This weekend sees the final of the Junior Handling Association Junior Handler of the Year. It is being hosted for the third year by the Kennel Club at its Discover Dogs event at Earls Court in London and is sponsored, also for the third year, by Agria Pet Insurance.
It is so encouraging to see this format for the JHA final continuing and becoming so easily established. That the JHA continues to meet the competitive needs of junior handlers goes without saying. These days so many of us started our dog showing lives in their classes that a world without diplomas and semis etc seems unthinkable, yet this is all thanks to sponsorship, hosts and the unceasing hard work of Liz Cartledge, all of whom juniors owe a huge thank you to.
The 14 finalists won their right to compete at the semi-finals in September at Richmond, to do so they had to win their group and age class. They are all therefore already winners in their own right and within the 14 finalists there is the usual range of both experience and previous success.
As you might expect, most of the more well-known handlers, some with excellent track records of success in this competition already, qualified in the 12-16 years classes of their groups. Some of the six-11 years winners are new names to me and they will be making their debuts at this level of the competition. The important thing to remember is that they have all done so well to get here in the first place, as only one of them can take the title and the responsibility of representing the UK at the international final at Crufts.
All the handlers will start the final with their own dog, usually the same one they competed and won with at the semi and even if the dog has had to change the breed is the same. The final, therefore starts in much the same way as the semis that many of you attended, but as the final progresses this changes.
Stakes get higher
Up to this stage of the JHA competition the handlers only handle their own dog and there are no breed changes. At the final the stakes get higher and so does the expectation of the handler’s capabilities and we see handlers taking charge of a dog and breed they are unfamiliar with.
This sets the handlers a harder challenge, testing their ability to make the most of a dog they do not know, checking their knowledge of the handling techniques of other breeds and showing how quickly they are able to build a rapport with a dog.
It is important to stress that Liz Cartledge, when setting up this important part of the final, is not looking to catch handlers out or give them unachievable tasks. It is quite the opposite in fact. She gives considerable thought to making this part of the competition as fair a test as possible and also one which is looking to find handlers’ strengths not show up their weaknesses.
Remember that she has to bear in mind that the eventual winner will become the UK representative at the spectacular international junior handling final, which is held at Crufts next year.
This final, which has such a huge world-wide following, has always expected handlers to work with dogs they have never met until the day of the event and also for handlers to have the ability to work with more than one breed and at more than one pace. It is important to ensure that the holder of the UK title is able to represent us well. In reflecting the requirements of the international in the JHA final Liz is able to ensure that the eventual winner has the ability to do this.
The very best of luck to all 14 finalists – do your best, don’t let the nerves spoil it, remember they just go straight down the lead to your dog and, most importantly, enjoy yourselves!