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(Updated 1/6/01)

The Pedigree Heelwork to Music Day 2001

by Dave Ray


ON 28TH April 2001, the annual Heelwork to Music event took place at the Sports Connexion in Coventry. We call it The Heelwork to Music event because although this year there will probably be in total eight to ten events, this is the biggest and most prestigious event of the year.

The event was staged by Rugby Dog Training Club and once more Pedigree supported the event. Having a major supporter like Pedigree to help stage an event like this means that you can provide facilities and awards in line with the importance of the event.

l-r: Presenting the advanced class awards, Lorna Boulter, Manager of the Kennel Club Shows, Trials and Awards Department, Attila Szkukalek, Tina Humphrey, Mary Ray and Kath Hardman.

A 25 metre square ring was set up with the white picket fencing and there were some beautiful crystal trophies on offer to the winners of the events along with, of course, rosettes and bags of Pedigree dog food.

At the first of these events which was held in 1996, we had about 50 spectators plus the competitors. This year over 400 spectators purchased tickets and along with the spectators and their friends there were over 500 people in the hall. There is no doubt that this was one of the best events we have ever run - certainly the atmosphere all day was just superb.

In the Starters’ Class 15 were entered and 12 ran and the dreaded first run of the day went to young Eloise Ansell from Rushden. She was handling a working sheepdog and her routine was ‘Tragedy’ by Steps. Eloise appeared in the KCJO Ring at last year’s Crufts and did a smashing routine but I am afraid the one at Coventry did not work out very well. The dog didn’t seem very keen to do a routine which obviously they had practised to perfection in training but as always Eloise looked a little cutie in her stars and stripes outfit so she got a thunderous round of applause at the finish even if she did not receive a rosette.

On the whole, the standard in the Starters’ Class was good, bearing in mind that it is Starters and obviously a lot of people are just trying to get started in the sport. The winner in this class was Rachel Codworth who scored 22.07 points. She worked a one year old cross breed to ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison.

Rachel Cudworth, winner of the Starters with “Pretty Woman”.

In second place was Romain Mould from Peterborough handling a six year old GSD to ‘Bailamos’ by Enrique Iglesias gaining 19.52 points. Third place was Carole Thornley handling a four and a half year old Belgian Shepherd bitch performing to ‘The Clog Dance’ by Ferdinand Hereco. Fourth went to Cheridah Stamford with her five and a half year old GSD bitch. She performed a routine to ‘Candle in the Wind’ by Elton John. Cheridah also picked up the judge’s special trophy which was a joint decision made by all of the judges at the end of the day and was probably a tribute to Cheridah actually performing as she has to use crutches on a permanent basis.

A total of 12 dogs worked in Starters and there was a good variation in breeds with two GSD, an Old English Sheepdog, a Spitz, a Munsterlander, two Belgian Shepherds, three cross breeds and two working Sheepdogs.
In Novice there were 21 dogs entered and 18 actually worked and the competition really started to hot up in this class. Richard Curtis set the pace running eighth when he did a routine to ‘The Great Escape’ by Elmer Bernstein. He also brought a new meaning to the term “crawl with your dog”. As with a lot of handlers, the dress suited the routine they were doing and Richard was wearing a striped prisoner outfit! His score was going to be hard to beat at 29.01 and Richard was the eventual winner. Audrey Johnson running 19th finished in second place with 25.87 points with her routine to ‘A Sad Old Day’ by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and, as you may guess, she was dressed as a miner complete with hat. Tracey Ansell who ran fourth took third place with her standard poodle dog. She performed a super routine to ‘New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra and she dressed the part as well with some rather small shorts and a rather small top complete with all the star spangled adornments. I don’t know who I watched more - Tracey or the dog.

