ELLA Armstrong, 18, from Sheffield, and her Whippet, was chosen by Leila Tarabad on the Sunday afternoon of Crufts to win YKC Show Handler of the Year. She’s been handling for eight years and has been a YKC member for five years. She lives with her Whippet and two Dachshunds.
MS: What did it feel like winning the YKC show handler title?
EA: It was just fantastic! I couldn’t believe it! I have a photo taken by one the excellent photographers who were around the YKC ring of Leila pointing at me, and my face just says it all – my chin is nearly on the ground! It didn’t seem real. It was third time lucky as I had been in the final in 2010 and ‘11 too.
MS: How did you think you performed on the day?
EA: It went brilliantly. Wilf was on top form and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I was very pleased with our performance and remember thinking that if we didn’t get placed we had still done our best. Win or lose, it’s very rare I don’t have some kind of criticism to make about myself.
MS: How did you get involved in dog showing?
EA: My mum bought a Dachshund to show when I was around eight years old, and I would show him in junior handling classes. Eventually I was allowed my own dog and chose a Whippet. I showed him a bit as a puppy but I slowly became more interested in agility so this dropped off. I started showing more regularly again when I was around 15 and from there we have been very successful due to lots of hard work and a bit of luck at times! However, I did win my first ever junior handling class at the age of four, at a companion dog show with our lurcher, Merlin, who was nearly bigger than me!
MS: What type of dogs do you prefer handling?
EA: Whippets of course! Although Wilf is the only dog I show on a regular basis, I have had experience showing a range of different breeds. I also feel confident showing Dachshunds, and recently I have trained a Miniature Poodle for handling; he is not KC registered but I hope to take him to some handling competitions which he is allowed to enter this year. I would love to get the opportunity to show someone else’s dog this year as I feel it is time to try something new.
MS: What is your biggest success in breed?
EA: Wilf has done well in the breed ring, however I am not particularly interested in this and only tend to go to shows to enter the handling classes. I have, however, worked particularly hard in other disciplines with him, and Wilf has done very well in the past at agility shows. His biggest achievement was qualifying for Crufts ‘12 in YKC starters obedience. Not only was he the first Whippet to ever qualify for Crufts in obedience, he also put in an amazing performance on the day and we came second out of 18.
MS: What, before Crufts, has been your biggest success in handling?
EA: Probably winning my 12-16 years handling class at Crufts in ‘10. It was my first time ever competing at Crufts having only just got back into showing, and it was the biggest class of the year with 25 handlers. Also, last year I was asked to become a handling trainer for the YKC at activity days. It was pretty amazing to think that the YKC were willing to put their faith in me to train their valued members.
MS: Is your school/college supportive of your hobby?
EA: Well my head of sixth form is the only one who really knows about my success in dogs, and she’s always asking me about upcoming shows and trying to convince me to take Wilf into school.
MS: What subjects are you studying?
EA: I am studying PE, English Literature and English Language at A level.
MS: What do your non show friends think of your hobby?
EA: My best friend always comes along to Crufts with me and has been to other shows in the past so she completely understands what I do. However I don’t think anyone else really does!
MS: What do you want to do as a career?
EA: Worryingly, I’m not too sure yet! I have applied and been accepted into several Universities to study sport massage, to go onto equine sport massage. I keep changing my mind about this, although I do know that I want to work with performance horses, especially race horses.
MS: Have you started judging yet?
EA: Yes I had my first judging appointment about a year ago and have had a few since then. I mainly judge junior/adult handling, although I have had one breed appointment for Dachshunds and I have another coming up in September. I do feel much more comfortable judging handling so will probably just stick with this in the future. I have my first champ show appointment in the summer which I am so excited about!
MS: What would you like to achieve in the world of dog showing?
EA: Well, Show Handler of the Year was the top of my list! I’m amazed by how far we have come and couldn’t really wish for much more. I do hope that the YKC will continue to invite me to teach at their activity days, and one day maybe even be asked to judge the handling at Crufts myself – that really would be something!