mary-ray-performingMary Ray is the leading dog trainer in the United Kingdom and is the only handler to have achieved such success in many different canine disciplines. She has been winner of the Crufts Obedience Championships four times, – has qualified or won every major British dog agility competition and is the leading authority on Freestyle and Heelwork to Music, having started the sport in the United Kingdom in 1990. Mary is featured on British television on a regular basis and has instructed and/or judged throughout the world.

Mary first entered the world of dog training when she joined Rugby Dog Training Club in 1978. Within a very short time her natural empathy with dogs and her tremendous ability shone through and within the space of a few short years, she became one of the country’s top handlers. During this time, her abilities were also recognised by Rugby Dog Training Club and, before the end of the 1980s, she became head trainer of that club.

Mary’s achievements on the UK dog scene are almost too many to list. She was one of the first British handlers to work a brown and white collie, and that was the dog she joined Rugby Dog Training Club with.

She went from Pre-Beginners to Championship Class ‘C’ in an unbelievably short time. She has now qualified nine dogs to work Championship ‘C’ Obedience, seven Border Collies and two Belgian Shepherds (Tervuerens). She has won 59 Kennel Club Obedience Challenge Certificates with five of her dogs and 38 Reserve Certificates. Mary’s Belgian Shepherd, Roxy, was the first Belgian Shepherd in the UK to become an Obedience Champion and she also won the Bitch Obedience Championship at Crufts. Mary’s also very well known Border Collie Red Hot Toddy was the winner of the Dog Obedience Championship at Crufts.

The other main British obedience competition culminating in a final was the Pro Dogs Obedience Stakes. A dog was only allowed to win this competition once in its lifetime and Mary won this on two occasions, once with Toddy and once with Roxy. This competition has now been renamed the Open ‘C’ Charity Competition.

There are very few people in the history of obedience at Crufts that can boast of competing in the two Championships over 20 separate years, winning it three times, coming second on three occasions, having two third places, one fourth place and one fifth place!

Mary’s agility career started in 1980, just after the birth of agility in the UK. Once more, she established herself immediately as one of the top handlers in the sport. She has either won or been in the finals of every major sponsored British agility competition. This included winning the prestigious Pedigree Agility Stakes with her Border Collie Pepperland Hot Chocolate. She holds the record for qualifying the most dogs on the most occasions for this prestigious final in the last twenty-four years. She has also been a member of the Rugby Dog Training Club agility team, which has competed at the Crufts Team Agility Finals on many occasions and a member of the winning team on two occasions, the last being 2004. Mary was also a member of the team that qualified for Crufts 2000. She has also been a member of the Rugby Dog Training Club Crufts Flyball Team, competing in the finals at the Crufts Dog Show.

crufts_2004_greenandredAt Crufts in 2004, Mary and Myndoc Simply Teena were winners of the Crufts Mini Agility Championships (Tina is owned by Mrs Shirley Turner but handled and trained by Mary).

Although there are conflicting stories about where Heelwork to Music started, because some groups of obedience enthusiasts trained with music playing in the late 1980s, the first person we are aware of who actually put together a public performance of Heelwork to Music was Mary at a demonstration event in 1990. She did this again in 1992 and thereafter has done it every year at Crufts. The last eight years, Mary has given a demonstration in the Main Ring at Crufts on Best in Show Night.

In 1997, she performed a routine to “Riverdance” and in 1998 she practically brought the house down with her routine to “Switched on Classics”, a six-minute long classical compilation.

In 1999, she had another first performing a routine to “Boogie Shoes” with both Kizzy and Quincy! She then did a new routine to “Night Fever” from the hit West End show with Kizzy and once more this was a huge success, with the capacity Best in Show audience clapping in time to the music. At Crufts 2000, Mary with her handsome brown and white Border Collie Quincy told the Best in Show audience a little story. The story was from the famous Walt Disney animation movie Fantasia and it was “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” routine, with Mary taking the part of the sorcerer and Quincy as the apprentice. The full routine went out live on BBC television. This was a stunning routine and, as was said at the time, how can you do anything better than that! Mary tried very hard to do just that at Crufts 2001, where in the Special Events Ring and the Main Ring she performed routines based on Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” and a compilation of music from Fred Astaire musicals called “Top Hat”. And of course for this, Mary was dressed in top hat and tails. In the Main Ring on the final evening, Mary performed this routine to a packed Best in Show audience with the houselights dimmed and Mary and Quincy highlighted under four spotlights. She finished the routine to rapturous applause and excerpts of part of this routine were shown live on BBC television.

