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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3 Responses to Behind the scenes…

  1. ksammie3 says:

    Warmest congratulations to you and Grace!! Your success is so well deserved!!

    Is there a way to see the video of the performance?

  2. Chris says:

    Tina, I lost your email address so I’m posting here – sorry. Want to thank you for your email sharing some information and insight on some things. When you have time, this is about the progress my girl, Cinder, and I have made since corresponding with you via email:

  3. Virginia says:

    For almost all of my eighty years on this earth I’ve had dogs, and of course the Border Collies are my favorite. I’ve had sheep for many of those years and they have invaluable. Also they are wonderfully intelligent and really enjoy learning. As of last year, and because of my health and having Lily lose half her lung to a spontaneous pneumothorax, I had to get rid of all my sheep. A sad time that was. I so wish both Lily and I were healthier [and younger] because I would love to have been able to teach her some of you moves. She would have loved it as would i. She has learned so many things so far, and I can appreciate all your hard work.. Keep it up, and the best of luck with Gracie.

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