Anyone following this blog may have noticed I’ve been a bit down in regards to my trialing. It’s gotten even worse since what I feel was my horrendous job handling in July, and I’ve been really struggling mentally: beating myself up, comparing myself and Jig to other teams, and waging war with self-doubt and frustration. There were a few times I honestly questioned why I keep doing this. I have a good dog with quite a bit of talent and I feel as though I’m failing her; that I’m not holding up my end of the team, and I keep having doubts as to whether or not I’m capable of bringing that talent out, or showcasing it in a competent manner. Yes, I have even, on more than one occasion, thought about throwing in the towel.
Thing is, I’m a wee bit stubborn. Yeah. That’s a well-kept secret, right?
Several weeks ago, with the RRV trial looming, I started going through runs in my head, cause that’s what I do. We were headed to Menards and I was listening to the radio, visualizing a cattle run and I suddenly realized, even in that fictional run, I was eyeballing Jig nearly the entire time.
Normally, doing chores and when I train, I watch my stock. I only put my eyes on Jig for the occasional quick check-in, or when she’s wrong. I know where she is and what she’s doing by how my stock are reacting. Yet, when I trial, I’ve got her pinned nearly the whole time. Apparently, it’s such a habit, I even do it when imagining runs.
It was an epiphany, and I made up my mind to make certain I broke that habit at the RRV trial.
First day, first run, sheep, course B, trial nerves a-jitter, I sent Jig on a go-bye. She started to cross over, and I got on her like stink on shit. She, understandably, reacted negatively, to which I reacted negatively, I pursued, and then… I caught myself. I turned away, put my eyes on my sheep and kept them there. A good thing, too, because these sheep did not want Jig anywhere within fifty feet of them. One step either direction sent them bolting, and it kept us both on our toes.
I managed to keep my eyes off Jig unless she was wrong, and then a strange thing happened. I became incredibly calm. Calmer than I think I’ve ever been during a trial. In fact, my trial nerves fizzled out and didn’t interfere the entire weekend. Well, not in the way they normally have. I believe they became conspicuous by their absence and caused Jig to question who I was and what I’d done with her normal handler.
My runs were still not as good as I hoped they would be, but, unlike previous trial weekends, I didn’t get discouraged. Quite the opposite. I felt oddly optimistic. I’ve been super focused at getting Jig to back off her stock, and I saw awesome results of that over the weekend. Nowhere as obvious as the duck arena where she remained calm, controlled, and often flat-footed. (Our duck runs have had a tendency to leave judges breathless by the end, and not necessarily in a good way.)
It became apparent, however, that in dealing with her pushiness, something else slipped and now is a hole in need of plugging. As someone put it to me over the weekend though, ‘training is a lot like that whack-a-mole game. You just get one down, and another pops up.’ And, also…
Along with my nerves becoming a non-issue, something else occurred… my frame of mind changed. I suddenly realized I’ve been so focused on the endgame, that I’ve lost sight of everything else. I haven’t been fair to Jig, or myself. My tendency to compare her and I to other teams, and my ultimate goals for her and I have been making me impatient, which has led to short-cuts in training, and frustration in trialing. Jig is young, and she’s talented. I’ve had enough unsolicited comments in that regard over the years to know I’m not just being ‘kennel-blind’ in thinking as much. I want to do right by her, by her bloodlines, and by her breeder, and so I’ve put us under too much pressure to enjoy the journey we’re on.
This past weekend, although not stellar, I finally remembered to do just that.
Overall, I had four goals going into the trial:
- Watch the stock, not my dog. Mission accomplished, with remarkable side-effects.
- Finish her Advanced Duck title. See #3
- Finish her Open Sheep title. Jig is (pending official paperwork) Heartsong of Shadowdance OTDcs ATDd
- Earn one advanced leg in either cattle or sheep. Failed here, but saw results of training, so not as down about that as I normally would be.
We’ve got some things to work on before the Coyote Classic in a mere… eek! three weeks, and I just hope I can keep my outlook the same.