Hello – If this is your first visit to our blog, please be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to read the posts in the correct order. Please do not start from the top as you will be reading in reverse order! New posts appear at the top of the page, underneath this ‘sticky’ post.

This is an honest account of everything I have experienced over the past few weeks and it has been incredibly emotional to relive and share. Something I say may resonate with someone, give them a small amount of comfort, hope, or just remind them that there is someone else in the world going through the same as they are.  Amid the chaos,  to be reminded that we are all connected and share experiences, can be quite profound. If these words touch just one person, that it has been worth the amount of tears I have shed.

This is Grace’s ‘journey’  – ‘learning to dance in the paw prints of the legend’ that was, and always will be, Chandi. I will be posting videos of her progress and trying to give an insight into her training, as well as talking about other dog-related subjects. I do however, reserve the right to talk about anything and everything….!

I you would like to, please leave comments; subscribe to the blog so you will be notified of new posts, or even share it with your friends if you find anything here that pleases you…

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Bad habits…

I showed Grace how to do Flying Lead Changes (skipping) exactly two years ago. Looking back over those videos of all her early training sessions is just wonderful.
It didn’t take Grace long to understand what I wanted her to with her front feet and neither did it take long to perfect the move. Grace then put her own spin on it – deciding she wanted to do the movement with her left leg in a much more exaggerated fashion than with her right, and this really spoiled the balance and made it difficult to see that she was truly skipping.
Along with that little problem came another – Grace tended to straighten her left leg rather than flexing at the knee while her leg was lifted (mid skip!), which meant although she was definitely landing one foot then the other as the movement requires, it wasn’t as clear and obvious as I would have liked.

More intricate movements seem to be the ones that an audience will miss, unless they are presented perfectly. I adore teaching these moves and weaving them into routines, even though they can take so long to get right.
If I were teaching this most beautiful of dressage movements – Flying Lead Changes/One Tempi to a horse, I would not be doing it with the horse at liberty. I would be controlling and giving aids using the metal bit in the horse’s mouth, with my seat and legs(and most likely using spurs as well).

Grace, on the other hand, is free to leave my side at any time she chooses. I never train any movement with Grace attached to me by a lead. The only attachment between us is the one that matters the most: our love for each other.

When we’re out on one of our walks, I only have to shout over to Grace who is most likely digging a hole or got her head down a rabbit hole “Do you want to do this?”, and Grace comes charging over to me and having noticed which movement I’m doing, joins in with exuberance.
Grace is quite amazing, which is why I named her Amazing Grace, but it never fails to impress me that when she runs over to join in with a quick burst of skipping, that not only does she notice which movement I am doing, but when she gets to my left side, she also joins in on the correct leg. If she starts too soon and gets it slightly out of time, she throws in an extra hop so our movements match and we are both ‘on the same leg’. Pretty impressive? Absolutely.

For the past nine weeks I have been working on re-training the skipping , helping Grace to understand that I don’t want her to ‘try so hard’ on her left leg movement, along with getting her flex her knee while her left leg is off the ground. We have worked endlessly and trying to stop her trying so hard has been a tough lesson for her to understand!

I did wonder if Grace was going to be able to get out of her bad habit. It was entirely my fault, not hers. I should have nipped it in the bud the moment she started bouncing too high on her left leg, but honestly, skipping next to her and matching our movements, it felt as though we were flying as we bounced so high! It wasn’t until I shot some video footage of her skipping that it dawned on me, I’d let her get into a habit, that while fun, was spoiling the movement.

The past three weeks have seen us able to skip perfectly…. until Grace puts too much effort in, and then I have to remind her that less, is very definitely more, as far as skipping is concerned.
When I first performed ‘skipping’ with Pepper back at the very first competition I entered, in 1998, I wondered if anyone even realized that she was indeed skipping. It wasn’t really until Chandi’s Dressage video was posted by another Freestyler, on YouTube that things started to change. Many of the comments complimented the skipping …. and when I discovered the video was being talked about on a Dressage forum, I did feel so proud of my dogs and the incredible things they have been able to learn, perfect and perform.

So today, on my day off from work, Grace and I went to our favourite place and as well as having fun and walking for two and a half hours, we also did a little skipping – simply because it’s fun!
We were on the path just by the car park and as it was straight and level, I asked Grace if she wanted to skip – she did! We only did about eight strides, but she did it so well! We also added the instant halt we’ve perfected over the last few weeks – we both land at the same time, front feet together and stay stationary for a second or two. Grace takes her cue from my body movements, I don’t say a word to her, and I can decide to ‘halt’ at any time while we’re skipping and Grace just matches me.

Anyway we were skipping on the path by the car park and after praising Grace and playing with her, we headed towards our car. I only then realised that there was another car parked next to ours with two people stood by it, watching us. They commented on the incredible control Grace had just shown and they then said it was amazing seeing her skip and matching her movements to mine! That comment totally made my day. They had no difficulty in seeing what Grace was doing and they loved it! Job done, eh Gracie?!

I continue to work with Grace for one reason: I love it. So does she. So we busy ourselves with being the best version of ourselves we can be on every level, the rest will fall into place.
I certainly hope so.




