Coventry HTM 2003
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The First Kennel Club Licensed Heelwork to Music Competition

Supported by Pedigree:
Sports Connexion, Ryton, Coventry - 12th April 2003

Photographs by Action Shots Photography

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Who would have thought back in 1990 when Mary gave her first demonstration of heelwork with music playing that this would catch on as a sport, not only in the UK but throughout the world? Certainly people had trained with music playing prior to that but this was the first authenticated instance of a public performance and here we are, 13 years later, with the first Kennel Club licensed Heelwork to Music Show run by Rugby Dog Training Club.

It was in 1996 that, even though Mary had been putting on demonstrations at Crufts for the previous few years, the sport did not seem to be progressing. So Peter and Carol Lewis approached Mary and myself to see if we would be interested in trying to give the sport a kick-start by holding a competition. The necessary application was made to the Kennel Club and of course we were told it was not possible to make it an official competition as the KC did not “officially” recognise its existence as a sport and that is the way it stayed until now. We did obviously carry on and have our events but they were simply termed as being demonstrations after we obtained permission from the Kennel Club to hold a special demonstration event.

Barry Blay as Fred Astaire

There is no doubt that the Coventry events have helped to spread the sport throughout the world. It is now a well-established canine pastime and most countries are now having their own competitions. These countries now include the whole of mainland Europe, Japan, South Korea, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and probably many more that I have forgotten about. One of the main differences between us and the rest of the world is in the name. Most countries did not like the name Heelwork to Music and although to us that general heading covers a multitude of different types of routine and different types of moves, in the rest of the world they have named the sport Freestyle even though most countries do have their own form of Heelwork to Music as well running alongside Freestyle classes.

There is no doubt that this new fun sport promotes another aspect of responsible dog ownership and exemplifies once more how you can have fun with your dog while at the same time promoting serious dog training. I’m sure it will be not too long in the future before there will be major international HTM competitions and on a recent visit to the USA where Mary was taking training seminars, we saw for ourselves just how skilled the handlers from abroad are.

Karen Sykes with her Viking horns

This year we decided to cut out the additional classes, by which I mean pairs or team, and stick to the normal singles classes and it’s just as well that we did. By the time entries closed we had 110 entries which we knew we wouldn’t be able to cope with unless we wanted to work on into the night. Of course, one of the major problems with HTM is that you can’t do what is done with Obedience and Agility - split the class and put in another ring as this would need to be in a different hall because of the music. So our show secretary, Carol Lewis, circulated all the competitors informing them that if they wished to withdraw their entries then we would give them a full refund. And we were fortunate that a few people took advantage of this as some competitors may not have had their routines quite perfected, so the total entries for the day came to 88 which we thought we could just about manage without resorting to sending back some of the entries which were received last.

Our judges for this year were Paula Ackary, Richard Curtis, Ann DeRizzio, Kath Hardman, Janice Jackson, Kay Laurence, Jan Morse, Gina Pink and Yvonne Robson. Each class would be judged by three of our judges and when marking the routines, they would be looking at three areas: (1) content, (2) accuracy and (3) musical interpretation. Each of these three sections was allocated a maximum of 10 marks then an average of the three marks would be made to calculate the overall score.

The first class of the day was Starters Heelwork to Music which had 19 entries. It was apparent right from the word go that the standard had improved immensely and we would be in for a real treat. First to go was Helen Murphy from Preston with her blue cowboy hat and wearing tight pink trousers. Her music was ‘Stuck With You’ and she got a very respectable 21.17 marks from the judges which, at the end of the day, would put her into 5th place. She was to stay in the lead until handler number nine, Diane Dickens, who did a very smart routine with her cross bred dog to a ‘Good Morning Jingle Jangle’ compilation by the dreaded Max Bygraves and she achieved 23.03 marks in spite of Max which eventually put her into the lead but which would eventually give her 4th place. Diane didn’t keep the lead for long though because next into the arena was the first of the men in the competition: Barry Bray with her Bearded Collie bitch. He did a superb routine to ‘Stepping Out With My Baby’ by Fred Astaire. Barry is such a good mover and he really did look the part in his beige suit and hat and he would eventually finish the competition in 2nd place. Working seventeenth, June Britten threatened to take the lead with her Border Collie bitch. She used a Tom Jones number ‘Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like’. Well, I think the judges liked her because she went into second place behind Barry. But she was soon pushed into 3rd place when Neil Short arrived. Neil is perhaps better known in Obedience and he marched into the arena in his army uniform and did just a superb routine to ‘March Over the River Kwai’. He said afterwards that he was very nervous but this certainly didn’t show. Neil got 25.70 marks for content, 26.80 for accuracy and 26.00 for music, giving him a total of 26.17 and of course he took the lead and with it the winning place in the competition.

