Introducing Susannah Chalmers – as she shares her journey towards competing in the ParAgility World Championships UK team alongside her dog Arran, following her diagnosis of spinal stenosis and arthritis.
"I have always loved dogs and been lucky enough to have shared my life with so many special friends over the years. I also come from an equestrian background - competing successfully with my horses in show jumping and eventing. In 2010, it became clear that there was a problem, as I started to experience pain and stiffness in my joints. I was quickly diagnosed with spinal stenosis and arthritis, which was truly devastating news, and the end of my riding career.
A few years passed, and then one day I was at a little country show, and watched a dog agility display, I was hooked! What could be more perfect - I would still be able to enjoy the thrill of learning to follow a course, and competing, without being on top of a horse! I started to dream that it could just be possible.
There was just one small problem - I hadn't got a trained dog – but I had just adopted a rather chubby, opinionated young Pug! I contacted a local agility club, and started to learn the ropes, training my Pug Miss Marshmallow to Kennel Club competition standard, and began entering shows, and - unbelievably - winning! Marsha quickly progressed to Grade 5 (the highest Grade is 7), we had well and truly got the bug!
Sadly, due to covid and two years of lockdowns, cancelled shows, and the fact that she was now older, I made the decision to retire her during this time. However, I loved agility now, had made so many friends, and really wanted to continue for as long as my sometimes-limited mobility would allow. And so, the search began!
I researched many different breeds; the key was that as I have four other dogs (3 pugs and a 18-year-old Pomeranian) the new puppy would need to fit in here and be happy living in a multi dog household. I finally decided that a Papillon would meet the brief.
May 2021… enter Arran!
Arran, or Bankshill Isle of Arran, to give him his full official KC name, was born in Scotland, and went to a local breeder when he was 8 weeks old, the plan was to show him as he was very well bred.
However, I think Arran had other ideas as at 16 weeks old he had grown to mammoth proportions and was now over breed standard height! For agility, this is really not a problem, and in fact desirable, as Papillons can sometimes struggle with some of the equipment - the seesaw especially.
Arran arrived like a whirlwind, livening us all up, and fitted in like he had always been here! A typical puppy - he was into anything and everything, and would clearly need "a job" in order to stimulate his very active mind!
With weeks/months of lockdowns but being lucky enough to have a very large garden and a few pieces of agility equipment, we started our training together. It was clear that he was an incredibly clever little dog who just loved to learn and work. I would set a goal for the week and find that halfway through day one he had smashed it! He relished every new challenge, proving to be brave, driven and eager to learn every new skill.
With the UK slowly opening up, I decided to try our hand at showing, which would also be fantastic experience for a young dog, and so at six months and one day old, off we went to Leeds Championship Show where he qualified for Crufts… not once but twice! He took it all in his stride, was so confident, friendly and showed really well. It was clear then that he had something very special.
To compete at agility under Kennel Club rules, the dog has to be 18 months old, so the next year was taken up with more showing for experience (and yes, he went to Crufts!) and lots of training in readiness for our agility ring debut!
In July 2022, we entered our very first show. With no expectations, only to gain invaluable experience, I was shocked when he flew around the course and got a clear round, placing in 2nd and coming home with his very first rosette! I was over the moon - he was incredible!
Since then, and starting in KC grade 2, we have competed all over the country, both indoors and outdoors, and I am immensely proud that he is now Grade 6 after not even one year of competition.
During this time, I became aware of a very special competition that takes place in a different country every year, IMCA/PAWC or the ParAgility World Championships. I had heard so many speak of what a truly inspirational event it is and decided to try to be selected for the UK Team!
My application was sent off, along with the relevant reports from my GP, and videos of Arran and I competing, and the agonising wait began!
Just after Christmas in January 2023, we received the most amazing news ever - Arran and I had been selected for the UK team! The dream I’d had a few years ago is amazingly going to come true! I will be so proud to step onto the start line with my wonderful boy Arran by my side, and hopefully show the world what hard work, dedication, big dreams and the love and trust of one little dog can do!
Now the hard work starts in earnest. I am busy fundraising to help with the huge cost (it is self-funded), our training is being targeted to specifically address the very different styles of European course design, we aim to be fitter and faster than we have ever been before! After all the competition will be fierce, with the best of the best all aiming for podium positions! I have a GoFundMe, and any help to get us there that anyone is able to give would be fantastic.
Our adventure begins on 29th August 2023, when we leave in convoy with the team coach for the Netherlands. Wednesday 30th will be a team practice and vet checks, and on Thursday 31st August, the opening ceremony, where the competing countries will present each other with good luck gifts. The competition itself starts on Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd September.
I will be writing further blogs on this incredible experience and would love you all to follow us on this unique journey!"
Susannah and Arran ParAgility UK Team