THE HISTORY OF AGILITY (by Steven Drinkwater)
The sport of Dog Agility as we know it today is one of the largest canine activities in the world. But that was not always the case. What we now recognise as Agility was in the beginning a form of entertainment at the world famous Crufts Dog Show.
The 1978 Crufts Agility demonstration was held on the 10th February in the main ring and was scheduled to entertain the crowds between the completion of the Obedience Championships and the start of Group Judging of the conformation (Show) dogs. The demonstration consisted of two teams of four dogs, all smartly dressed in team tracksuits. The reaction from the crowd on that humble day sealed the future fate of Agility and insured the global success the sport enjoys today.
Many individuals contributed to the initial success of the first Agility demonstration, not the least the people who built the first set of equipment and the members of the first two demonstration teams. Notwithstanding, it is widely recognised that John Varley
and Peter Meanwell
are the two men initially responsible for not only that very first demonstration, but for the concepts and the majority of rules that are still apart of Agility as we know it today.
John Varley was a member of the 1978 Crufts Organising Committee. It was John’s task to coordinate an activity that could follow the Obedience Championships in the main ring. John was a man with an interest in not only dogs but also in horses. This duel interest is most likely the inspiration behind what we now know as Agility. John had the basic ideas in mind as to what he wanted in the demonstration. But right from the beginning he knew he would have to enlist help. This help came in the form of Peter Meanwell. John approached Peter towards the end of 1977 with his thoughts and ideas and between them they planned and masterminded the 1978 Crufts Agility demonstration.
Some of the main ideas from the early planning days is said to included the following:
These original ideas have withstood the test of time and still remain the core of Agility rules for organisations all around the world.
- Must be fun,
- Must not be dangerous, and
- Must have spectator appeal.
The success of the 1978 Crufts Agility demonstration insured a repeat booking for the 1979 Crufts Dog Show. This time three teams took part in the Agility display. Agility was a hit, and the sport never looked back from this point onwards. By the end of 1979 Agility was a highlight at Olympia, the internationally renowned English Horse Show. Over two decades later and Olympia is still seen as the highest achievement a dog/handler team in England can achieve.
The 1980 Crufts Dogs Show was significant, with the formal introduction of English Kennel Club Agility Test Regulations. Peter Meanwell was the Judge and the first person to interpret the new Regulations. The 1980 Crufts Agility event was also significant, as this was the formal introduction to the sport by Peter Lewis
. It was during this event that Peter Meanwell invited Peter Lewis to be his Scribe.
There is no doubt that John Varley and Peter Meanwell are the fathers of the sport and responsible for its growth and success in England. However, it can be said that Peter Lewis and John Gilbert are the two people mainly responsible for the spread of Agility across to Europe and eventually to the United States and other countries around the world. It was through the early efforts and travel of Peter Lewis and John Gilbert and in particular the book, “International Agility”, by Peter Lewis that the sport in today’s format has been shaped.
Between Peter and John they have made considerable contribution to two very important considerations that the global Agility community enjoys today.
Firstly, Peter Lewis and John Gilbert have managed to encourage the various Agility organisation from the different countries (either directly or indirectly), that the original format as conceived by John Varley and Peter Meanwell did not require significant change. Secondly, they are mainly responsible for the fact that Agility around the world is pretty much the same. A person can compete in the UK, USA, Europe, Australia or Japan and the rules would be similar and familiar and the person could compete with little problem, even with the hindrance of language barriers.
Agility today is fast and exciting. Training skills and methods are continually changing and evolving and the physical distance of oceans and borders are no longer a barrier for the Agility enthusiast due to e-mail and the world wide web!
One can only hope that the dedication and enthusiasm set by the founders of the sport can be continued well into the future.
Steven Drinkwater (Australia)