Paula Ackary who ran third took fourth place with 22.62 points. She performed her routine to ‘Pump up the Jam’ by Technotronic and very with it and swinging it was for Paula. Again there was a good selection of breeds. The German Spitz handled by Carol Mortimer did a good round and there was a Swedish Vallhund. Amongst the other different breeds one of the sweetest looking was Yvonne Robson’s Bichon Frisé. They performed to ‘The Snowman’ and very charming it was too.

Kay Laurence and Mary Ray, winners of the pairs class.

Amusing

A lot of routines on the day were amusing but one of the highlights for me was Kay Laurence when she performed with her eight year old working sheepdog bitch to ‘Nutcracker’ by Tchaikovsky. She came in dressed as the Sugar Plum Fairy or rather as I should say a plum with a bulbous maroon dress and a green fez hat and the sight of Kay prancing about light on her feet to ballet music absolutely brought the house down.

In Intermediate there were seven entries and all the dogs ran. Six of the seven were Border Collies or working sheepdogs; the only non-collie was a six year old Golden Retriever called Jessamar Bobby Dazzler and what an absolutely super dog it was. Unfortunately he only got sixth place but he is a terrifically powerful dog with a terrific personality and I think we will see a lot more of him. Running sixth and eventually taking first place was Evelyn Price with her Border Collie. She did an excellent routine with 28.23 points to ‘Lord of the Dance’. We were to see another rendition of this in Advanced.

Running last in this class but finishing in second place with 26.91 points was Linda Topliss. This was to compilation of Mozart music. The breed of her dog is stated as a Bearded Collie although it looks like a working sheepdog. Paula Ackary running fifth got 25.83 marks and went into third place. Richard Curtis running third came in dressed in uniform and took fourth place with his rendition of ‘Hot Stuff/Stripper’ mix, not removing too many clothes on the way but enough to keep the crowd happy. Anne De Rizzio with her six year old working sheepdog took fourth place on 23.48 working to ‘Working My Way Back to You’ by the Detroit Spinners.

Richard Curtis - “really getting down to it”!

There were eight dogs in Advanced but only five ran. The standard in the Advanced Class can only be termed frightening. I think the best comment of the day about Advanced came from Donelda Guy who was judging but had been due to complete with her dog. However, due to the restrictions of re-entering Jersey she could not compete. After seeing the standard she said to me afterwards that she was glad she did not compete and also if this was to be the standard of Advanced then perhaps it should not be judged at all due to the difficulty of actually separating the various routines into places.

Certainly the Advanced Class was a major advance. First to go in this class was Tina Humphrey with her seven year old cross breed to ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex. A very accomplished routine with Tina dressed in a cowboy outfit complete with red Stetson. She eventually took fifth place on 24.50 points. Next to go was Kath Hardman with her working sheepdog bitch and she performed to ‘Hooked on Can Can’. I am sure Kath will not mind me saying that she has a pretty good figure and hence looked quite the part in a very short skirt and a routine that was as close as you can get to the Can Can with a dog - another routine where I didn’t know whether to watch the dog or the handler. Kath certainly had to be fit in this routine. She eventually took fourth place with 28.21 points.
Next to go was Mary Ray handling Kizzy, her six year old working sheepdog bitch, and this was the second rendition of ‘Lord of the Dance’ that we were to see on the day. The strength of this routine is in the magical partnership she has with Kizzy. They are both long legged slab sided creatures and the balance and poise is very emotional to watch. Just the slightest of signals and change of balance to move the dog round; in fact quite a few people said that they could not see any signals at all. There were tears in quite a few eyes after this one and Mary eventually took third place with 29.28 points.

Next to go was Attila Szkukalek with his three year old Border Collie. He did his Charlie Chaplin routine which by now a lot of people have seen. This is no doubt show business at its best. I don’t know if Attila will ever be able to get another routine to equal this one because not only does the dog do some amazing things but he dressed exactly like Charlie Chaplin complete with a little black moustache and that is exactly how he does look - a slightly taller exact double of Charlie Chaplin, he even has the penguin feet to go with it. Attila was the eventual winner on 29.50 points.