At Crufts 2002, Mary was once more invited to perform one of her routines immediately before ‘Best in Show’. She chose a Glenn Miller theme and the music was called “Hooked on Swing” which included some Glenn Miller tunes and of course she was dressed in an authentic US Airforce uniform. There was no doubt that this was the best routine that Mary has ever performed until that time. At least that’s what the audience believed especially when, halfway through the routine, Mary’s other dog Kizzy joined her and Quincy in the ring and she proceeded to finish off the routine with two dogs. It was absolutely stunning. Not only was there deafening applause at the finish but some of the audience was standing on its feet and the whole six minute routine was broadcast live on BBC television.

At Crufts 2003, Mary decided to have a complete change and put together a Spanish routine to bullfighting-type music. Quincy was to take the part of the bull and Mary would be the matador. She had a lovely red cape for Quincy to charge at and, along with the cape, Jan Morse had made Mary a superb matador’s outfit. Once more the BBC turned down the lights in the arena and highlighted Mary and Quincy with spotlights. The atmosphere was electric and the audience absolutely loved it. As usual, Mary had the choreography down to perfection, finishing with her attempting to kill the bull (Quincy) but the bull then chased Mary, knocked her down and stamped on her at the end – very difficult to describe but those who have seen it will know just what a stunning end to the routine it was, followed as usual with a tremendous ovation from the audience. The BBC broadcast this routine live.

crufts_2004This superb routine at Crufts 2003 was made all the more special by the fact that Mary performed her routine with Quincy, the same dog which two days previously had been the winner of the prestigious Crufts Dog Obedience Championships and much comment was made about this by the BBC commentators on their programmes. Mary also competed in the 25th Anniversary Agility Competition, having herself started competing in agility in 1980 and being one of the few people in the country still competing on a regular basis over twenty years later and certainly the most successful.

At Crufts 2004, Mary performed a technically advanced routine to the ‘Harry Potter’ theme and keeping up with her reputation for being innovative, she performed this routine with her Border Collie Quincy and her Sheltie Gypsy. This deceptive routine was as usual made to look very easy by Mary as it was necessary to appreciate the difficulty in performing with two such different dogs, in terms of both size and character. Yet once again she was greeted to rapturous applause from the audience as well as being enjoyed by many millions more through television coverage.

In 2005, as usual Mary will be performing her Heelwork to Music routine just before Best in Show in the Main Ring and this year it will be to the overture from the hit West End show Mack and Mabel. This will be a stunning and fast-moving routine where Mary will perform with several of her dogs, culminating in her finishing the routine with no less than four of her dogs in the arena!

Mary has appeared on many television programmes including “Blue Peter, a BBC children’s TV programme, twice on Jim Davidson’s “Generation Game”, which was on BBC prime time Saturday evening, “The Big Breakfast Show” on Channel 4 and three times on the leading morning programme with “Richard and Judy” and not forgetting of course live from Crufts on BBC1. Quincy is also one of the stars of a ten minute film made for BBC2 and the Arts Council called “The World Turned Upside Down”. It is a moving and enchanting short film directed by Jayne Parker and produced by Sally Thomas and was shown on BBC2 during Spring 2002 and has been shown throughout the world at performing arts theatres. During 2003, an episode of the very popular ‘Faking It’ television programme was filmed. Mary was the lead Heelwork to Music trainer on the programme and Rob, the subject of the programme, spent almost three weeks living with Mary and Dave at their home. There is a separate story on this site about the programme, but when it was shown in early 2004, it had the largest audience ratings for any ‘Faking It’ broadcast to date.

