It’s been thousands of times over the years (and with 5 different dogs) that I’ve heard those three little words from agility trial Timers. “Go, when ready.” As I watched dogs today at a local trial, it struck me that until recently, I didn’t understand the power behind that thought.
Over a dozen years ago, my instructor bestowed a gift one night after class when she told me I was ready to begin trialing. I had much yet to learn, yet my progress was strong and consistent enough that I’d earned the right to journey through the ring gates and step to the line. SQUEEE!!! Being new, I of course wanted to compete almost from the first day of class and had considered entering a show without her knowledge (how rambunctious!). Catholic school guilt kept me from doing it. My instructor told us whatever we did during our first runs would impact both the dog’s and our experiences for a long time to come.
I value that moment, it’s a treasured one in my agility memory box and it still gives me a smile and a sense of pride, acknowledgement and attainment. I hope for the opportunities to share similar moments with my students. We train as a team, and it makes sense that we consider together when “ready” happens. Ready, that is … not perfect. Ready, in that criteria has been determined, met and sustained sufficiently for success. Ready, in that mindset is secure and there is confidence in capabilities. Ready in that the dog’s needs will be honored and supported.
I can hear the voices of some now saying, “I make my own decisions. Wait for what? It’s my life, I do what I want!” I’ve done that as well. Perhaps not as dramatically, but nonetheless, I’ve done it. Yup, brought a dog into the ring that could have been a bit more skills solid, because I wanted to compete. Darn that a-frame contact that I allowed my second dog to bounce during his first competition run. My instructors had NOT said we were ready, but I was “smart” by then and knew better than anyone. The next 8 or so years was spent being humbled by the less-than-stellar contacts that my prayers to the agility gods (and plenty of lessons with various people) did not fully resolve. There’s great truth to the adage about first impressions lasting forever. My dog’s first a-frame in competition had plenty of enthusiasm, and left barely an impression by him on the yellow. I struggled far too long to get it right from that moment forward.
I’m excited to see the AKC World Team Tryouts to select Team USA this weekend. I can still feel the hair on my arms standing up that first time I ventured into the Tryouts arena and breathed the air of electricity that filled every inch of the facility. There’s nothing like it, it was the Holy Grail for this local time gal who had only dreamed of things so big. The dog I brought to that Tryout was 2 years old. Go, when ready. Hmmmm, it was an amazing experience, and despite bobbles, we came home with a placement ribbon. We’d done ok, finishing 9th overall. Not a shabby showing for this green team.
Today, I wonder about the status of my “go, when ready” that year. I’d spent the year before Tryouts (practically from the first day I stepped into the Novice ring with my boy) wearing a suit of red, white and blue armor. To be perceived as worthy, I determined you had to dress the part, and my agility wardrobe became patriotic year ‘round, not just on Memorial Day or 4th of July. Did my armor make me ready? Nope. If I waited a bit longer to jump into that showcase, it’s a safe bet to say I’d have been able to predict and prevent the unpreparedness that lived within me. I didn’t win a spot on the Team that year, and that is a good thing. I had gone, but I wasn’t ready. My dog’s skills were solid, very solid, for a dog so young (I had learned the value of training to be prepared). My instructor told me we had the skills to make the Team. I’d heard what I dreamed to hear. Go, you’re ready. Inside me, there was still some settling that had to happen. Mentally, that first time, I faked a bit of bravado and sass. A misstep in one of the rounds cost me an off-course (elimination) score. I actually breathed a quick sigh of relief and powered through the rest of that run to finish strong. A clean score would have jettisoned me up the ranks and made a spot on Team a real possibility. Did my brain know that I should not go because I was not ready? Probably. Good brain, it had my back.
Would I have changed that adventure? No, and I thank the instructors who pushed me to reach so far.
I came back the next year and did it then. A year is a long time when you are waiting for a dream to happen. And then again, it was a blink of an eye as I reflect. It was a year to tighten up my mental game and bring my self-image into balance.
Today, the dog I run is pure entertainment. And perhaps, we may never represent anything other than us. There is no armor. There are no approvals and validations except those from my gut. I have students now, and seeing them make their way to their dreams of the Novice ring or international competition is good and fills my heart. Maybe we’ll go to a Tryouts together. That would be fun. Should I go, I am certain I will walk into the arena as ready in every aspect as a champion must be, as ready as I can be. What will be different this time (if there is a this time) is that I will not be waiting to hear anyone except myself voice the magical “Go, when ready” phrase. It’s been a long life of waiting for permission to go, to do, to be, and to be validated by outside forces. So this time (I think more and more there will be a this time), it’s my finger on the timer’s box. I wish this for others. To know when it is time to step to the line, whatever line it is … Novice, newbie, or old hat, and to do it when your heart ensures that confidence equals skillset and self-image is solid.
Go, when ready. You’ll feel good.