I am going to be writing about judging... yes, remember, I am still an agility judge too, I also 'almost' forgot... since I haven't judged in a year! But in the past three weeks, I had some judging appointments. It is very hard being a competitor and a judge, I really do enjoy judging, but if I HAD to choose, I will always rather compete. Can't do both at the same time now, can I?
Why do I judge? Well definitely not for the fame... or the infamy. Around here judges don't get paid, so it can't be that. Agility judges has an absolutely unique role, compared to any other judge/adjudicator/referee/umpire in any other sport. In most sports, with the exception of Show Jumping (but I will get to that), the sole purpose of the judge is to... well do just that... JUDGE that all the players/competitors are following the rules. In Agility, the judge has one (very HUGE) extra responsibility... the judge actually sets the challenge within which the rules need to be followed. Unlike athletics, soccer, triathlon, rowing, fencing, weightlifting, where the competitors will always perform the same task. And also unlike gymnastics, synchronised swimming, competitive dancing, freestyle dressage, where the competitor has guidelines, but still their choice of routine. In Agility and Show Jumping, the judge sets the actual challenge and chooses the skills which they want to test. And the complexity of this challenge in Agility is much higher than in Show Jumping, where striding (collection and extension) forms the major part of the test.
The options available to an Agility judge is basically infinite, which is why we don't have to wash/rinse/repeat courses week after week. So back to the question of why I judge... I like being part of this unique relationship with Agility competitors, I like setting challenges and seeing handlers and dogs succeed. I believe that judges have a huge responsibility to the growth and improvement of Agility. How many times have you struggled with a section on a course and the very first thing you do when you train again is set that up? How many new handlers have been discouraged to continue competing in Agility, because the courses are not level appropriate? Why would we train proper contacts if contact faults were never called?
Judging and designing courses for smaller classes (in smaller countries, like South Africa especially) is especially challenging if you know anything about statistics... it comes down to the simple concept of the less dogs run, the less clear rounds you will get... so if your aim is to have 10% clear rounds... and you only have 10 dogs running, you are only aiming at 1 clear round? This can be very discouraging for a judge let me tell you. Having said that though, I also don't believe in 'giving' QC's (Qualifying Certificates or Champ Tickets away) JUST because there are less dogs. I really believe in having a set standard and sticking to it. Of course not unreasonable standards (Yes, I also hate walking courses and just going WTF at the end of it), but SOME form of standard. But I also detest easy courses (with no challenge whatsoever) being set up because the judge just wants loads of clears.... after all Agility is a test of skill AND speed, not just one or the other.
Of course each judge (especially competing judges) have their own preferences and trademarks, regarding everything aspect of course design. I know some judges that like designing from the start to the finish, others do it in reverse, some judges draw a doodle/course path first and then put in obstacles (I always find this one a bit odd). Personally I normally have one specific sequence I want to test and design the rest of my course around that. Some judges always have a hard weave pole entry or tunnels under the contact or a tunnel discrimination where all the tunnel entrances face in the same direction.
Now I have to have a little gripe though, which just by the way I actually try to never do, since I KNOW the challenges and hardships of judging. In the last while, I have just noticed too many judges not taking their responsibility seriously and it bugs me... it bugs the JUDGE in me more than it bugs the competitor in me. First of all, being the kind of judge that literally spends hours designing and tweaking my courses, I am very frustrated by judges that re-uses courses week in and week out. Very sorry to say this, but if you don't have time to design a course, then rather not accept the judging appointment. Re-using a course a couple of times in different parts of the country/world, that is not an issue, but not even bothering to design a new course for a judging appointment two weeks apart at the same show grounds? Second issue I have is judges being too lazy to move one jump in between grade changes just moving a number here and there, often making it more difficult for lower grades. While I do understand that for non-competing judges especially, it is hard to see what could be challenging for lower grades, this does not mean you have to be lazy. Now given that I am sure it IS possible, I just have to point out that I have never, not once in the 12 years that I have been a judge, have I been able to design a course for grades1, 2 and 3, where I have not had to move at least 2 or 3 obstacles and keep the challenges fair to each grade. The last while, I have to say the majority of the courses I have run with my grade 3 dogs, have been TOO easy. That is just a personal issue of course, the judge's design is their design and while we can comment, it is STILL the judge's decision. However... earning a title should be an achievement, NOT a given. My next issues are all on the actual judging... number one, the lack of refusal and handling calls, of course all judges make mistakes and then you have to consistently judge the rest of the class in the same manner. But seeing dog after dog pass every refusal plane on the course or spin 7 times right in front of an obstacle or dogs being shoved around the course with knees, arms and feet is very frustrating. My last gripe for now involves contact judging. I am very sorry (and yes I have tested this theory many times, using a video camera to test and prove it), if you live in a country, where you have to judge ALL 6 contact zones (A-Frame, Dogwalk, see-saw/teeter - Up and down), it is physically impossible to ACCURATELY judge all of that while standing dead still in the middle of the course. And I am not budging on that one. A friend of mine has very fast 4-on-the-floor contacts (I am talking about a 1.6 second dog walk here) and he constantly gets called on his contacts because the judge is standing a mile away at completely the wrong angle... while photos and videos prove that the dog doesn't just have one toe in, but 2 or 3 feet! And please understand me, I KNOW how hard contact judging is, I really, really do. But unless you are standing right there staring a hole into the contact zone, you cannot ASSUME that the dog touched or missed anything. If you are not physically able to do this, then get yourself an up-contact judge or just don't accept a contact judging appointment. I actually know of quite a few judges that just leave the dog walk out of a course, because the can't judge it? Also not right if you ask me.
Okay gripe over and done with. So just a note to all judges... yes, when judging you have to be strong, deal with a lot of crap and remember you are the JUDGE, but that doesn't mean you can't accept advise and input from people, it definitely doesn't mean you are out there to nail competitors. It does mean you have a responsibility to the sport and the competitors to do your utter best in every aspect of the sport within the rules which you are judging. Haha, yes, it really IS a thankless and hard job.
So on to my actual judging... finally.
In Bloemfontein I set up this course for Agility 3:
I am happy with how it ran, I think I handed out 2 QC's on this course, I think our results website is down at the moment, since I can't access it. I had lots of handling faults between 10 and 11 and a lot of refusals between the dog walk and 18 (not one handler handled this section like I would have). I also had a lot of screaming between 15 and the dog walk, but very few faults, so not really understanding the screaming. Due to time constraints and the large entry, I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to run this course with my dogs, but I will definitely be setting it up for training at some stage. I set the course at 4m/s which is higher than our minimum 3.5m/s speed limit... this DID cause some moans and groans, but I definitely don't think it was unfair.
A week later I was judging both Contact and Non-Contact (Jumping) back in Gauteng. My contact courses: