few of them:
Don’t get Bitter, just get BETTER!
After a couple of my runs at the Dutch open I was a little bummed that my scores didn’t reflect what I remember the runs to be. I thought my lines were fairly straight and the sheep had a decent pace around the field. Now my dog, who is used to having to push sheep, could have been softer and had a bit more precision initially but I thought that I had gotten a hold of her and we made a decent showing. It wasn’t until after one run that I thought I had one of the best runs of my life that I began to understand that they were looking for something a little more than what I was putting on the table. And I started to let that get to me. I was getting frustrated because I thought, according to my standards, that I was getting gypped on my scores. It wasn’t until a couple people who I have a lot of admiration for enlightened me that maybe what they were looking for was better than my best. Maybe, instead of letting some score or decision made my a stranger effect my mood I should just get better, not bitter. Now I didn’t expect to make much of an adjustment because there just wasn’t the time to do that. I might not get the subtleties that I’d inevitably need in order to be competitive over night. But, what I could do was go out and try my best and elevate my personal standards so that, no matter who was in the judge’s car, I’d come off feeling like I might have done something worth while. I had to accept that, at this level, the slightest deviation was too much and could easily take me out of the running. I worked really hard on keeping that in mind when I went out and ran at the Belgian open and although I still struggled a bit with my mental resilience, I ended up running one of the best runs of my life with one of the best scores I’ve ever gotten. A 109 out of 110. And all I could do was try and keep that mentality when heading to the Worlds the next day. It proved to, for the most part, work. I got third on my field getting me into the semifinal. And when I came off my run in the semi final, I accepted that even though I had a pretty good go of it, I probably wasn’t good enough to make it through this year. I was 17th in the semi’s and they took 16 into the final… I’m not gonna act like I was happy about this, but I wasn’t disappointed either. It was just the facts. But one thing was for sure, if I got bitter about my run, my score or anything else then I would have denied myself the opportunity to get better.
“Good Enough” NEVER is!
In some parts of my life I’m a complete perfectionist. I’m not the cleanest person, as anyone who has ridden in my car would attest. And I have a hard time staying on time. Its just who I am, and according to Lady Gaga, I was BORN THIS WAY! And who can argue with Gaga? Go ahead… Try it… I dare you. But one area that I’ve always been neurotic about perfection is on the field with my dogs. Its actually brought some negative attention to me because it used to really effect my mood if I didn’t do well. But as I’ve grown and matured (to some extent… I mean I still, for the most part, act 12) I’ve just accepted that some days you’re not going to be the champion. BUT! That shouldn’t let you think that “good enough” is, well “good enough”.
The beauty about this sport is that perfection is nearly impossible. I can always find a fault in any of my runs no matter how high the score is. I’ve run 100 out of 100 and I still found flaws in my run. I’ve run 109 out of 110 and found more than a point off. I think this isn’t the worst position to take because if we can always find flaws in our work, then we can always have something to work on. If we constantly tell ourselves that the run was “good enough” then what do we have to work on? Granted, not everyone wants to compete at the world championships but if we are to continue to elevate this sport then we’re going to have to elevate our standards with trials, running, breeding and training.
Respect Our Youth
One of the most refreshing things about the Worlds was how young so many of the handlers are. Worldwide the average age is much younger than it is here in the U.S. Over here its an expensive sport that requires a lot of financial commitment to partake in. Its a difficult hobby to be a part of because of how high entries are, how far we have to drive and how long we have to be away from work. Its also difficult over here because of the mentality towards younger people. I’m not going to play the “woe is me” card or anything but if I hadn’t been so determined and crazy about my dogs and this sport I would have dropped out long ago due to how difficult it was to gain respect from my fellow handlers. Young people need to be encouraged to get involved and that starts with us. We have to encourage and educate. I was fortunate to have some great people that have, and continue to, help me out. People that never looked at me like the kid that I was (and still often act like), but rather they looked at me like a person that was serious about learning and passionate about these dogs, their history and their future. The people that accepted that I’d act my age and not theirs continue to be my mentors and my friends. This is how we need to embrace the youth of the sport and cultivate a future for North American sheep-dogging.
Celebrate Success, Even if it Isn’t Yours
Finally, I was so impressed so many people because of how they studied every run and every dog. No matter who was running the dogs on the field, if the run was good then people were excited because they got to see a good dog or a good handler or a good run. We, as humans, tend to have a lot of prejudice towards others. Particularly others who are competitive. But at the end of the day, if we judge other’s success or make excuses for why they are better than us, we deny ourselves the gift of getting better. This was hard for me. Years ago someone started a rumor about me which totally pissed me the hell off. I was ready to go for blood. And lets face it, if you’re going to piss someone off it shouldn’t be a gay-ginger-smartmouthed-hairdresser! I’ll cut you verbally and physically! Just kidding… sort of. But what changed my mind on my slanderous campaign was a friend pulling me aside and telling me to pull my head out of my ass. She said “this isn’t making him look bad, its making you look bad so let it go and be a good sport! People don’t talk about people who don’t threaten them!” And in the words of the infinitely wise and fabulous Ru Paul “Unless they payin your bills, pay dem bitches no mind”. Not to mention, this person is a good handler and I should have been watching their runs for the education. Get over your personal dislike and if someone does a good job then tell them. They deserved it. Once I did, I was able to forgive the rumors and learn to respect the man in front of me for how good he is at his passions.
All in all this trip taught me so much more than what I could possibly have written. Thank God this isn’t twitter because I can rarely keep a simple “hello” to 140 characters or less, let alone my rambling thoughts. But these are the things that continue to stick out for me. Now if I can just keep them up for me personally.
Good luck in the training field and much love to you all! Again I couldn’t have done this trip without you all supporting me from home!