Neil Short on the bridge over the river Kwai

The next section was Starters Freestyle with 28 entries. First to go was another of the boys, David Moxon with his Border Collie bitch using music called ‘Hooked on Country’ and of course David was dressed in his check shirt. This was another superb routine and the judges gave him a total of 22.80 marks. Valerie Perkins working third with ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison had another interesting routine and I’m sure the boys appreciated the tight pants and wig as she went into 2nd place on 20.20. But she wasn’t there long as working 5th was Pat Arthurs complete with her straw hat and check shirt with a very smart tune to ‘Hillybilly Rock, Hillybilly Roll’ by the dreaded Woolpackers (Max Bygraves and the Woolpackers - people must be short on ideas for music!) Pat moved into second place on 20.27 but would finish the day in 5th place. Working eighteenth, Louise Reynolds with her Border Collie did a smashing routine using ‘Bad Guys’ from Bugsy Malone, complete with machine gun and gangster outfit. She moved into 2nd place on 22.73 marks and would finish the day in 3rd position. Jackie de Jong in her very sexy black outfit did a good routine to ‘Moving On Up’ by M People. She got 20.80 from the judges and would finish the day in 4th place. Working twenty-third, Nicky Joyce did a superb routine to ‘Oh Pretty Woman’. The judges obviously thought it was good because they gave her 24.00 for content, 23.80 for accuracy and 23.20 for musical interpretation, giving her a total of 23.67 overall and into the lead. And that’s where she stayed. The only further handler to threaten her position was Barbara Davies running twenty-fifth, with a routine to ‘I’m Sitting on Top of the World’ by Al Jolson. She looked very smart in her black suit and red dickie-bow, but she did have a white face! She gained 20.07 marks and was just outside the places.

Advanced winners line up

The next class was Novice Heelwork to Music with six entries. First to go was Angela Bragg, working her routine to ‘Upside Down’ by A Teens. Unfortunately, although gaining 21.30 marks, she would finish in 6th place. Second was Ann DeRizzio with her Border Collie with a routine to ‘Shall We Dance’ by Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. She gained 22.80 marks and went into the lead, looking just the part in her gold baggy pants. Next was Gina Pink with her Working Sheep Dog working a routine to the original version of ‘Singing in the Rain’ by Gene Kelly which has proved to be very popular with the Heelwork to Music competitors. She achieved 21.93 marks and went into 2nd place. Jackie Reid went next with ‘Hawaiian Roller Coaster’ by Lilo & Stitch and immediately overtook Gina to go into second place with 21.97 marks. Fifth to work was Heatherbelle Smithurst (what a pretty name - connotations of the Southern USA!) She did a super upbeat routine to an Elvis Presley compilation of ‘Party/Jailhouse Rock/Blue Suede Shoes’. The judges obviously thought it was an excellent as well because she got 23.20 for content, 23.80 for accuracy and 25.20 for musical interpretation, giving her a total of 24.07 marks and into the lead she went which is where she stayed for the rest of the competition and she became the winner. The last competitor was Margaret Jessop, renowned for her superb Golden Retrievers who are nearly as big as her and never fail to impress me as they are really really keen. She did a routine to the Glenn Miller number called ‘Tuxedo Junction’ and received 22.10 marks which was good enough to take 3rd place overall.