Mary is acknowledged as the leading expert in the UK on Heelwork to Music.

There is no other British handler who has the depth of experience and knowledge covering Obedience, Agility, Flyball and Heelwork to Music. Mary is recognised as being one of the leading dog handlers and trainers in the UK.

Mary has judged all Obedience classes from Pre-Beginners to Class ‘C’ and has judged Agility at the Crufts Dog Show.

Mary is head trainer of Rugby Dog Training Club, Championship Obedience Show Secretary for Rugby Dog Training Club, a member of the British Kennel Club and of the Kennel Club Obedience Liaison Council .

Mary’s previous overseas appointments for training and/or judging include Denmark, Holland, Jersey, Malaysia, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Northern Ireland, Singapore, Switzerland, USA, New Zealand, Australia, France, South Africa, Austria and Canada.

Mary has had a busy six months and recent appointments have included Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy and at the end of 2004 she did a round the world trip with her husband Dave where she judged Obedience in New Zealand and Dave judged Agility, she took two training courses in Australia (one in Melbourne and one on the Gold Coast), then spent five days at the Samsung Canine Centre in South Korea where not only did she train the Samsung kennel staff but also was guest of honour at the centre’s annual Homecoming Day.

signing_autographsMary will be visiting South Korea again at the end of 2005 as well as having two visits to the USA and numerous trips to European countries during the year.

At the Horse of the Year Show from 13th – 16th October, it is planned that Mary will be performing a joint pairs routine of Heelwork to Music and Dressage with a horse – and no, Mary will not be riding a horse but there will be a horse and rider in the arena with Mary and one of her dogs for the routine.

Mary has been married to her husband Dave for twenty-seven years. They live in Rugby, which is situated in the centre of the UK. Their present family consists of eight dogs (no children): five Border Collies, a Lurcher and two Shetland Sheepdogs. It is a truly “doggy” family as Mary’s husband Dave is the main action event commentator at the Kennel Club’s Crufts Dog Show (National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham) and the Discover Dogs Show (Earls Court, London). Dave co-ordinates all the sponsorship of Agility, Obedience, Flyball and Heelwork to Music for the United Kingdom’s leading pet food company, Pedigree Masterfoods. Dave is also on the committee of the British Agility Club which is the largest Kennel Club registered club in the UK, Vice President of Rugby Dog Training Club and Show Manager of three major Agility Shows and a Championship Obedience Show. Thus, the whole of their time is spent surrounding by all things doggy!

Top Hat Routine, Crufts 2001
Top Hat Routine, Crufts 2001

Well, it seems to be flavour of the day just lately – the explosion in its popularity has been quite phenomenal. It reminds us of the early dogs of agility and it is probably a good time to review what has happened, how it started and where the sport is going and the benefits.

The first thing you could talk about is the name. When it started, ‘Heelwork to Music’ was exactly what it was – a round of heelwork while music played. And that name has stuck all these years even though it is strictly no longer heelwork to music. Over the last few years we have had all kinds of names thrown into the hat to try to give it a name which more accurately reflects what actually happens now. In the USA, they have something called ‘Heelwork to Music’ but their rules state that it needs to be exactly as it stands, ie only heelwork to music is allowed with the dog not being allowed to leave the handler for any significant distance and perform any additional movements. They also have ‘Freestyle’ as their other main class, where the dog is allowed to do virtually anything and this is actually more in line with what we are doing. If it were billed in this country at Crufts as ‘Freestyle’, the majority of people would not know what on earth they were talking about. I don’t think ‘Heelwork to Music’ is a bad name and I think it is one we should keep, as we do accept in this country that it is not strictly just heelwork with music playing.

The other term that seems to be raising its head is ‘Doggy Dancing’ or ‘Canine Dancing’. We think this is one terminology guaranteed to alienate everyone. It certainly will not promote HTM as a sport and there are too many connotations of circus acts for it to be taken seriously. We find it quite amazing that anyone would wish to partake in something with connotations of doggies dancing and expect it to be treated as a serious sport! At the end of the day, we do want to be taken seriously and we believe that HTM could be of great benefit to obedience in any country if for no other reason than as a medium to promote dog training.

