Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Struggle Is Real

I do feel a bit bad, jumping in with another angsty post after so many wonderful things have happened since my last post. (Like Knight qualifying for Nationals and Mia earning her 2nd AX Leg!!!!)  

But alas, dark days always beckon me to write. So here I am. 

Lilly qualified for Nationals. 

This news does not come on the silver platter I had always imagined it would. It's a bittersweet victory. 

Lilly made me fight for every millisecond of her attention this weekend. We ran wide. We were sloppy. Corners were sniffed for potential crumbs and ring crews were visited. We scraped by with a Q in standard each day, each run a blur of me stumbling around trying to keep Lilly's head. Saturday's jumpers resulted in Lilly taking every jump possible and checking in with me just a time or two. 

Sunday's jumpers was painful. I thought maybe my frantic handling in attempts to keep her attention was messing her up, so, even though I couldn't feel her with me on the line, I decided to run her like I trusted her. It was the wrong decision. Lilly left the ring. Lilly, 9 year old Lilly, Qualified for Nationals Lilly, been out trialing for nearly 5 years Lilly, left me.

It's now over 24 hours later and I'm still bitter. It's a vicious cycle that keeps turning around in my mind. I can't believe I trusted her and she wasn't there.... No, no, She's a dog, she did a perfectly normal dog thing, it's cool, I don't care..... Oh my god, I do care! I'm a horrible handler, I cannot believe I'm upset.... Stop being upset. It's wrong. You're fine. I'm fine..... We've been through this before, we'll do it again!...  What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? ....But.... I trusted her, and she. wasn't. there.... and on and on and on. 

My agility world is usually a happy place. I hate it when we have bad days... it brings me back to dark days with a horrible sense of biting clarity. Like that trial in August 2005, first trial back after taking the summer off while I was at camp and Lilly broke down in the ring and drooled so much it coated the hair on her chest. Or that trial in October 2011 when my 2 year old dog lost the love of the game ring in front of my eyes. I watched him literally drag his feet around the ring. Or September of this year, my one day trial with Mia.... broken days and broken dogs.

As I chased after Lilly to scoop her up into my arms before she left the exit chute I had this vision of us making it all the way to finals at Nationals. We'd step up on the line, as I look down at her to do her pre-run shake off I'd notice her eyes glazed over as drool drips off her chin. Right when we've made it to where I've always dreamed we'd be... suddenly we're back to square one. 

This is about so much more than Lilly running out of the ring one day. This is about the dog I was running 3 years ago coming back to haunt us. I thought that dog was gone, I thought we slayed that dragon. Yet, 3 years later, here it is again. That's fine. We'll slay it again and move on.


It has now been nearly two weeks since the trial went down. In my original post I spiraled away from my controlled writing style and into a chaotic whirlwind of emotion that I'll spare you from reading. So while I'm not going to publicize the full weight of one of my darker moments I'll give you the gist of it. 

I was angry. I hate to admit it, but there you have it. I was angry because I thought we were better than this. I felt like my dog let me down. I felt cheated. Hell, I was even embarrassed as I left that ring. 

I was holding back tears as I packed up my things. I was angry. I was bitter. I was upset. I wanted to quit. 

Lilly has been my rock this year. I thought I was going to lose her in January, but she came back to the agility world and she owned it. She is my inspiration. We started at the lowest point possible and have made it so very far. She's the dog I brag about to anyone who will listen. "Would you believe me if I told you she ran 1.5 YPS when she first started trialing?"  It was painful for her to not be what I have come to expect her to be.

I thought we had conquered all our demons and we'd made it to the top. But agility isn't a pyramid. You don't get to just master challenges and then sit at the top. Agility is a mountain. Have you ever hiked a mountain? It's not a straight progression of bottom to top. No, no, not at all. There are dips and valleys and false peaks before you get to reach the summit. 

When you're hiking you'll sometimes ask yourself why you're going down hill, you're supposed to be hiking up the mountain! Agility is the same thing. You think you're making great progress upwards, only to find yourself sliding down a steep decline the next second. False peaks are just as painful in the agility world too. Those moments of, "Yes! This is it! We've done it!" only to look up and notice just how much father there is to go. 

So here we are. Many more miles to go than I had imagined. This post has evolved into that weird sort of inspirational post that I didn't want it to become when I first started writing it. But distance gives us clarity, just like I knew it would. 

I'm sharing this because it's unfair to our journey to ignore our mistakes. I don't want to just brush it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen. It did happen and it was painful. I've acknowledged that and now I'm ready to move on. 

It's been nearly two weeks and I'm not bitter anymore. I have a wonderful girlfriend to lean on, and amazing dogs who believe in me despite my flaws. My agility world still feels a little shattered, but now I know that I can pick up the pieces.