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The Heelwork to Music Freestyle Extravaganza

WE WANTED our event to be 'special' - but the day exceeded our wildest dreams. This was our Association's first Heelwork to Music event - the limited availability of the venue helped us to choose the date - Remembrance Sunday, at the Stanley Sheldon Hall, Newark and Nottinghamshire Agricultural Showground.

For three months the preparation for the day seemed never ending. Writing to companies for sponsorship or donations to the invitations to the judges - Anne Northfield, Sue Potter, Andrew Patterson and Lesley Neville - it all eventually fell into place like a well-oiled engine. For two days prior to the event the Hall became our second home, a vast green carpet of 500 metres was fitted to the cement floor, and the transformation of the basic hanger had begun.

The ring was set out using the dividers by the Obedience Events, bunting (all 100 metres made by one of our members in orange, lime green and emerald) was then draped around the arena - now it was beginning to look the business. Our food prize sponsors, Purina, and the beautiful Sheffield-made pewterware trophy sponsors of Royal Canin, James Wellbeloved and Dog Training Weekly, had provided their colourful banners, which were strung between the metal supports of the building. The judges' and officials' tables were covered expertly with a wine damask and fresh flowers, which had been brought and arranged by the members from Jersey. Southwell Garden Centre provided fabulous evergreens interspersed with red roses for decorating the entrance and the corner of the ring. Green and orange balloons and more bunting made the stage setting.

Sunday and the show was on. Some of the 105 entrants arrived two days in advance, most arrived from 7.30am, when they were greeted by a remarkable setting. Each entrant was given a 'Thank You for entering' rosette sponsored by Burgess Supadog.

Linda Topliss gave a warm welcome to the participants and spectators, and introduced Peter Purves, our Honorary Vice President, as our commentator for the day. Having sold out of the 500 seats, we had a full house almost from the first routine. Peter made everyone feel so relaxed and the whole atmosphere from beginning to end was one of fun and sheer enjoyment.


The Starters (Heelwork to Music) class was first with 24 entries. The standard was set and this sport appears to be growing in popularity and expertise. The winner of this class was Susannah Hough with her Border Collie, Bintibn Trick of Fate, to the tune of Hooked on America - a very accomplished routine with a dog well qualified in Working Trials.

Then came Starters (Freestyle) - the biggest entry with 29 in this class - this was won by Heatherbelle Smithurst with her working Sheepdog Dame B. This was their very first competition, and so Let's Face the Music and Dance was most appropriate!

Novice (HTM) was next with five entries. Linda Topliss won this class with her beautiful high-stepping German Shepherd Dog, Alexans Celtic Brave - with a very smooth performance to Night Fever.

Novice (Freestyle) followed with 10 participants. The winner of this class was Hetty van Hessel from the Netherlands, and she had travelled all the way to England to compete with her Border Collie, Detania Rood Gyp. They performed to Watcha Gonna Do, which gave the event a truly international flavour. A super routine - where nerves almost ruled - but Hetty managed to come through and win. This was much to the delight of her dog's breeder, who comes from this country.

The next class was Intermediate HTM - only four entries in this division. The sport being relatively new does mean that the lower classes are are more popular than the higher classes. Paula Ackary won this hotly contested class with her Collie, Stillmoor Tartan Tazzie, to Need You Tonight.

Intermediate (Freestyle) with four entries followed. Linda Topliss won this class with a stunning theatrical performance by her and Murphy (her working Beardie, Gillyson Murphy) to In the Dark of the Night. You could have heard a pin drop as the tale of Anastasia unfolded - and the applause said it all. Fabulous and enchanting.

The Advanced class (HTM and Freestyle) had just three entries each. Tina Humphrey won both these classes with her Working Sheepdog, Bluecroft My Blue Heaven (Chandi). Her HTM routine was performed with accuracy to Laudate Dominium, and that extra special touch of Tina's was evident when she produced a small crucifix towards the end, which the dog held between her crossed paws! Her second performance, in Freestyle, was to Victory. This was spellbinding - Tina showed just how much bonding between dog and handler becomes evident when training for Heelwork to Music. Chandi is trained to perfection, and is so willing and happy.

The Juniors class had five entries, although only two participated. The winner was Stevi Boyall with her auntie's Labrador, Heather Styperson Tern. A lovely fast and energetic routine to Rock Around the Clock - with a dog which is more accustomed to Working Trials!

The Disabled class attracted two entries. Cherida Stamford won with her German Shepherd Dog, Lexville Enchantment, performing to Candle in the Wind. Cathy Lewis was second - she accepted the option to request the assistance of a steward, and managed a creditable round with her Working Sheepdog, Kasas Kankan to It's A Secret. This very special class shows that this sport and training of the dog is attainable to everyone - it is so good to be able to offer an outlet where even specialised training by the handler and the dog's skills can be put into practice.

Good fun

The Pairs class was next, with 10 entries, cut down to nine on the day. This class is such good fun - a must for those who feel they do not want a solo performance, and what could be better than having a friend close by? Linda Topliss won this, and I was lucky enough to be her partner in a slow number to Lord and Lady Whoozis.

Innovation - this was a special class for uneven numbers of dogs or handlers or more than two dogs and handlers. There were five entries, all of whom will have benefited greatly from the fun, laughing and teamwork which is needed for larger numbers. In this class we had the Teletubbies from Cornwall, F Club 8 from Preston, a group of five dogs and handlers from Northampton called Krackers (their first event) and then a live singer in the Tough Spitz team from Lincoln! The overall winners were Dogs & Co, Linda Topliss' team of seven dogs and handlers from all over. They performed to Swing Out to Victory, which had a wartime theme for Remembrance Day.

The spectators never moved. The Essex Dog Display Team came at their own expense and entertained the crowd throughout lunch. What a professional bunch of people they were, the ring area was certainly restrictive for them - but they managed superbly with a fantastic, action-packed display with a really good commentary by Roy Dyer.

The event was a spectacular success - there were comments such as 'never have we seen such happy dogs and happy people at a dog show!' - 'when is the next event?' - 'I want a video so I can re-live today!' The only complaint of the day - which I received - was that there was not enough time to visit the conveniences!

What an achievement - in this time when it seems to be unending bad news - that so many people were entertained and inspired to try this sport. There were over 20 different breeds entered, anyone can try, young or old, just carefully choose your music to reflect what you and your dog do best - and have fun!

Roy Dyer, Team Manager of the Essex Dog Display Team said: "We have been absolutely delighted with the organisation of this event and we have had such good fun with this Association. In view of this we have asked the Heelwork to Music Freestyle Association to assist us with a Heelwork to Music event to be held at All About Dogs in Brentwood on May 11-12 next year." This is a busy show - which includes all other dog disciplines, surely another date not to be missed.

• The Heelwork to Music Freestyle Association can be contacted via Kath Hardman at 146, Millhouses Lane, Sheffield, S7 2HE with SAE or e-mail: