A friend asked me about how I memorize the course, and that got me thinking. I still get lost from time to time, especially when I see the course as “not logical”–and I have no real idea why I consider a course illogical, except that illogical courses, to me, are the ones where the turns have no flow to them at all…
When I walk a course, my first pass through the course is where I identify my landmarks for handling. I’m going to use this course as an example (because I really like how Rush ran the course, and because I enjoyed running it). The judge was Lisa Dempsey. In this course, the landmarks were the first tunnel, the teeter, the weaves, the a-frame, the jump in the far corner (two out from the a-frame), and the last jump.
My description of this course is: curve to tunnel, loop to teeter, front cross line to weaves, front cross to a-frame, push to jump in corner, turn and sprint to the end. How did I arrive at that description? By working from the end to the beginning. Once I knew I would need to sprint to the end, that set my path from the weaves. Then I had to figure out how to get to the front cross I needed after the weaves…
Which brings up the question of flow… Flow, to me, is creating a path where the dog can run in extension, without drastic turns that run the risk of the dog sliding on the surface. It’s quite possible to have a course with a 180-degree wrap of a jump and have two paths for the dog, one that requires the dog to slow way down and another that allows the dog to continue to run. Sometimes the slow path is faster further along in the course–by setting a path that allows the dog to open up from that point–sometimes, not so much. In this course, the jump in the far corner after the a-frame–in my opinion–was best handled by turning Rush to the right, with him on my left so I could send him on to the jump early, and then start sprinting down that closing line. With a slower dog–Dancer, for example–I might have stayed on dog’s left past the a-frame and rear-crossed that jump in the corner.
A good chunk of my walkthrough is about working out my strategies for handling. With Rush, I usually need to have two possibilities for each turn in the course. On this course, I hoped to make the front cross before the teeter, but utterly failed to get there, so had to make it after the teeter. I also considered–and walked–a blind cross at the teeter, but felt that the strong left turn called for a stronger cross. I don’t like to rear cross the teeter, which I realize is a training issue. I just don’t want the dog (Rush or Dancer) distracted while doing the teeter, and I think rear crosses done after the dog starts the teeter are distracting to the dog.
I wasn’t worried about getting from the start to the teeter, because I have a solid leadout with Rush. I needed my leadout to set the path to the triple and then make sure he went to the tunnel, but once in the tunnel, I could just bring him around that curve to the teeter.
That left the middle bit: from the teeter to the weaves and the front-cross after the weaves. I knew I had no choice about that front cross after the weaves, and I knew exactly where the line was for that front cross. How to get there? I needed to trust Rush to get in the weaves and stay in the weaves even with me a good distance away and running for that front cross. That’s another training issue–and I train for that eventuality pretty much every time we train. Even so, you can see that I barely made it in time!
As for remembering the course when I run, I always take a moment to look around the course and repeat my handling strategy to myself before I take off the leash. Then I take a deep breath, blow it out, tell the dog to wait–and I start.