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The show must go on …but only if Grace is okay!

Grace is now two years old. Two years, one month and one day to be precise. How fast the time goes by. The speed frightens me and the way life can change in an instant. These days I try very hard to live in the moment rather than worrying about the future. I also remember to appreciate all the tiny moments that make up a day and fix them firmly into my memory. My favourite moments all feature Grace as the star turn: half opening one eye and seeing her precious face, eyes wide open just waiting for me to wake up so she can drape her exquisitely patterned body over me, and half close her eyes as she repeatedly licks my arm while I tell her how beautiful she is and gently scratch behind her ears, has to be one of my favourites!
It’s the same every day and if I lived to be one hundred, I would still be thrilled and honoured to be part of this ritual and many others.  Savour the moment. Wise words, believe me.

Not having blogged for a while doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy! We celebrated Grace’s second Birthday with her favourite things: a long walk filled with fun and games, a new toy and a slap-up tea of organic raw lamb hearts and a small amount of  puréed green vegetables fresh picked from our garden. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

Birthday Caterpillar!

Birthday Caterpillar!

We have also been working more on our Showjumping routine, making it longer and having a blast in the process! Grace just loves doing Freestyle, in fact, she loves doing everything and her enthusiasm is infectious! I must have done something right training her as she is so keen to work with me that she doesn’t look for any reward – just performing her vast repertoire of clever tricks and hearing how good she is, makes her wiggle with joy.
She is now so confident that I can take her to any location, no matter how busy, and she will focus on me and what I ask of her, with just one word from me. That level of focus is incredibly powerful and outstanding from this formerly terrified puppy, and it is quite joyful to behold!

Grace understands everything – is that because I’ve taken the time to explain everything to her? I know that many people don’t believe that that level of communication and understanding is possible – I am very lucky to know that it is, and how to achieve it. Whether it’s that instant focus Grace gives me; the way she scans the sky for the helicopter when we hear one over head; opening her mouth and keeping it open without me forcing her in any way so I can check her teeth; or confidently checking out something she’s never encountered instead of running scared, she truly understands and participates in life rather than just being dragged along for the ride. I am very proud of how Grace has turned out: I played a small part in her relatively new-found confidence and all that effort during the first year of her life paid off.

Grace comes with me to two choir rehearsals each week and takes her place on her bed next to the piano. She gets really excited as she loves being part of it all. She likes to ‘meet and greet her public’ and between songs will scoot from her bed and go from person to person on the front row of the choir. If the conductor is praising the choir or for any reason a burst of applause is necessary, Grace thinks it’s all for her and likes to throw back her head and join in ‘WooooowooooooooWOOOOOOOO!’, much to the amusement of the choir members.
One of my piano students, Georgia joined the choir for a while and Grace loved to make a beeline for her each week as soon as we arrived. Sadly Georgia’s school workload and the late finish of the choir practise on a school night meant that she had to stop coming. But Georgia has continued to practise the piano with gusto and has again reaped the benefits of all that hard work.

March sees two competitions in Shropshire for young musicians and Georgia took part in both along with her sister, Amber. At just 13 years old, Georgia was the youngest in the ’15 and under solo’ class and the ’15 and under test piece’ class at Oswestry Youth Music Festival: but she won both (giving an outstanding performance of a Grade 8 standard piece – Gershwin’s Prelude No.1), with Amber placing second just one point behind her sister! Joining forces,  the sisters then won the 15 and under Duet class playing one of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances.
Then last weekend at Minsterley Eisteddfod, once again, Georgia won the ’15 and under’ class, and together with Amber, won the ensemble class for the third year running. To add to the achievements, Georgia was then awarded the £250 bursary given to the ‘Outstanding young instrumentalist’ for the second year running. In total, one of my students has won this special award for the last four years. I am incredibly proud of both Amber and Georgia, and of Fleur (aged 12 )who came third in the same class as Georgia, and her sister Irene who was awarded third place in the younger category!

March is a busy month for me with the preparations for these piano competitions, but also for Grace! On the same weekend as the Eistedfodd, there is a Freestyle/Heelwork to Music show and as it is only an hour away from where we live, we have entered for the last two years. This is really good experience for Grace to try out her whole routine in a strange place and with a small audience. As she gains experience I will feel comfortable accepting some of the exciting invites to events that I regularly receive due to being on Britain’s Got Talent.

We entered our Showjumping routine in the novice freestyle class on both Saturday and Sunday and all our training was put to the test as we entered the ring each day, but especially on the Saturday.
Grace was very excited being at the show, but still focusing on what she was there to do, I was really pleased with how she coped and the fact that she only barked once on four separate occasions during the routine through sheer excitement!
We had been to another small event back in January to gain a little more experience where Grace had barked uncontrollably as she executed a couple of moves that she finds really exciting. Since then, I have been ‘naming and explaining’ ‘barking’ and ‘noise’ and she proved that she understands and is able to keep the noise level more or less under control. In fact, the moves where she barked uncontrollably just weeks before, she was totally silent!
Sadly, at the end of the routine where she finally jumps over the jump, she mistimed her jump, taking off way too soon and as I watched in horror, crashed into the pole in mid air. Hitting the pole really hard, it flew out of the ring and I was very concerned that Grace had hurt herself. It really upset me and I straight away called her over to me. She reluctantly approached me – I felt she wanted to carry on and perform the final moves of the routine as we had rehearsed – but I wanted her to stop and see if she was okay. She came to my side and looked at me – we took a quick bow and left the ring, me dragging the showjump behind me. Grace seemed fine. I was far from fine – in fact the only word I could think of to describe what had happened and how I felt, was ‘crap’.

