I'm talking about lure coursing. Sighthounds of every make and model out chasing three innocent white plastic bags on a very long string tied to a very strong pulley system. Belle made her triumphant return to coursing this past Saturday outside of Cleburne, TX (which sounds a lot like 'cleemon' but isn't nearly as dirty) and she came back with style.
If you've been here for longer than 365 days or so you may remember me trumpeting about Belle earning her JC (Junior Courser) title roughly a year ago in a place called Cleburne, TX. A big ranch, lots of sunshine and heat, and my beautiful girl doing what she does best--run. Well, things being what they are, a year passed before we could attend another lure coursing event. Heat is a major factor, and location is another. Well, time passed and this event came up, and we decided it was time to return to lure coursing, especially since she's earned her "Champion" title in the show ring and has retired from all that foolishness.
A six hour trip to Fort Worth to stay with our mentor Rita and a short hop to the King Ranch outside of Cleburne and Belle was back in action. Now, keep in mind that she's not run a lure but twice before in an organized event, and always by herself. A few laps orbiting me in the back yard do not a 600 yard lure course make. Plus, she's never run in a group before (other than to abuse Remy and Sheba in said backyard.) So naturally what she was going to do was sort of up in the air. Would she run well? Would she run clean? Would her recent devastating bout with pyrometra affect her?
Everything was answered the first time Mrs I. staged her at the starting point with two other Borzoi. A friend of ours, and Belle's litter co-breeder who also owns one of Belle's litter mates saw her standing there at the line with her ears pricked well up and said "She's got her hunting ears on!" When the lure ran away at full speed and the Huntmaster shouted "Tally ho!" she was gone like a bullet. She ran with such power and such focus that it made my blood run fast and my heart pound. If it wasn't bad form I'd have been screaming my fool head off.
Now before I get too much father, let me say this: Lure coursing makes, to me, more sense than the conformation ring. Coursing dogs aren't graded on how pretty they are, how well groomed or by who knows whom. They're graded on how fast they are, how accurate they are at following the 'bunnies,' and how cleanly they run the race (ie not attacking or interfering with their co-competitors.) It's also not a speed race--the winning dog might end up crossing the line last because they followed the lure the entire time, not cheating by cutting across the field to where it's going to be. They're graded on a point system, and the highest point score determines each race's winner.
Well, my baby girl (three years old now!) proved that she has what it takes, in spades. She won her first two races handily, tying for first with another Borzoi for Best of Breed. In the run-off she eeked out a win by a single point, which clinched her the Best of Breed win, a three point major (the scoring runs just like in the confirmation ring.) It had to have been one of the most emotionally taxing things I'd ever watched--she and her competition ran literally nose and nose the entire time, trading the lead back and forth like race car drivers. Only a minute passed during the race but I was wrung out by the time they finished, and the judge gave her the single point on the grounds that the other dog became distracted off the lure for just a moment when the landowner's dog strayed into the coursing field. That simple--the other dog turned away to play for a moment and Belle never blinked.
Watching Belle run is something extraordinary. She is SO focused, so determined to catch that 'bunny.' In one of her first two races she bowled a younger Borzoi completely over when he decided he wanted to course HER instead of the lure, and when she turned sharply after the 'bunny' and he didn't she simply ran over him, sending him ass-over-teakettle, ever missing a beat, never looked away from the lure. I was astounded, thinking for sure fur was going to fly, but no, Belle had other things on her mind. Catching that plastic bag.
After Best of Breed she ran against the next closest breed to hers for a spot at Best In Field, or the best dog out there. The closest to her was an Afghan Hound, and she beat that dog pretty handily. Four races all together, and for the last we'd taken the precaution of wetting down her racing jacket and her fur to help cool her off--the temp was fast rising from the 52 degrees it'd been that morning!
The whole time I'd been watching and photographing her and the other dogs I kept telling myself not to get my hopes wound up to high. Whippets are MAJOR contenders in any lure coursing event, as single-minded as greyhounds and much more agile than almost anything out there. Whippets usually walk away with every Best In Field award, and so I kept reminding myself that it was great--Belle had run beautifully, and had won Best of Breed which in itself is a remarkable feat. We'd gotten to enjoy the company of our mentor and her excellent husband, and had even gotten to see one of Belle's litter mates course. If we left there with just the Best of Breed ribbon and three points toward her field coursing championship then it was a day well spent and richly rewarded.
Plus, try as I might I couldn't get any whisper from the judge's tent about who was on top, points-wise.
When the afternoon was over and the races run we all gathered around the table and applauded and cheered as the names were called and the rosettes handed out. My chest swelled when the cheers went up as the organizer called Belle's name for First Place and Best of Breed, and Mrs. I gathered up the two beautiful rosettes and claimed a pink flamingo toy as Belle's reward, "...because she wore the pink jacket most during the races." Then it came down to it. Best In Field was down to two dogs--Belle and a Whippet. I knew it was going to be a loss, but it was going to be a grand one because she'd done so much in a single day after a year away from racing.
When they called "Belle!" people cheered and applauded, I whooped, and Mrs. I stood there politely clapping, thinking 'How odd, the Whippet's name was Belle too.' We simply didn't expect it, but talk about pride afterward! The huge red, white and blue rosette with the foot-long ribbons was going home with Belle, OUR Belle and no other. Plus, she earned FIVE points instead of three because the Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs present had a five point major available on the field due to the number of dogs present, and the BIF winner takes the highest points _available_ home.
My feet still haven't touched the ground.**
* Although our 'Easter Egg Chickens' started laying Saturday, Easter Eve...three eggs total, ranging from blue to a blue-green colour. Nature is one crazy old girl.
** And yes, thoughts of Dual Championship, winning a Field Champion title before she runs enough races to be considered a Senior Courser and not just a Junior Courser, and more huge rosettes to hang around her photo are filling my thoughts!