Mary Ray & Quincy

Next came Novice Freestyle with sixteen entries. First to go was Pat Richards with ‘Shang-a-Lang’ by the Bay City Rollers (must be good friends of Max Bygraves and The Woolpackers!) but only got 19.87. Carol Mortimer performed second and didn’t do quite so well with the Grim Reaper and ‘Don’t Pay the Ferryman’. Jackie Clarke took the lead after running third achieving 20.97 marks with a routine to ‘You Need Love Like I Do’ (Tom Jones and Heather Small) and she stayed in the lead until Michelle Mellor arrived, performing seventh with a routine to ‘Get Happy’ by Zoe. This was a super routine but we’re not too sure about the dress: she wore a very skimpy black outfit on with fishnet tights which left nothing to the imagination - could there have been a bit too much flesh showing? Carol Wallace went 8th trying her best with her little Jack Russell Matilda, performing to ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ and wearing her 1920s dress which looked extremely smart. Unfortunately, Carol was at something of a disadvantage as during practice she slipped over and broke her arm which was in plaster. However, it was good enough to get 21.97 from the judges which would eventually put her in 8th place. Working 11th Lesley Neville did a routine to ‘Walking in the Rain/Walking in the Sunshine’ by Johnnie Ray and Roger Miller. They shot into first place, the judges giving 25.4 for content, 25.9 for accuracy and 26.60 for musical interpretation giving a grand total of 25.97 marks. Claudine Darlington went next as, dressed like a cat, she did a routine to ‘Macavity Cats’ and just missed taking the top spot with 25.77 points. The scores were really getting high now. Working 13th Lynda Edmondson got 24.43 for ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ which would give her 5th place at the end of the day, young Yvonne Robson who I always admire for the way she works her American Cocker did a routine to ‘Sweet Charity’ by the Broadway Cast and got a very creditable 24.97 which would give her 4th place at the end of the competition. Linda Topliss had a good try with her Rott, but 24.20 was not good enough to get into the places.

There were just five entries in Intermediate Heelwork to Music. First to go was Karen Sykes who came in wearing a very different outfit topped off by a cap with horns and did an absolutely stunning routine to ‘Hall of the Mountain King/Poloutsian Dances’ by the London Symphony Orchestra. She got 27.10 for content, 26.40 for accuracy, 26.10 for musical interpretation, giving her a total of 26.53 marks. She worked first and that’s where she stayed, proving to be our eventual winner with a stunning routine and the epitome of what Heelwork to Music classes are all about. Kay Laurence worked next and got a very creditable 23.83 with her routine to ‘Carousel’. She looked very sweet with her umbrella and socks. Finally, that old hand and skilled dog trainer Paula Ackary tried hard but couldn’t quite take first place with a routine with her Border Collie to ‘Step By Step’.

Dave anxioulsy watches Mary!

The next class was Intermediate Freestyle with five entries. Paula Ackary was first to go looking resplendent in her D-J and she achieved 24.50 marks to ‘Tuxedo Junction’. Our only overseas competitor was next, Hetty van Hassel, very up-to-the-minute with the theme to ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ but could only just manage 24 points. Carol Mortimer went third and into the lead on 24.77 marks, always to be admired with her German Spitz working to ‘Whatever, Whenever’. Running fourth, Pat Richards from Cornwall, is obviously proud of her origins as she did her routine to ‘A Morning in Cornwall’ by James Last. This was stunning routine earning herself 27.3 for content, 27.6 for accuracy and 28.10 for musical interpretation, thus giving what was to prove a winning total of 27.67 marks. Last to go was Linda Topliss, the HTM Stalwart, with her GSD and a routine to ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth’ by Meatloaf. She achieved 25.90 points and took 2nd place in the competition.

Now we were at the eagerly anticipated Advanced classes. There were only two entries in Advanced Heelwork to Music and first to go was Tina Humphrey. She did a very accomplished routine to ‘The Entertainer’ by Scott Joplin. She got 27.73 marks from the judges but oh dear ! Tina had entered this dog Blue Croft My Blue Heaven in both the HTM and Freestyle Advanced classes with different routines but it was immediately obvious that she had entered a Freestyle routine in the HTM class. The rules state that ‘close working has to be the substantial part of the routine’ and this was clearly not the case, thus the judges marked it accordingly. Second to go was Margaret Jessop. As I have previously mentioned, Margaret has some stunning Golden Retrievers and this one was called Jessamar Bobby Dazzler and he really as a dazzler” They did a routine to ‘Overture to Carmen’ by the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra with Margaret dressed as a matador. It was just superb and she achieved 27.9 for content, 27.8 for accuracy and 27.6 for musical interpretation, giving her 27.77 overall and was thus winner of the class.