An evening with Mary Ray, Stratford
An evening with Mary Ray, Stratford

Although various stories have been told about where and how Heelwork to Music started, we know that many handlers from many countries have been training with music training for many many years and someone did say that a lady from Canada had had the first idea about Heelwork to Music as she had a dream about it in 1989, but the researched facts are that the first authenticated performance of what we would call Heelwork to Music at a public event occurred when Mary performed in 1990.

Attila Szkukalek performing the Charlie Chaplin routine at the Coventry competition 2001
Attila Szkukalek performing the Charlie Chaplin routine at the Coventry competition 2001

This was when John Gilbert asked Mary if she would take an evening seminar in the Bedford area which he was going to title “An Audience with Mary Ray”. Mary was quite shy and reserved (well, she was then anyway!) and was very reticent to actually stand up and talk to what could have been quite a number of people. John overcame this little hurdle by arranging with Mary that he would be a sort of Michael Parkinson for the evening and actually run the whole evening on an interview basis with Mary demonstrating. John was also captivated with Mary’s two ticket dogs, which were a collie (called) Red Hot Toddy and a Tervueren (called) Roxy. In particular, he thought that Roxy’s heelwork was so flowing that he would like her to do it to a piece of music, so he asked Mary to devise a heelwork routine for Roxy that lasted exactly 3 minutes 54 seconds and likewise for Toddy 3 minutes 54 seconds. He picked ‘Take Your Breath Away’ for Roxy and ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for Toddy. And that is exactly what Mary did. As part of a very successful evening, with over one hundred people in the audience, Mary did a heelwork round to music. It is interesting to note that probably the first person who had an idea of turning it into a competition suggested that to John Gilbert on the night, that was Nigel Cutts although he has probably forgotten by now. One of the members of the audience on that evening was a dog trainer who was taking seminars in the USA at that time and it is believed he took tales of what he had seen over to the USA with him. Mary repeated this audience evening with John in 1992 and that was also the first year she did a demonstration at Crufts. This was followed by more demonstrations in the following years in the Special Events Ring at Crufts and also at the Royal Show, Pedigree Chum Champion Stakes etc. We then made sure that the heelwork did actually fit the music and started to choreography the routine. The public and doggy people alike gave us warm praise and even then people often had tears in their eyes, including several men.

By 1996, although Mary was still being asked to do plenty of demonstrations interest did seem to be waning somewhat and we really felt that the only future for it was perhaps the occasional demonstration and it was at that time that Peter Lewis came up with the idea of making Heelwork to Music into a competitive event. So in April 1996, we decided to hold a Heelwork to Music competition in Coventry. This of course has now resulted in being the premier HTM/Freestyle event in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, things were taking off in the rest of the world and, again, although handlers in other countries had been probably training dogs with music playing in the background, no-one had actually formalised it into a working routine.

Canada: In late 1990 or early 1991, a trainer from the UK was taking a seminar and talked on that seminar about Heelwork to Music, probably gaining the initial idea from the first demonstration evening held by John Gilbert and Mary Ray. At the Pacific Canine Showcase in Vancouver in 1991, Tina Martin and her Golden Retriever Cognac gave a demonstration using a routine adapted from dressage as she had been a grand prix dressage rider. The events co-ordinator of the Pacific Canine Showcase was a lady called Val Culpin who also had an input into the first demonstration at the event. This was followed in 1992 by a Freestyle competition at the same venue and by 1993 an organisation had been formed in Canada called Musical Canine Sport International. Between 1993/94, this organisation established rules for Freestyle as a sport and the first formalised competition was held under these rules in Canada in 1993. Interest in this sport seemed to wane in Canada in 1996. Since then, there has been a resurgence in popularity and Freestyle now has a dedicated following in Canada. We have seen a video of one of the first events in Canada and it was quite disappointing. Some of the dogs just happened to be in the arena with most of the action taking place with the handler doing a full dance routine, and some were dressed in a very outlandish costume.