I checked Grace over fully once we got back to the car – she did seem fine and not in any pain at all. I gave her a dose of Homeopathic Arnica to help with any possible bruising on her legs where she hit the pole and seriously considered whether we should return to the show the next day. This is supposed to be fun for both of us, not to end up with Grace hurting herself.
I decided to sleep on it and see how Grace was the next morning before making a decision. No signs of injury when she got up on Sunday, so we took the showjump up into the hills to the flat piece of ground where we train and set the jump up. Grace approached the jump confidently, but jumped so high she cleared it by what looked like a mile! Obviously  the mishap with the jump the day before had shaken her a little, but by sending her over the jump a few more times, I could see her relax and she stopped trying so hard to clear it. After that short confidence building session, the next time she would be faced with the jump was once again, in the ring.
Our attempt on Sunday at our routine was far more successful than on the Saturday – I was so delighted with how Grace performed – just a couple of tiny mistakes, which were my fault for giving her the wrong cue …. and she only barked once during the entire routine! And… she cleared the jump as she had practised and finished the routine as we had planned! We were awarded first place on the Saturday and picked up second place on Sunday.
The whole routine is risky. In fact,  I never attempted anything quite like this with Chandi – I wasn’t brave enough, nothing to do with Chandi’s ability.
It is so much easier to keep your dog with you for the entire routine. This showjumping involves Grace not only leaving my side on multiple occasions to perform moves in her guise as the ‘naughty pony’, but also performing behind my back on verbal cue alone.
For a two year old, well in my experience, for a dog of any age, Grace is incredible. I am just in awe of how far she’s come and how confident she now is in order to be able to perform as she does. We both absolutely adore our routine – I have certainly had to ‘think outside the box’ in order to take the theme of the routine Chandi made famous and make it totally different and unique – it would have been easy to do the same moves and exactly the same routine, but that wasn’t a route I wanted to go down.
Grace and I also introduced a move that I haven’t seen anyone else do before – standing foot crosses – it is just the cutest thing and we both love it!


So, Grace is gaining experience and confidence and we are enjoying ourselves. It feels good to get audience reaction to our routine and to know we are heading down the correct route for us both. Good times ahead!

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Behind the scenes…

Five months ago, Grace’s ‘show jumping routine’ didn’t exist. Chandi’s did. This routine, along with the Dressage routine have a special place in my heart. Both of the routines worked so well to showcase Chandi’s extraordinary talents and have, apart from one of the videos of us on BGT, the most views on YouTube of all the videos of Chandi. It’s great that the Dressage routine that was uploaded years ago to YouTube  makes a bit of money from its popularity. It’s a shame that the money goes to the person that uploaded the video rather than those performing in the video…. but I guess on some level, that’s fair…

Anyway, I digress…

Because I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, I was completely stumped for many weeks trying to come up with Grace’s version of the Show jumping routine. My head was full of the routine as Chandi performed it and despite telling myself to ‘think outside the box’, I was totally devoid of ideas. One thing I did know for sure was that I couldn’t use the same music, as Grace is still to believe that Classical music isn’t out to kill her. Yes, she still screams when she hears anything that involves a piano, or strings, or woodwind or brass…. she does however, seem to appreciate anything with thumping drums, wailing electric guitars…. a little more than I do. So I had to completely rethink the entire routine. Seemingly impossible back then, but after weeks of racking my brains for an idea, I finally came up with a track Grace liked and that fitted the story of the routine.

Still the small matter of the choreography to come up with….

I knew that one of the moves Chandi did – picking up the pole in her mouth and running off with it – was one I wanted to teach Grace and use in our new routine. Grace, however, was frightened of the pole. No surprise there. It took ages to get her to pick it up, and even longer to get her to hold it in her mouth for any length of time. Every time she dropped it, the noise of it dropping, even onto grass, startled her and we were back to square one. But, slowly and with a terrific amount of encouragement, we were making progress. I knew we’d overcome that fear when I was busy setting up the jump for a training session and I turned round to see Grace running off with the pole in her mouth, stolen from by my feet. I couldn’t help but feel happy as I watched her gallop off and then start to practise twirling round and round with the pole in her mouth. How far we had come!

Watching the finished performance, it looks so easy. But, every single second of the routine has taken weeks of works to perfect. Every move, every idea – even the most simple things – have been endlessly worked on and fear have not just been overcome, but totally turned on their head. To anyone who would watch one of our routines and think that it’s ‘stupid’ or ‘easy’, or ‘doesn’t take any skill’ – all comments I have read (along with those that claim my dogs must have been beaten and abused in order to make them perform), I would invite them to come and watch us train, or better still, have a go themselves, and then make a comment.

