Jessamine County 4-H’ers – and their pups – make Junior Open Agility World Championship

Published 10:30 am Friday, July 14, 2023

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By Carrie Hudson 

Staff Intern

When Ryan and Sarah Ford joined Jessamine County 4-H Dog Club in 2016, they had no idea it would ignite a passion that would take them overseas.

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On Thursday, July 13, the Fords began competing at Junior Agility World Championships as members of Team USA.

The Junior Agility World Championship is a yearly international dog agility competition that will be taking place in London, England. There are currently over 300 entries from various countries worldwide, mainly from Europe.

Each year, the U.S. sends roughly 20 members, out of the 300 applicants, as representatives at the competition. This year, for the second in a row, Ryan, 17, and Sarah, 13, Ford were chosen as members of the team,

Last year was their first, in which they made history three times by being selected.

“The manager sent something about making three firsts- first from Kentucky, first siblings to be on the team at the same, and first miniature Americans,” said Ana Ford, Ryan and Sarah’s mom.

The competition consists of what Ana describes as “almost two different competitions.” The first is a “group competition, that is with your country, and they put together all ages in the teams. There is the small dog team, the medium dog team- it just goes by the dog’s height. The teams will compete on a jumpers course and a standard course.”

Sarah explained that a jumpers course comprises “jumps, tunnels, and weaves.” While a standard course has the additional contact obstacles, which are teeter totters and dog walks.

Outside of the group competition, Ryan and Sarah will also be competing individually with their dogs, Denali and Hazel.

“Internationally, the courses are very different than in the states. That is something that the team has been working on,” Ana said.

She then explained that international course and those in the U.S. are designed differently. In international competition, “ they run a lot more- the courses are really big with difficult challenges, which requires a lot of running. A typical course out there is probably 230 yards, whereas here it is maybe 170 to 180 yards. They just have a different way of building the course.”

To prepare for the international style of courses, Ryan and Sarah have been participating in an agility competition through the American Kennel Club.

“These two have been doing an agility league that goes out every two weeks when they have a new course and they are in the international division, so it’s international style. That is how they have been getting used to the different styles, of course,” said Ana.

Ryan and Sarah’s team took 1st place in the last run of the league and are hoping to replicate that success in London.

“If you guys want to toot your own horn, we can share that you all won your last competition in the league,” Ana said proudly.

Due to the distance between the members of the team, the majority of the practicing happens independently.

“We only have one team practice in May in Missouri, almost in Kansas. That’s because they are from all over the country; there is just no way to meet up with everybody all of the time. They are from California, Washington, Florida- they are just all spread out,” Ana said.

Despite the distance and inability to see each other throughout the preparation, they can still foster a team connection to carry over to the competition.

“Everyone always tries to watch their teammates run, you know, to support one another. Your teammates will be there at the end clapping for you and telling you, ‘Hey, that looked pretty good,’” Ana said.

Going into the event last year as their first time, Ana remembers the advice she and her children were given by a member of the team who has competed before, “Last year we had a teammate tell everyone, ‘if you go in there and think ‘I am going to win’ you may not have a good time. But if you go in there and try to enjoy the moment and being with everybody, then you can have a good experience.’’”

This advice they were given last year is a piece they are taking with them to the competition this year as well. Due to the unpredictable nature of agility, it is important to stay positive regardless of faults or mistakes,

“ You never know what is going to happen with agility. It is so difficult. If your only goal is to win, and you’re going to be upset if you don’t, then you need to change your attitude, because there are almost 400 other kids and they are also top,” Ana said. “You will have a lot more fun if you go in with the attitude of wanting to be the best teammate you can for your dog and to enjoy the experience.”

The experience itself is one that Fords will remember forever.

Ryan recalls last year having a “dance battle with the Brits,” while waiting for their turn during the opening ceremony.

“We got a dog to dance, so we obviously won that dance battle,” Sarah added.

Besides dancing with the British team, one of Ford’s favorite memories and souvenirs are the jerseys they traded with their fellow competitors.

Ana explained that “Every country has their own uniform…During the competition, if you see another country’s jersey that you like, you can go up to the junior and say, ‘Hey, I would love your jersey. Would you like to trade?’ So they’ll trade jerseys after the competition is over.”

Last year, Ryan came home with a jersey from Finland; he stated, “It is really fun to have jerseys from other countries.”

This year when asked what his goals are going into the competition, Ryan said, “First place,” while Sarah is looking to her many years left competing on the team.

While they are now competing on much larger teams in bigger arenas, the Fords still remember and are thankful for their time competing with Jessamine County.

“With these two, it started with Jessamine County 4-H Dog Club. We had good kids and good leaders. It was really fun meeting up every week and seeing everybody,” Ana said.

Ryan added, “That is where I started my love for the sport and realized how fun it could be to show.”