Peg Singletary (USA) with her Min Poodle "JP" strutting his stuff
Peg Singletary (USA) with her Min Poodle “JP” strutting his stuff

USA: They appear to have started in 1992, after seeing what was happening in Canada. This was followed by a first demonstration at a Cycle Obedience Event in 1993. Terry Arnold seemed to have taken a leading role in getting it established in the USA. At about this time, Brian McGovern, who was a regular visitor to the USA, tried to get some interest going in an international canine dressage competition. Also involved in this were Robert Harlow and they did speak to both Canadians and US handlers such as Dee Dee Rose as well as Terry Arnold. Brian became somewhat disillusioned when he saw the direction in which the “doggy dancing” was going in some areas. In 1994, with the sport progressing, Sandra Davies joined the Canadian organisation and began to train her dog Pepper in some of the moves. Since that time, Sandra has probably become the most well known of the US Freestylers, having made several videos and published several books along the way. In the early days, the main organisation in the USA, guided by Joan Tennille and Alison Jaskiewicz, was the Canine Freestyle Federation Inc and Joan and Terry Arnold were invited to organise a Freestyle demonstration at the first AKC Invitational. These performances were greeted with standing ovations. It was at this point that the CFF was founded.

Another organisation was eventually formed in the USA, headed by a lady called Patie Ventre. She worked for an agency that looked after the promotion of some sponsored events for Heinz Pup-Peroni, a pet food manufacturer. By this stage in the USA, a lot of events and demonstrations were being held and they also managed to get some good television coverage. It was around 1998 that Patie Ventre decided to form the World Canine Freestyle Organisation Limited to start to promote their own events, and also obviously with their own set of rules and giving their own titles. The style promoted by this organisation is more aimed at an increase in the drama and flashy costuming and moving away from the obedience movements which are still retained and promoted by the other US organisation CFF.

In 2002, some of the handlers who belonged to the WCFO decided to set up their own organisation and this was to be called the Musical Dog Sport Association. This organisation, in common with the other two, now runs its own forum and web site.

In mainland Europe, it was very easy for the sport to spread from country to country due to the ease of travelling across borders and the initial ideas seem to have come from European handlers some coming over to Crufts to spectate and seeing Mary Ray performing Heelwork to Music in the Special Events Ring.

Switzerland: In about 1997, Angela Schmid and a friend of hers came over and stayed with Mary and myself for a few days and Mary trained them up in the basics of Heelwork to Music. Angela has gone on to be an accomplished competitor and demonstrator at shows throughout the Continent and just recently held a several major HTM competitions in Switzerland.

Holland/Belgium: Mary, at the invitation of Brian McGovern, took a HTM training day in Holland which also had some Belgian people in it in about 1997. They have just recently held a competition in Holland with over 40 competitors.

Denmark: Johanna Allenach started the enthusiasm in Denmark. Mary went over to take an obedience course for her and took with her the competition video from 1996. Johanna liked what she saw and she has now demonstrated at breed shows as far away as Italy.

Austria: Manuela Nassek saw Mary at Crufts in 1995 or 1996 and went back and started to train herself some of the moves and put them into a rudimentary routine. John Gilbert was at the time in Austria training agility and he then helped her with some of the more advanced moves and her choreography. She has since become the top exponent of HTM in Austria.

Jersey: Donelda Guy has been one of the driving forces in Heelwork to Music in the last few years and and since 1999 has held a competition in Jersey, the first of which was under the auspices of the American organisation, the World Canine Freestyle Organisation and subsequent competitions were held under the auspices of the British Canine Freestyle Organisation. But Donelda started when she was asked to do a demonstration in Jersey in about 1995. Mary’s demonstration routine at the time was with her Tervueren Roxy to Glenn Miller’s “St Louis Blues March”. So Donelda came to spend an afternoon at our house and Mary showed her this routine with a view to Donelda using it in her demonstration. And, of course, from that point onwards Donelda had the “bug”.