With one move now ‘in the bag’, we had the rest of the routine to work on. The final move was also to stay the same – Grace jumping over the jump – finally getting my ‘naughty pony’ who had done everything to avoid doing what you’re supposed to do with a jump, to do the right thing.

Houston, we have (another) problem.

Grace wouldn’t jump over the jump. Something told me she was frightened of it. Once I’d got her to pop over the pole at its lowest height with me right beside her, it took me weeks to build her confidence enough that I could send her some distance to jump on her own. I used every opportunity I could when we were out on our walks to get her enjoying jumping over little logs and gradually she started to show signs of actually enjoying this new game. There were times however, when I despaired that we would ever be able to put the whole routine together and have Grace perform it without freaking out.

I also despaired about ever being able to come up with some moves unique to Grace that fitted the routine. But, inspiration arrived from somewhere, and I set about teaching Grace to knock down the jump stands. Well, first of course we had to overcome the significant fear of the jump stands making a clatter when they fell down and being brave enough to even try to push them over in the first place…never mind having Grace run over to them by herself and shoving them over so hard and fast that it looked like it was her idea as the ‘naughty pony’…

You get the idea? Nothing has been easy, or simple. But, all of the effort that we both put in only served to make the success of Grace performing so confidently and perfectly during her final performance at ‘Superdogs Live’, that much sweeter. Mix in to all of it that she was competing against dogs much older and way more experienced than she was – one had competed at Crufts; one a TV star and veteran of many performances – and little Grace an eighteen month old having a crack at her first big show. All in all, we did pretty well, and the effort was worth it. Well I thought it was. I guess to some folk, they might wonder why I bothered. Each time Grace overcame another fear, her confidence grew. Everything she learns makes her stronger and more able to cope with what life throws at her. Of course it’s worth bothering!

Standing backstage with her it felt just like it did waiting to perform with Chandi. Such a feeling of calm and trust – something I never thought I would feel again. I had not intended to ever compete with Grace. In fact I had decided that I didn’t want to – all I wanted from her was to come instantly when I called her, eat vegetables and to love me.
It’s funny how life turns out though. If Grace hadn’t have had so many fears, I probably wouldn’t have started showing her how much she was capable of and teaching her clever things. Everything she has learnt has increased her confidence. Yet, when I was in the middle of the heartbreak of dealing with her terrors, I thought it was insurmountable. Inadvertently I was spurred on to teach her more and more…and gradually I remembered the joy I felt partnering Chandi in our routines and realized I could have this with Grace. And well, the rest I guess is history. Recent history.

I don’t know what else we shall do together, but I hope there will be something that’s right for us both. In the meantime, thanks to the power of YouTube, Chandi’s legacy lives on: A few weeks ago I received an invite to perform at the F.E.I  World Cup Dressage and International Showjumping Gala performance in Denmark, this October. The organizers had found our dressage routine and showjumping routine and been so impressed to offer us the chance to take part at such a prestigious event. Out of the invites we have received over the years, this ranks as my favourite. Having longed for a horse and to compete in Dressage, to actually be invited to such an event with my dog, just seems incredible. Sadly, of course, I had to decline the invitation, but each time I think about it, I feel so proud of Chandi and how fabulous she was.

Grace, learning to dance in the pawprints of a legend, is already a superstar in her own right. Dance Gracie, dance!

Nat Pet (61)


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A big adventure…..

The last few weeks have been eventful and just a touch emotional….

Regular readers will be familiar with the struggles Grace experienced out and about in the world. Everything held a different terror for her and I worked so hard to help her understand the world around her, even if sometimes I was floundering myself at the extent of the situation.

With Grace competing at a Freestyle/Heelwork to Music show back in March this year at 13 months old, she showed me that she was perhaps able to cope with such an environment – being placed second and first at her initial attempt at such an event.
I was incredibly surprised at how she coped, as I had feared the worst, despite witnessing significant and quite astounding improvements in her coping skills during the previous months.
Of course I feared the worst in the build up to the competition….despite the weeks and months of dedicated work – I always prepare myself to ‘hope for everything, but expect nothing.’ I reminded myself innumerable times that if I hadn’t have thought she could possibly cope, I wouldn’t have filled in the entry form and sent it on its way in the first place.

So with one competition under our belts, and a new Freestyle routine simmering away nicely, it felt like time to raise the stakes a little more, so I sent in a demo of our new routine to a competition called ‘Superdogs Live’ which was being held as part of the National Pet Show at the N.E.C. in Birmingham. I didn’t know whether we would be selected to compete at the show, but after an anxious wait, the email finally arrived telling us we had been successful!

