February 11 at 8:00 PM
NEW YORK – Tucked away in a corner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a group of mostly teenagers are deep in concentration. It’s a school day, but they are as far away from the classroom as possible.
One girl wears AirPods, temporarily tuning out the world as she blow-dries her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Another is furiously spritzing her Collie with water. Others pace as their dogs rest in blanket-covered kennels.
These – the humans, that is – are the hopefuls of the Junior Showmanship competition, a component of the Westminster Dog Show that dates back nearly a century. Like their adult counterparts, the 9- to 18-year-old competitors have spent countless hours bonding with and training their dogs, and traveling the country to show them.
Unlike the grown-ups, however, when junior handlers step into the ring, the judge is evaluating them – again, the humans – more than the dogs. Does the kid know how to “free stack” or “hand stack” the dog, positioning its legs just so? How do they run with the dog? Are handler and dog on the same “wavelength”? Can they anticipate each others’ moves?
“It’s judging how well you show as a team, not necessarily the dog,” said Rylie May, an 18-year-old from Hillsboro, Kan., who traveled to New York to compete in one of her final dog shows as a junior handler before she ages out.
On a grooming table next to her was Toby, a 5-year-old Australian Shepherd who has been May’s constant companion since he was about seven months old. When May locks eyes with Toby, their connection is instantly evident.
They’ve put in a lot of work, she said, spending weekends at shows or in training when she could have been hanging out with friends, who may not be aware she has reached the pinnacle of her sport.
But May has also come a long way from the very first time she competed as a junior handler at 9 years old, when she showed another Australian Shepherd at a 4H show – and made every rookie mistake in the book.
“I had no idea what was going on and I was very nervous,” May said, laughing. “I went in a ring with a 6-month-old puppy. She was absolutely crazy. She did not listen to me for anything. She just pulled me across the ring the whole time. It was a little bit humiliating.”
Nine years later, May has learned to stay calm. (“Toby definitely can feel my stress.”) On Monday morning, minutes before she was due in the ring, she and Toby lined up with about 20 other well-coiffed junior handlers, all dressed in pressed blazers and structured skirt suits, as if entering a youth pageant sponsored by Talbot’s.
About 100 junior handlers qualified to compete at Westminster this year. Only eight will make it to the finals, which will grant them the opportunity to display their handling skills on prime-time television …read more
Source:: Daily times