This past weekend was the Bark-a-Ritaville Freestyle competition. It was Tessa's last Freestyle competition for the "season" and I was very much looking forward to it being over with!
Freestyle has not been the same since I lost Speedy last January. He was my Freestyle dog. He may have been retired from competition for quite some time, but he was still the dog I thought of as my dance partner. The ease and elegance with which he would glide along, beating his paws to the music, always eager to move to music . . . none of my other dogs are anything like that!
But, at least until last year, Tessa enjoyed Freestyle and I had hope that I would eventually find her style and we would excel together. She has the temperament. She has always loved going into the ring with me.
But we reached the Intermediate level and we ended up crashing our heads into a very solid brick wall over the need for everything to be on verbal cue.
And then, starting this past spring, our work on verbal cues started to demotivate her - seriously! The girl who had always bounced into the ring with me, happy to do just about anything, suddenly began to be stressed and wanted to avoid the ring any time there was music playing. For the most part we still did fine in Agility, but both Rally FrEe and Freestyle went right into the toilet for us!
It was a rough year.
At the Star Spangled Swing in late June, Tessa managed to qualify for the first time in the Intermediate division. She did do work behind me, we did pace changes, and I guess I managed just enough without obvious hand cues (although there were still more than there really should be at that level). We bombed in Frackville in September, but at that event I pretty much led her around by the hand! That was really the high point of her demotivation and I just wanted her to enjoy herself as much as possible. The judge in Frackville was not strict, and we didn't even come close! Tessa sort of had fun . . . but she was still very far from her former level of enjoyment.
I did have a blast with both Bandit and Dean at that competition. However, Bandit's Freestyle career is in the future, and Dean is retired other than having fun to music with a tug.
So, from a present time competition perspective, it was a low
And I realized about then that all of that success that I had in Freestyle . . . it was 99% Speedy! HE was the reason why our performances looked good, even when he was hardly doing a thing he was supposed to! He truly had a talent for putting on a great show - he drew people in and they just loved to watch him. And I could choreograph for him in my sleep!
And that realization left me . . . just about nowhere!! Tessa and I had trained and worked all summer and things just seemed to get worse. I really started to think that maybe I simply cannot do this anymore. Maybe I never could, and I just lucked out with a really special dog in Speedy.
Tessa and I were already signed up for Bark-a-Ritaville and I did want to take Bandit down to play in Innovations. So, I left Tessa entered, but I did nothing . . . absolutely NOTHING to prepare! I had absolutely no hope of doing anything other than to take Tessa out and have her follow my hand around.
But three things happened that seem to have turned everything around . . .
First, we had our Rally FrEe competition a couple of weeks ago. After a disastrous video event in August, I entered Tessa in our live event in the Alternate Novice class. I just wanted to go back to the beginning and see if we could build some confidence and enjoyment back. In Alt Novice there would be all Novice level signs, plus we only needed 100 points, so I could use hands galore.
It was a very fun weekend. It was relaxing and I enjoyed spending the time with the other competitors in that environment, as well as the time with Tessa and Dean (the first day) and Tessa and Bandit (the second day). Tessa enjoyed all three runs, especially the last, and she qualified in all three runs and we earned our Alternate Novice title.
It felt good to accomplish something again. It left me feeling better about things.
Second, I decided to play with Tessa a bit with a target stick to see if we could get some verbal twirls. It was just a simple little exercise where I drew the path of the twirl with the spin and click/treated her for each one, then I said "twirl" and drew the path and click/treated her for each one. Finally I said "twirl" without drawing the path, and she did it!!!
But even more than that . . . she was enjoying the heck out of herself! Her tail was waggling, her eyes were shining! THAT was my old Tessa, right there!!!
I even have video!
This past Saturday, on the morning of the competition, I edited Tessa's music. We were scheduled very late in the afternoon, so I had quite a lot of time to get ready.
After I edited the music, I took a shower. While in the shower, I thought up a routine. Just like that. I wasn't even really trying - I just did it.
Honestly, I wish that could have happened two months ago, but at this point I'll take what I can get.
After I got out of the shower, I wrote the routine down on a piece of paper and on the way to the event, I played her music and memorized it.
I had never performed it, never walked through it, but I knew Tessa could do everything that was in it. I could tell it would work well for her and it would allow her strengths to shine, even though it was not technically complex at all!
So, we went, we got to the event at lunch time, we visited with people, a lot of people got to see Bandit.
Finally, it was time for Tessa and I to take our turn.
It went well. She did almost everything I asked of her. I did have to use some hand cues, but not as many as usual. It went better, I thought, than any attempt we have made since last year!
And Tessa had fun. Her tail was waggling, she was comfortable and fluid, and she very clearly enjoyed showing off her best moves! She got a kick out of the ending, in particular!
The people enjoyed it. We got tons of very positive feedback! And . . . it qualified!!!!! That shocked me beyond belief. I thought we would NQ with at least one 8.4 because of too many hands. The judge did comment on too many hands, but I guess I didn't use so many that it couldn't qualify.
I have no video because we were strictly forbidden to take any, but I plan to make a video of it sometime in the near future to share.
There are three things about this whole thing that make me extremely happy.
First, that Tessa had so much fun. I can do this with her if she can go out there and enjoy herself like that. Q or NQ does not matter at all! The return of the shining eyes and the wagging tail were the biggest accomplishment of the year for Tessa and me.
Second, Tessa, in earning this Q, has gotten as far as Speedy got in WCFO Freestyle! I realized that after she qualified. And to me that is a big deal. Granted, he struggled with different issues that prevented him from going further, but getting as far as he did was a huge accomplishment. Tessa has now matched it.
I can't ask for any more of her than that! To me that's kind of like she earned her own little Championship title! She may not be the dancer he was, but she got herself to the level where he finished!
Finally . . . I feel like maybe I can actually do this. Creating that routine, even under very, very odd circumstances, was like some kind of breakthrough. Like the ability was still there all along, but I just couldn't access it. But now I did. That is the first good routine I have actually created, from start to finish, since losing Speedy. It took almost a year, but it finally happened. And - it was a great routine for Tessa - perfect for her, actually. I kept the paper I wrote it down on and I mean to practice it with her, tweak it just a bit to smooth a few pieces out, and perform it with her at the Swing next summer. I honestly don't care if she ever gets that last Q to earn the title. I really want to perform her routine to enjoy it with her. She and I have a routine now and that feels great!
So, we came away from Bark-a-Ritaville much better off than we went into it! I am actually looking forward to getting ready for next year! Bandit had a great experience, too, but I'll write about him in his own post another time!
Congrats, Miss Tessa, on a truly great achievement!!