Now the nerves kicked in for me; Grace on the other hand carried on as usual.
Would she freak out in front of an 800 strong audience? Would she be terrified of the crowds and weird and wonderful things she may encounter at a busy exhibition? Would she actually perform the routine we’d worked so hard on when we walked into the ring? Would she even walk into the ring….. or would the lights, music and atmosphere make her unable to focus?
So many questions for me, but I reminded myself of her progress and that if I didn’t believe that there was a strong possibility everything would be fine, then again, I wouldn’t have entered her in the first place. But even so, those doubts niggled away night and day ….
Saturday September 20 arrived and having been awake wince 4.30 AM and up since 5.30 in order to be at the N.E.C. at the required, incredibly early, time, Grace and I made our way into the exhibition. The last time I had been at the N.E.C. was Crufts, 2009.
This was the last time Chandi and I chose to compete, despite having qualified again in 2010 we withdrew as we were concentrating on our upcoming appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. We could have done both, but I decided many years before that we would only ever do a small handful of events each year. BGT, was more than enough for one year!

So with memories of being with Chandi at our last, but staggeringly superb Crufts where we set records by being the first team, and still the only team, to win all three Finals (HTM, Freestyle and International Freestyle) in the same year; first and only team to win both HTM and Freestyle; and first rescue dog to win any Final, I felt quite overwhelmed to be back without her, but with new kid, Grace by my side. Oh, and also accompanied by all my worries as to whether Grace would pull it off …..

After a brief look round the ring where we would compete later that morning in the semifinal of the competition, and handing over the show jump prop for our routine to the team organizing events, Grace and I made our way to the ‘green room’ a rather grandly named fenced off area where the competitors were supposed to wait until it was time to compete.
To make things as comfortable as possible for Grace, I had bought her a new crate which fitted onto a lug loader trolley onto which I piled the wooden show jump, my riding costume complete with boots and hat and a cold bag with Grace’s lunch. I had decided that I would transport Grace into the N.E.C. in total comfort (for her anyway) and ensure that she was safe and protected from anything that might frighten her. The crate would also double as a secure and private rest area for Grace while we waited for our turn to compete.

With the show now open to the public and filling up fast, it was almost time for the competition to start. Needing to take Grace outside to empty herself before we competed, I decided to see if she would walk through the crowds rather than pulling her in the crate on trolley arrangement. Full expecting to have an aborted attempt, I was delighted to see Grace walking confidently by my side as we weaved our way through the throngs. She didn’t bat an eyelid at anything – not a single pushchair, child waving large helium balloon, child carrying oversized stuffed pony, child that stupidly shot out a hand to touch Grace without first asking permission, people with carrier bags and all manner of other paraphernalia…. not for a second did Grace hesitate or come close to freaking out. She simply marched confidently by my side to the door and we went out into the fresh air.

Quite a result. I wasn’t counting my chickens yet, as I still didn’t know how she would cope in the actual competition with the music, potential applause from the audience and general atmosphere…. but there were definite signs of beaks pecking strongly from the inside of eggs …. and we didn’t have long to find out exactly how things were going to go…..

With me dressed in my riding costume complete with my Mum’s black velvet riding hat that she had bought when she was fifteen and her gold stock pin, Grace and I were waiting backstage, going through a few moves, before we were announced and had to enter the ring to perform our routine. Did I feel nervous? Despite my weeks of worry over how things would go, no I wasn’t. I felt calm, and focused just as I used to before performing with Chandi. One benefit from performing on live television in front of 14 million people that stayed with me, was that I totally lost any nerves that used to plague me so badly that I used to be close to being sick in the ring mid performance.

In the relative darkness of the backstage area, Grace looked up at me as I told her it was time. Getting into position, she was ready….and on we went.
Everything was going like clockwork…. I was even remembering to act my part and Grace totally nailed all the moves. But then came the risky part …. Grace had to move a distance away from me and knock down the show jump stands. She ran towards them and I threw my hands up in mock despair in anticipation of what she was about to do in our comedy routine – everything was going just as we had practised…..

But then Grace stopped dead in front of the stand, gingerly reached out her paw and prodded the stand with her toe nails, turned and shot me a look over her right shoulder which I clearly understood to say ‘I’ve never seen this before in my life and you want me to do WHAT???’ At that point the story of the routine was somewhat spoiled as I then had to stand and encourage Grace to knock them over rather it looking as though she was being naughty and doing it of her own accord …..but that was just too bad. Finally she knocked them over and we carried on with me praising her as we flowed through the next sequence of moves without a care.

Because we had wasted time getting Grace to floor the stands, there was suddenly silence in the arena as our music finished. We still had the final move to complete which brought the routine to a close and made sense of the whole story behind it. Undeterred, I carried on and sent Grace towards the jump. She flew over it and she cleared it I turned to the audience, looked them straight in the eye and punched the air with a grin on my face as I had finally succeeded in getting my ‘naughty pony’ to jump the damn jump. Suddenly the audience was back on my side and a roar erupted from them as Grace jumped!

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Grace jumping back over the jump towards me – something she had never done, or been asked to do in our rehearsals – but she looked delighted with herself as her mouth was hanging open in a huge grin with her tongue lolling to the side. She rushed to my side and we took three bows one to each side of the arena – on the third bow she sweetly crossed her paws – her choice – just as she did when we practised.