Australia: Again, the initial idea seems to have been taken from Crufts after they saw Mary’s “Riverdance” routine. Jill Houston then put together a team of handlers and their first routine was to “Riverdance” and we still have the video which she sent to us of this routine. The Australians held their first formal competition in December 1998. Mary visited Australia for the first time in 2002 and as part of that visit she took some workshops on Obedience and Heelwork to Music. It was very apparent then that there was growing enthusiasm for this new sport, with demonstrations being given at some of Australia’s premier Royal Shows.

New Zealand: Although as well as it being seen at Crufts, when we visited in 1998, we did take a couple of videos to show to a lot of the obedience people and they have been itching to get going ever since, although this is another country which has taken a lot of copies of Mary’s training videos. In the Autumn of 2000, New Zealand had a visit from Kay Laurence and I am sure that the dog handlers will now have had a fresh injection of enthusiasm in New Zealand as Kay Laurence, as well as taking clicker training seminars, also took some seminars on HTM. New Zealand has now had its first formal competition and I’m sure this will be followed by many more in a country which is now demonstrating HTM at many public events. Mary is looking forward to visiting New Zealand in 2004 to see how things are progressing.

South Africa: Linda Squair visited Crufts and saw the “Riverdance” routine and was taken with the whole concept. Shortly after that, she invited Mary over there to take some dog training courses which included Heelwork to Music. Again, the sport seems to have mushroomed with the group that are demonstrating in great demand at all kinds of events and they have now started to hold formal competitions.

Yvonne Robson with Teddy at Crufts 2002 performing to "feel like a woman"
Yvonne Robson with Teddy at Crufts 2002 performing to “feel like a woman”

Back in the UK, although Mary was continuing to get an enthusiastic audience at Crufts, it was not growing amongst other people in the way it should have done and not enough people were deciding to have a go but we were sure there were plenty of people playing about with the sport. It was then that Peter Lewis suggested that if we wanted to move it forward, we should hold a competition and an event was planned to be held at Coventry. We obviously did publicise it rather well and that paid off because it proved to be a turning point in the UK. It must also be said that we are very fortunate in obtaining sponsorship from Pedigree. It is debatable whether we could have staged such an expensive show as a pure gamble without having a reliable sponsor behind us. For the first three years, Mary decided not to compete at this event but purely to give a demonstration. This would give a chance for other people to catch up as Mary had obviously been demonstrating for a few years at this point. This has now become the major annual competition held in April each year at Coventry and we have to acknowledge that this event was responsible for a big upsurge in interest. And, of course, in the last couple of years its growth has been phenomenal with two or three major events and a couple of small shows as well. We really are at quite an exciting stage of its development.

1999 also saw the formation of a club dedicated to the sport. This was instigated by Kay Laurence and is called ‘Paws-n-Music’ and is run as a club should be run, with a committee, and has now over 100 members. It is holding its own major competitions twice a year as well as generally promoting the sport at various events as demonstrations. In 2002, the club applied for Kennel Club registration and was the first dedicated Heelwork to Music club to do so. In 2000, another group was formed called ‘HTM Freestyle Association’. They held their first two day show in November 2001 which was a tremendous success and this was to be followed by another weekend show in 2002 but this was unfortunately cancelled. It was around this time that a number of the senior members of this organisation decided to form a new club which was to be called Canine Freestyle GB who are now organising their own shows. All three of these British organisations have their own forums and web sites.

Well, that is how it all started and how it spread worldwide, but where does it go from here and what can it do for obedience? To learn a few lessons, I think we have to look at agility. We know that agility is enormously popular and unfortunately interest in obedience seems to be on the decline. John Gilbert, who some of you may recall (the older ones, anyway) is probably a good example of what happened in the early 1980s. John started in obedience in 1968 and was a member of Hemel Hempstead BAGSD. He worked his way through the classes inspired in part by Charlie Wyatt who was working Heelaway Unit at that time and John worked his way up to competing in ticket class with a German Shepherd called Heidi. In 1978 he saw the first demonstration of agility at Crufts. By 1979, he had decided he wanted to be in agility and the last dogs he worked in obedience after that was another GSD called Becky who he worked until 1981 in Novice and ‘A’ Class. Then of course John became one of the people who decided that agility was probably a little more exciting and that was where his future lay in dogs.

