The fun event which became a premier competition
is the twenty-fourth year that the Pedigree Agility Stakes Final
has been held at the Olympia International Christmas Horse Show.
From its beginnings in 1979, where it was a bit of a fun event
and an added attraction, this competition has grown to become
one of the premier dog agility finals in the world.
Dog agility is now a major canine sport throughout the world in countries as diverse as Russia, Japan, Australia and the USA. Indeed, just a couple of months ago a UK team competed at the World Agility Championships in Germany, and came back with a silver and a bronze medal. At Olympia this year, we will be seeing some of the competitors who competed for the UK at these World Championships.
As usual, the qualifying process to compete in the finals at Olympia is very rigorous. For the large dogs, twelve heats were held at Open and Championship Agility Shows throughout the UK with up to 450 dogs competing in each competition and the best 10 dogs from each of these competitions being invited to one of the six semi finals, three of which were held at the Royal Show and three at the Town & Country Festival at Stoneleigh.
This process whittles down over 5,000 dogs to the top 120 and from the 20 which compete at each of these six semi finals, the top five are invited through to the Grand Final at Olympia. However, the qualifying process does not stop there, as on the Saturday morning at Olympia these top 30 dogs compete and only the top eight are invited through to the Main Ring on the Saturday evening. Perhaps this is why it has remained the premier competition; all the top handlers in this sport want to get to Olympia but they know that the standard in the final will be extremely high and you cannot get through to Olympia on a one-off good run - consistency in good performance is what is needed.
Once more the Pedigree Mini Dogs will be joining us on Friday, and even for the Minis the qualifying process is just as rigorous. Ten heats are held at Open and Championship Agility Shows throughout the UK with up to 250 dogs competing at each. Only the top two dogs from each of these heats are invited forward to a semi final at the City of Birmingham show in September, so from an initial starting list of over 2000 dogs we have 20 dogs in our semi-final and then the best 10 from Birmingham are invited to compete in the final at Olympia.
This system ensures that once more we will see the cream of mini dog agility competing in these finals.
The third event at Olympia is the Pedigree ABC Agility Final, with "ABC" standing for "Anything But a Collie". In large dog classes the Border Collies and Working Sheepdogs seem to take all the top spots, in no small part due to their intelligence, ability to turn on a sixpence, trainability and sheer enthusiasm. The ABC class highlights all the other breeds which, as you will see, are anything but slow and are sure to provide us with a very exciting event.
On the Sunday at Olympia, it is the turn of the international dogs as for the third year we have the Pedigree European Agility Cup with competitors from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Austria and of course the top placed English handler from the final of the Pedigree Agility Stakes held on the Saturday evening. This competition grows in importance every year and more of the top European competitors are going through the procedures for their dogs to comply with the British Pet Passport Scheme as they strive to qualify for this major event. All the European competitors will have taken top honours in classes in their own country in order to be recommended as an entrant for this major European agility competition.
On the final day at Olympia we have a new competition and something slightly different as it is the debut of the Pedigree Flyball Competition. It is noisy, fast and furious and you have to watch very very closely to see which team is in the lead. There will be four teams competing in this initial competition representing four of the major UK dog training clubs. Four dogs compete in each team and it is judged on a knockout basis. The team which goes through to the next round will be the team that can get four dogs down the racing lane to collect a ball from the flyball box without faults and back again in the fastest time. Be sure not to miss this as it is the one competition which raises the roof at Crufts!
Judging any major final is an honour but to judge a Pedigree Final at Olympia is a highlight of anyones career and this year we are pleased to welcome Mr Barrie Harvey. Barrie is one of the top trainers, handlers and judges in the UK and has handled his dogs in many of the countrys finals including Crufts. He has also been a previous judge of Crufts dog agility.
The list of competitors from this years finals reads like a "Whos Who" of dog agility with top competitors from throughout the British Isles and Europe competing. Just competing at Olympia is the best Christmas present that any dog agility handler can have. But of course the final accolade would be to take home one of the beautiful pieces of Pedigree engraved crystal engraved with the words "Pedigree Agility Winner at Olympia 2002".
Photo by Kit Houghton
Lesley Olden with Ag Ch Waggerland Whoosh of Nedlo
receiving their 2001 award from Tom Grant, National Breed Manager of Pedigree.
Photo by Kit Houghton
Lisa Bailey and Nora Batty, on their way to winning
the 2001 Pedigree Schmackos Mini Agility Stakes Final.