Both breathless, I asked Grace if she wanted me to pick her up and she jumped up to put her front paws on my arm. I scooped her up into my arms and whispered how clever she was. I didn’t know, or care at that point how the judges would mark our routine, given that we had slightly malfunctioned half way through – it didn’t matter to me. all that mattered was that Grace had focused and thoroughly enjoyed performing!

I knew why she had been uncertain about knocking the jump stands over….. and this was something I could easily overcome for future performances, by taking them to different locations and showing her that wherever they cropped up, she always had to do the same thing when asked: knock them down as hard and fast as she could. All the other moves we had practised in various locations from car parks to Church Stretton town centre, before choir practise in church, on the beach, but the jumps we had only ever used where we trained the whole routine, on the top of the Long Mynd. It’s not so easy to lug jump stands around and set them up, but this is what we shall be doing …..

Finally the judges scores were in and we had won the semifinal! Apparently our mistake hadn’t been seen as a huge problem…I was so glad I hadn’t given up but had just carried on and finished the routine. So we were through to the Final later on that day….and with a few hours to think about what had just happened…
Backstage once more Grace and I were warming up waiting to trot out into the arena. I was worried about the routine. I couldn’t help wondering what would happen this time when I sent grace to knock the stands down. There was nothing I could do now though. Before coming backstage we had found a piece of white plastic picket fencing and I had asked Grace to ‘go push’. She did. But would she in the ring?

On we went….the routine flowing seemingly effortlessly for Grace. We reached ‘that point’ in the routine I had been dreading. Grace ran at the stand. Would she or wouldn’t she? I trusted that she would and acted my part…..she did! Down went the one stand and then the other! I was so delighted! On we went to the big finale….. Grace flew over the jump and then it was all over and we were taking our bows, side by side.

We won the Final, but that, for me just meant my cake was well and truly iced. The day had been all about finding out if Grace, aged 18 months,  would truly cope in such an environment. I had my answer. And I had it with a cherry on top.


How can she clear the jump from there?

How can she clear the jump from there?

But she did clear it!

But she did clear it!

That's it - you knock 'em down!

That’s it – you knock ’em down!

Taking a bow.

Taking a bow.


Look at the arena! Lights, video screen, and huge audience!

Look at the arena! Lights, video screen, and huge audience!

In the green room after winning the semifinal!

In the green room after winning the semifinal!


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How many words?!

Grace and I are just back from a training session up on the Long Mynd. I know I’m exhausted, and by the look of Grace who’s tucked up in her bed, so is she. But it is the best kind of exhaustion – a result of having so much fun together and working so hard that we didn’t even realize nearly two hours had passed.

I was hoping for some peace and quiet to work on the routine and to perform it as a complete piece a couple of times so I could film it and then spend time analyzing it to see where I can make it better.
It was not our destiny to have peace and quiet. As soon as we had arrived and set up the props and the camera, another car decided to park close to ours, despite having acres of other places to park. I do realize it is a public space and anyone can park exactly where they want, but personally, if I’d have seen someone with ‘stuff’ set up ready to film, I would have parked further away and given them some space.Oh well!

I decided that I was just going to carry on as I’d intended and after warming up with Grace, we set the camera to record and started the music n the portable CD player with the volume as high as it would go so we could hear it over the noise of the breeze. I wondered if loud pop music would make the other people leave, but no luck. In fact, they just turned to watch us perform our routine. Grace and I just carried on…..regardless.

After a rest for Grace while I watched the video back,we set everything up to record another attempt. I’d just pressed record on the camera and started the music when I could hear the roar of engines and turning to look in the direction they were coming from, Grace and I were stunned to see about 50 different vintage tractors coming over the brow of the hill. One of the tractors was pulling a large trailer which had people sitting on it. For some reason they all lined up along the road next to where Grace and I were trying to enjoy our peaceful and private Sunday morning training ….

What did we do? We performed the entire routine to the assembled audience. In fact it was good to know that we were being watched and to deal with the flurry of nerves that inevitably well up in me. It was also good for Grace to have a sudden and noisy distraction to work through, and she focused on her performance incredibly well, missing only one move, which could well have been my fault as I may have given her an incorrect command.

To produce a routine that lasts a ‘mere’ ninety seconds takes an inordinate amount of work. Grace works entirely from voice commands – no hand signals to hep her whatsoever and in fact, in this current routine, she is playing her part so well that I’m not even giving her commands, she is simply watching me and remembering what she is supposed to do.

When I started working with Chandi, sixteen years ago, it was my aim to not use any hand signals to interrupt the look and feel of the routine. I also worked on commands for various moves that didn’t need me to move my mouth too much – then the routine really looks as though the dog is just remembering the entire routine and not being cued and prompted…..
I achieved my goal with Chandi and have gone on to work in the same way with Grace. This means  that both Grace and Chandi’s comprehension of words is vast – in fact I just stopped and counted up how many words cuing moves in this new routine Grace hears. The answer? Forty five! Forty five words which she has to respond to instantly for the routine to flow and look effortless.

Along with learning the names of all the various moves Grace has to perform, she also has to perform each one perfectly. Take for example the ‘marching on the spot’ move of which Chandi was a master. Sitting by my side, Chandi would raise and lower each of her front feet in turn as I matched my leg movements to hers. Sounds easy right? Well, yes and no…..
In order for the move to look perfect, each leg lift from Chandi had to be exactly the same height. Along with each leg lift being the same height, she also had to understand that she had to hold each foot in the air for the same length of time.