Of course, this was the tale with many people. When it comes to television coverage, we now also know that agility is far more spectacular and, taking Crufts Dog Show as an example, the BBC put more and more agility/flyball events on and, it has to be said, at the direct expense of obedience because whether we like it or not, obedience is not really a spectator sport but an enthusiast’s sport and therein probably lies one of the problems. Look at how much coverage HTM has had – two slots on Jim Davidson’s Generation Game, Blue Peter, Five Alive on C5, Richard and Judy Show, The Big Breakfast and numerous local news items on regional programmes, plus two spreads in national newspapers. And, of course, ten minutes on the BBC prime time Sunday evening Best in Show Night from Crufts, which included Mary’s routine in the Best in Show Ring.

In competitive obedience we need to get new pre-beginners and beginners from pet training classes but it is becoming more and more difficult to entice people into competition from these classes. And here we see Heelwork to Music as a golden opportunity to get some enthusiasm back for obedience. There are one or two people of course who say you cannot do obedience and something else as well, but they used to say that about agility and who are the top handlers in Heelwork to Music now – they are also top handlers in obedience: Mary Ray, Ann Northfield, Donelda Guy, Linda Topliss, Kath Hardman, Janice Jackson etc. Some clubs are now putting Heelwork to Music classes on and the participants benefit from a good basic knowledge first and this is now having a positive effect on their membership. People are staying on at the club after their pet obedience course to try to gain some additional skills.

At the end of the day, we have to do something about obedience. Have a look around a show, as I did at Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead, and just note how many of the handlers that you see have been in obedience for years. And there just aren’t the people there to replace them when they retire or just give up, not unless something is done to try to rejuvenate the obedience club scene. This new sport is the only chance we have of finding something so closely allied with obedience that we can use it to its benefit.

If you have not got anyone in your club who is at this moment a HTM person, then there are books on sale now and training videos. There is no reason why you cannot start a basic kind of class, even if it is little more than doing an obedience round to music and then add on the extras as you go along. The only people who can create the enthusiasm in your club are you, the people in charge of the clubs and the trainers. And certainly, it is a fact now that some clubs are managing to hold onto their pet obedience people and take them onto a Heelwork to Music class while at the same time interest them in obedience which, hopefully, will lead them into competition.

One thing is a fact – that HTM/Freestyle can liven up your obedience classes, can make dog training more fun and can entice more people to take dog training serious and enter competitions. It is also another very useful tool to promote dog training. It’s there, so have some fun and use it!

When we held our first competition in 1996, Peter Lewis applied to the Kennel Club for permission to hold a “special event”. We knew that we could not get a licence as it was an unrecognised sport but as it turned out, we could not get the “special permission” either because, as stated by the Kennel Club at the time, they cannot give permission for something to happen when it is not a sport within their jurisdiction. However, they did say that they would look at it again if the sport became more popular and we are probably at that stage now. In 2002, the Kennel Club formally recognised Heelwork to Music as a competitive sport (it’s that name again – or should we call it Freestyle?)

However, some people may say “do we need KC recognition?” Well, we believe that we do. We have seen arguments happen in other countries where different organisations are formed and claim to be the governing body and I can assure you it does not work. Plus, of course, if an incident does happen at one of the events, there is no recourse for anyone if you are outside the system. So HTM could progress outside the system but I am afraid the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Now that the Kennel Club has made the sport official, we can draw a parallel with the early days of agility. When the KC published the first set of agility regulations, they were very basic and did not even include a regularised classification of classes and this gave the chance for the sport to grow without being tied down with too many specific regulations, although the protection of a broader show regulation was in place. Although we have official classifications now, the regulations are still fairly loose and do give the opportunity for societies to do their own thing to a certain extent. However, I am sure that as the sport progresses, the enthusiasts will get together to ensure that any future changes to regulations are driven by the competitors themselves.

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