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!
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!