In order to get this complete move perfect, I would spend ages working with Chandi showing her that she had to listen carefully to my cues and she also had to understand the concept of holding her leg up for varying lengths of time. I would give her the information she needed by lengthening or shortening my cue word. The longer I stretched out the word, the longer she needed to hold her foot up and vice versa.

But, here’s the rub… when working with a dog, if all you ever do is repeat the same move in the same way, it becomes messy. But here’s where the attention to detail that I taught Chandi came into play – because she understood to listen and respond accordingly to the length of the cue, she would always perform marching on the spot perfectly. Because she never knew during our training sessions whether we were going to do say six fast foot lifts in quick succession, or four slow lifts, or a combination of fast and slow for example, when it came to the actual performance of the routine she was ready to do any combination I asked for.

If you’re watching a routine and have never tried to train a dog, it might look so very easy – raising and lowering front feet – it’s not until you get a peek behind the curtain that it becomes clear just how much work – and constant work -goes into every single movement that makes up a routine. So those forty five words that Grace understands and acts on the second she hears them, suddenly seem even more than they did before!

Fortunately, all this work is lots of fun. If it wasn’t it would be terrible. If Grace gets something wrong, she isn’t punished or told off, in fact, I usually tell her she’s good but could she do “….” instead? And then we’ll have another go with me giving her more assistance until she remembers and her confidence grows. It is very easy to spot a dog who has been yelled at or punished for getting things wrong – it’s very obvious in the dog’s body language and general demeanour. I don’t want my dogs to look sad and miserable while they perform, but to sparkle with energy and life. A dog never lies; to look happy, it has to be happy. It’s that simple.

Working with Grace feels exactly the same as working with Chandi did – pure joy. For both of us. Like so many other people, I have experienced some tremendous lows in my life, but to counter that, I get to feel so happy I could burst.

Yesterday I talked about the amount of work Tobias had put in to achieve his dream – it is exactly the same for me and Grace. We may be a human and dog partnership, but the volume of work is exactly the same, if different, as Grace has had to learn a vast quantity of English words…
Sometimes, it all looks too easy…..but when it reaches that stage it means we’ve succeeded!

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The stuff dreams are made of ….

I love dancing! Well maybe I should rephrase that ….. I love watching people dancing and wish I had learned to dance. I’m an avid watcher of anything dance-related, but my favourite show has to be Sky 1’s extravaganza, Got To Dance.

All styles of dance are represented and perhaps the most revolutionary idea is that the three judges all perform in their own  incredible and  individual style during one of the live shows.

So the Final of this year’s Got To Dance happened last night and I was glued to the TV. But this year was different…..
During the audition shows, a man and a young lad had walked on stage, performed and got a fantastic reception from audience and judges alike. Watching I thought something was familiar about the man ….. but it wasn’t until he was asked his name and replied ‘Tobias Mead’, that things clicked into place.

Back in 2010 when Chandi and I reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent and then performed on the BGT tour, there was a solo dancer on the show, who also reached the final, called ….yes, you guessed it, Tobias Mead!
I was absolutely thrilled to see him and to see that he was still pursuing his dream, and doubly thrilled to see him and his dance partner, Jak, make it to the live final of Got To Dance.

Even though I know absolutely nothing about dancing, even I could see the standard of this year’s competition was phenomenal. My favourite finalists were Kaine a 15 year old Contemporary dancer that brought tears to my eyes; Bitter Harvest a professional ballet duo who had come out of retirement to enter the competition; and of course, ‘Duplica8’ – Tobias and Jak.

Both Duplic8 and Bitter harvest made it the top three of the competition and performed again…..I wanted duplic8 to win….but the competition was so tough…
The results took ages to be announced but when they were, Duplic8 had won! A quarter of a million pounds better off and a chance at the ‘new life’ Tobias dreamed of, had just become a reality.

I was in shock hearing the winner announced as Duplic8 and I am still in shock! I could not be more delighted for Tobias and Jak – in fact I wouldn’t be any happier if I’d won the competition myself.

First thing this morning I sent a barrage of Twitter direct messages to Tobias to congratulate him. Winning is not something he is taking for granted, he understands that he was part of the winning act because of the hours of dedicated hard graft he has put in over so many years; becuase people bothered to pick up the phone, spend their cash and vote for him; and because he has been building up a strong fan-base. His Twitter message to everyone who voted last night was heartfelt and touching wanting everyone to know how thankful he was for all the votes and how his life is now changed and his dream has come true.

The moral of the story? It pays to keep dreaming and pursuing that dream, no matter how many times doors are slammed in your face, or how you  get a taste of the life of which you dream, only for it to be snatched away.

For some at least, dreams really do come true.



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The story continues …

It may have been months since I last wrote about Grace, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy – both training and having fun!

