By Jill Hedgecock
Though many kids probably enjoyed spending the dog days of summer with their family pet, Morgan Oroslini of Lafayette was one of only twelve United States youths selected to represent our country as junior handlers in the European Open Junior (EOJ) dog agility competition.
Since 1996, the American Kennel Club has sent junior handler teams to compete internationally. Last year, Morgan competed in the Czech Republic with her border collie, Tyme. This year, Morgan and Tyme joined Team USA Junior Handlers in Slovakia. “It’s no surprise Morgan received this honor,” says her agility instructor at Freilance Dog Sports in Martinez. “Morgan is a bright,articulate and enthusiastic role model for other junior handlers.”
Competing in agility is no small feat. It requires skill on the handler’s part to negotiate a timed obstacle course coupled with a dog’s willingness and understanding of where to run next. The dog must negotiate jumps, tunnels, climb an A-frame, walk across a narrow board at height, weave through vertical poles, and navigate a teeter. When performed flawlessly, the combined skills of fitness, concentration, training, and teamwork can be a magical experience. According to Morgan, “My favorite thing about agility is getting to be very close with your dog, really (close) so that they become your best friend. I also enjoy the time I have with the people I train with, who also have become very good friends, and the many experiences my agility journey has given me that make me see the world in a much different way.”
When asked about competing in several different countries,Morgan says, “When you do agility in the U.S., it often seems like a very uncommon and special thing, but once you travel across the world and see kids just like you training and running with their own dogs, it becomes clear that this ability to connect with animals is a worldwide phenomenon. People everywhere love animals, and it’s very special to have something in common with people who don’t even speak the same language as you.”
She adds, “The EOJ is run by different countries every year. Some of the courses were a lot harder than my first time running at the EOJ , and the atmosphere was a lot more stressful and competitive. Personally, the biggest difference for me and Tyme was that we ran a lot faster and progressed a lot skill-wise since we competed in the Czech Republic.”
Morgan also had to learn a few international rules. While traditional agility European events are similar to the courses in U.S. competitions, it’s harder to achieve a qualifying run in the U.S. than in Europe. At the EOJ, you can make up to three mistakes, such as when a dog knocks a jump bar. Morgan says of her best agility run, “We started out very strong with some complex handling moves, a lot of speed, and great stops and hits with our contacts. We had a lot of fun showing off all of our fancy turns and skills. It also helped that the rest of Team USA was standing on the side cheering us on.”
Scores are tallied from four runs over the three days of competition. Each competitor’s numbers count toward both team and individual standings. Like any sport, youth involvement in agility requires family effort . It took Morgan seven years to reach EOJ.
“Parent support is crucial for any young agility handler,” says Morgan. “Parents not only help care for you and your dog, but they also provide transportation to events, funding for training and competitions, and they are always cheering you on in class and at events. I wouldn’t have even started agility without the support of my parents.”
Morgan says the best advice her agility trainer offered was to pay more attention to her dog. Everything it does is because of how I train. If something isn’t right, figure out what’s wrong and fix it in a way that works for you and the dog.
Morgan’s words about her agility journey are truly inspirational. Visit Morgan’s blog www.bluedogtrek.com) to learn more about her EOJ experience. She’ll answer parent’s and youth’s questions about agility on her contact page. To learn about adult and youth agility training classes at Freilance Dog Sports, contact Sharon at (925) 229-8041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.