Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Love of Lines

Earlier in my life, I loved to ski, and eventually became a ski instructor. I remember in my ski training that we learned to look for the best lines and how to ski a good line as we schussed and carved our way down the slope.

At first, I couldn't quite grasp the concepts of "lines" or how to find them. But once I unraveled the concept, it changed the whole experience. Instead of skiing turn by turn, the descent became a long, flowing and rhythmic dance, at its best, at one with the mountain.

It was a discovery that had a profound effect on me, and which years later, influenced my style and preferences in agility handling.

Since early on in working with Taylor, I sought to break free from handling obstacle to obstacle and to find, as in skiing, the beauty of the line.

As it relates to agility, I feel the concept, in its essence, is to know that a line has no abruptness. It flows from one point to the next without interruption.

The feel of working with a line is like holding a pencil to paper and trying to move the pencil around the page without skipping or unevenness. No start. No end. Just a flowing balance of forward momentum and light, but engaged control.

Many times in agility, we see performances that suffer for lack of a knowledge of lines. How they function. How pressure, or lack of it, affects the shape and integrity of the line further down.

The simple way is to see a sequence. To discover the line that may be found within the sequence is the pure stuff of a swift and effortless run.

To push too hard is to set up for wide turns and over-corrections later. To hold back too much is to bring focus away from the line, resulting in lost momentum.

Handling lines surpasses thinking about placing one cross here and another one there. It goes beyond handling obstacle by obstacle, where the dog becomes lost to late commands and is never really given a workable idea of where to go.

Intrinsic to the line is a kind of zen. It's a move, in actuality, that goes beyond running a course of obstacles to an action that unites thought and purpose.

In skiing, when I first looked down uneven surface of the ski hill, it seemed impossible that a skier could decipher a line within that uneven terrain.

In agility, I thought the same thing early on, losing a nice little terrier to the crevasse of my unenlightenment.

With Taylor, though, I have now hold the good fortune of having found our way around the mountain. Mostly by dint of having a dog with intelligence and amazing perception.

We've now reached a point where our practice (the hulk of the A frame excluded) deals mainly in exploring and reveling in lines. The better we are at finding them, the more blissful and swift the going.

Straight, fast, removing the sense of "obstacle" from the way we think about agility obstacles. Finding the perfect line has become a personal quest of mine, and the wonder of it all is bottomless.

Like words written on paper, the secrets in every course can be found in its lines.

In our study of these lines, we inscribe a signature of who we are on the course. We discover the truth of our training and what we are made of as handlers.

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