Gracie continues to be amazing. When I think back to the sadness I felt this time last year trying in vain (or so it seemed at the time) to help her overcome her extreme fear of the world around her,  it seems so unreal. All the extreme effort I put in showing Grace the same things over and over, naming, explaining, examining and touching has now paid off! Instead of an outing being an exhausting nightmare for both of us, it is now such fun!

We are very fortunate where we live as there are three shops in Shrewsbury that welcome dogs: Percy Thrower’s Garden Centre, Salop Caravans and of course, Pets At Home. Similarly, Church Stretton where we are frequent visitors, is one of the most dog friendly places in the U.K. Even the branch of our bank, which has the customary ‘No Dogs allowed, except Guide Dogs’ sticker in the window, has a different policy, implemented by the manager. Dogs are very welcome in the branch and Grace has accompanied me many times learning about automatic doors, how to queue and wait politely for our turn, and how to watch but not approach, other customers entering the bank.
Grace is at the stage now, where we can practice some tricks as we wait our turn…. in fact she has gained so much confidence, even in strange surroundings, that we can run through a few of her ‘moves’ anywhere and she will focus fully on me. She is just 17 months old.

We still continue to extend her vocabulary, which by now is quite vast. She likes me to pick her up  – if I ask her if she wants to be picked up, she runs over to me, turns her left side into me and jumps up to place her front feet on my left arm. I then scoop up  her tail end with my right arm and there she is, snuggled in my arms with her back legs dangling down, relaxed and floppy.
I can ask her to ‘show me….’ and she will look at whatever I have asked her to show me.

She is very interested in wildlife and knows the names of many animals: sheep, pony, cow, dog, alpaca,chicken,  rabbit, mouse, squirrel (her current favourite), bird, crow, seagull. She also knows insects by name: bee, fly(which she hates), caterpillar, spider, snail…. and she is learning all the time.
When we hear a helicopter in the sky she is faster than me at spotting where it is…. and we can play the ‘race you to touch a …..’ game, which involves me suddenly and quite randomly yelling ‘race you to touch a tree’ (or post, gate, rock, leaf etc). Grace stops whatever she is doing to find the closest thing I’ve asked for. Invariably she beats me to it, despite giving myself an advantage at times so I don’t feel so inadequate!
The rules of the game are that you have to touch the object with your foot and wait until further instructions. Grace is very sweet to watch as slaps her cat-like, dainty paw down on a rock and fixes her gaze keenly on me, her mouth open in a wide grin, tongue lolling to the side. ‘Race you to touch another rock’…. invariably we swap over so she’s now touching the one I’ve just left.
It’s a fun game and Grace is a willing participant. I enjoy it too, despite the fact I usually lose.

Grace’s strong working instinct is fully under control due, in no small part to the amount of work we did last summer on teaching her self-control. She is trustworthy, off-lead, around the sheep we meet on our daily walks, but she does like to ‘pretend’ she’s a sheepdog…..As she has earned my trust I know I can let her ‘do her thing’ and know that as soon as she realizes she is getting too close to the sheep, she will come flying back to me of her own accord, and grab her tuggy rope. It is quite spectacular to see her trying to work the sheep from a distance – the instinct is well and truly in her: she knows she’s supposed to be involved with sheep. Amazing!

The day she was thirteen months old, we competed at her very first Heelwork to Music competition. I had no idea whether she would completely freak out with the huge numbers of dogs, people, and loud music, but we went along anyway. Waiting in the roped off warm-up area, she was as distracted as distracted could be, but as soon as it was our turn to enter the ring, she was right there by my side and went through all her moves, pretty much as we had rehearsed. We were placed second in the class, and then as it was a two day show and we had entered both days, we performed again, a different routine which I had learned over night and we had practiced just twice early in the morning of the second day – this time, Grace went one better. She won her first red rosette and a trophy. I almost burst with pride.

It was a great weekend – not only had Grace done so well, but four of my piano students were competing in a competition of their own. I was sad not to be there to support them all as I usually am, but they managed just fine without me. Fleur won the 11 and under class; Georgia won the next class with Meg a close second; Amber won the next class up and then together Georgia and Amber won the Ensemble class with their piano duet. To ice the cake nicely, Georgia was awarded the ‘Outstanding Child Instrumentalist’ trophy and £250 bursary. This was the third year one of my students had been given this special award – Meg had won it the previous two years.
Quite a productive and exciting weekend  with several texts and phone calls between all of us to check on progress.

Currently, Grace and I are working on our own version of Chandi’s ‘show jumping’ routine. I confess that I have found it incredibly difficult to work more on a routine that was ‘complete’. We are just getting to the stage where we are ready to put the whole routine together – it still has the same story behind it, but different music and some different moves. I hope, if we get to perform it anywhere, it will be as well received as Chandi’s routine was, and indeed with the wonders of Youtube, still is.

As far as adventures as concerned, we continue to cram in as many as possible. We have made multiple trips to Lake Vyrnwy and the beach, and the Long Mynd and a host of other places. I try to make Grace’s life as exciting, stimulating and filled with love as possible. I am so thrilled that we can actually enjoy outings without fear encroaching on the day and spoiling it. It’s a wonderful life….

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Showing me which path to take!

Showing me which path to take!

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