Last to go in Advanced was Tina Humphrey handling her two year old working sheepdog bitch to ‘Victory’ by Bond. This routine brought a new meaning to the phrase “doggie dancing”. For most of the routine, only four feet of the combined partnership were on the floor. The dog must be incredibly fit to be able to sustain the amount of time spent on its back legs. It was a terrific routine and certainly pushed the barriers forward yet again but be aware that only the soundest, fittest and most well constructed hips can manage these moves. She went into second place with 29.38 points.

The last class of the day was Pairs. There were five pairs entered and only three ran. First to go was Cheridah Stamford and Lorina Miers with the little and large dogs, a GSD and a Sheltie. They performed to ‘A Couple of Swells’ by Irving Berlin. A smashing performance and very easy on the eye, they eventually took third place with 17.51 points. Next to go was Mary Ray and Kay Laurence who performed to ‘Circassian Circle’ by the Bobby Crowe Orchestra. They achieved 25.06 points and a very deserved first place. Last to go was Linda Topliss and Kath Hardman, who performed to ‘Symphony of the Seas’ by the Royal Philharmonic. Another excellent round which almost took winning place but not quite with second place on 24.89 points.

The judges this year were Paula Ackary, Lesley Brocklehurst, Annie Clayton, Donelda Guy, Attila Szkukalek, Linda Topliss and Carol Mortimer and the non adjudicating chairman of the judges was Peter Lewis. Only four out of our seven judges actually judged any one class and it was marked out of a maximum of 10 for each of three seconds as you would do in ice skating. The three sections were Conten,t Accuracy and Interpretation of the music. It certainly helped with the smooth-running of the event this year, the fact that the judges made their decisions quickly and there was not much delay between each participant. There is no doubt that the standard of judging this year was excellent but as a purely personal opinion I thought the base line used in the case of some judges was a little high. If you are continually marking between eight and 10, this does not give you much leeway.

Problem

In fact, in the Advanced Class quite a few of the sections achieved full marks of 10 from the individual judges. The problem with that being of course if the next routine is better, there is nowhere left to go. I probably liken it to a judge in obedience giving clear rounds. Of course, most obedience judges would say in a heelwork routine in obedience there is nothing good enough to give a clear round to base on the same premise that if the next dog comes in slightly better, there is nowhere left to go.

Although in the Advanced Class all the dogs were of the collie type, in all other classes there was a superb variety of breeds and HTM is a wonderful showcase for the non-collie dogs. And some of the moves that these non-collies do can only be described as brilliant - the more intricate moves, it is quite apparent, are not now restricted to the Advanced class as handlers in Starters and Novice were performing movements in their routines which only last year you would only see in Advanced.

Although I call the sport Heelwork to Music, which is generally the name it is now known as in the UK, of course several different styles have emerged. A lot of routines still have a certain amount of heelwork in them but nobody could visualise actually winning a class that was based on all heelwork anymore. You must have additional moves with it, or you could call them tricks if you like, but there are definitely two different styles now. The one has got a percentage of heelwork in it with a great effort to choreograph the routine to music and a combination of additional moves which again will complement the music.

Succession

The other type is what we probably call Freestyle and that can vary to virtually no heelwork and just a succession of moves that would loosely be choreographed to the music and at the other end of the scale we have routines that bear little resemblance to the music and are really just a succession of dog tricks. I think in Coventry next year we will probably have to split each of our classes into two different sections.

My only concern at the moment, and again this is purely personal, is that in the quest for different moves, it sometimes seems to me that the dog’s safety and natural ability may be ignored. I hope handlers when they feel under pressure to come up with a different move, will remember this point and not endeavour to train a dog to do something that is not within its capabilities.

Well that was the end of another very exciting day and a milestone in the history of Heelwork to Music in the UK. If you couldn’t make it this year, it is definitely an event to attend next year.