Margaret Jessop & her Golden Retriever, Jessamar Bobby Dazzler

The last class of the day was to be Advanced Freestyle with seven entries. First to go was Kath Hardman, who did a routine to ‘Annen Polka’ (Strauss by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) She very much looked the part in her tight little black outfit and I had previously seen this routine in the Special Events Ring at Crufts and she had put in one or two more moves. So it was an excellent routine and achieved 27.2 marks from the judges which would eventually give her 4th place. Second to go was Tina Humphrey with the same dog that she worked in Advanced HTM, this time to ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Eva Cassidy. As usual, Tina included some innovative and spectacular moves which must have suitably impressed the judges as she took the lead with 27.37 marks. Next with her third dog and third routine of the day was Linda Topliss and her Bearded Collie to ‘Oh Carol’ which got 25.3 marks from the judges. Fourth to go was Richard Curtis and I’m sure our audience of over 400 were eagerly awaiting his new routine which was not to disappoint us. The music was ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ and Richard gave a superb routine complete with dustbin, brushes etc. A very impressive routine and of course Richard didn’t have any competition from our other top man in HTM, Attila Szkukalek, who had not entered this year. Richard achieved 28.23 marks from the judges and went into the lead. Next to go was Mary Ray, working her obedience Champion Quincy. She was dressed in a very smart matador costume and worked to ‘Espana Cani’. This was the same routine that Mary performed in the Main Ring at Crufts and once more it was superb with wonderful choreography and all so effortless. Mary went into the lead with a score of content 28.40, accuracy 28.00 and musical interpretation, giving a total of 28.40 and just beating Richard’s score by 0.17 marks thus snatching the lead. Next to go was Karen Sykes who did a routine to ‘Hot Stuff’ by Diana Summer, gaining a very respectable 25.77 marks which would eventually give her 6th place. Then last to go was Tina Humphrey again with her Cross Breed bitch and she worked a routine to ‘Tango’ by the Studio Orchestra, achieving 26.57 marks which would eventually give her 5th place.

Richard Curtis as the dustman

It had been a superb day as we witnessed some of the best HTM and Freestyle routines we had ever seen. Once more the audience of over 400 thoroughly enjoyed it and stayed for the prize giving but there were a couple of issues that did concern us personally. Firstly, one of the Advanced handlers did not stay for the prize giving, even though this started just ten minutes after the Advanced class finished and unfortunately there were about 400 people who were very surprised by the absence from the prize giving.

The second area of concern was one of the moves that was used in a routine. In the case of this latest addition it was a move first used I believe in Holland, This move/trick has already caused controversy in the canine press and will do so even more now that a British handler has copied it and put it into a routine.

The move involves the dog walking backwards towards the handler, then when the dog’s back legs reach the handler he climbs up the handlers body with his back feet while the front feet stay on the floor, so the dog finishes off standing upright on its front legs.I have to say that we were absolutely appalled when we saw it and although I’m sure it was trained in the kindest possible way , the fact of the matter is that it is degrading to the dog with too many connotations of a circus trick.

I wouldn’t want to see the day when a dog walks into the arena on its front legs but I’m sure that if it is possible then someone will try to do it. This sport should be about moves that the dog can do naturally, choreography and musical interpretation. Both Mary and I firmly believe that it is not about cramming as many tricks as possible into a few minutes while music is playing and we were sadly disappointed to see this latest trick. So I hope everyone will re-consider the use of this particular move as I know ther has been an awful lot of adverse comment about it. We must all remember that the top handlers in any sport, dogs or not, set an example and we must ensure that it is a good example.

It had been a superb day and one of the best HTM competitions that Rugby Dog Training Club have ever held, so we would like to thank our judges, chief organiser and secretary Peter and Carol Lewis, electronic scoreboard Sandra and Keith, all the members of Rugby DTC who must be the most professional show-organising team in the country and, of course, Pedigree our principal sponsors and not forgetting my co-commentator Alan Disbery who, as ever, was the comedian all day.

The important news is that we were unable to book an April date for next year so make a note in your diaries that Rugby Dog Training Club’s Coventry HTM Show will be on 21st February next year. So we had better keep our fingers crossed for no snow and ice!

Dave Ray


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