"If You Build It... They Will Come..."
by Sally Alford
On July 30th more than 80 Juniors (ages 8-18) participated in a day devoted entirely to learning about AKC Junior Showmanship. The event was sponsored by the Tampa Bay and Inverness Kennel Clubs, and held at the Florida State Fairgrounds Equestrian Pavilion in Tampa, Florida. A great group of instructors were on hand including AKC Judges, Professional Handlers and Former Junior Handlers who all volunteered their time to give the participants three distinct viewpoints on Junior Showmanship. AKC representative Michael Suave was also on hand to speak to the Juniors and approximately 150 adults about his role and experiences with AKC, as well as AKC show rules and regulations.
All three groups of instructors touched on topics such as safety, responsible dog ownership, how to prepare your dog for the show ring, the importance of knowing your breed standards for grooming and selecting the correct collars and leads, good sportsmanship, the importance of a good attitude, proper show ring attire, what judges look for in Junior Showmanship and common mistakes to avoid while showing.
In the second portion of the clinic participants were divided into groups by their age and experience level. They received one on one instruction and tips for improving their showmanship skills from the Judges, Professional Handlers and Former Junior Handlers. The instruction was followed by judging in each group, where one winner was selected to move on to the Best Junior Handler class. Most participants returned to their seats to 'judge' the last class right along with the judges panel. The judges panel consisting of three highly qualified judges, demonstrated judging procedure to participants while selecting the "Best Junior Handler."
The idea for holding a Florida Junior Showmanship Clinic began during Eukanuba, which was held in Tampa, (in our 'back yard.') My own children have competed in AKC Junior Showmanship but over the years, most of my experience has been organizing Florida 4-H Dog Shows and Seminars. I often see 4-H members showing who are 'good enough' to cross over into AKC shows, but may lack the knowledge or confidence of how to do so. At an average Florida 4-H dog show we have over 80 exhibitors and the largest show of 2005 had over 160 entered. 4-H members bring their enthusiasm to our events, and I felt we would draw a large crowd at a Showmanship clinic, who would be eager to learn.
In March the Tampa Bay Kennel Club approved the project, and we began searching for dates and a suitable location. By April we had flyers made up and we began advertising the clinic by e-mailing information to Florida 4-H Dog Project members. We then contacted Florida AKC Clubs and invited their Juniors to attend. AKC Representative Michael Suave put our flyers out at Florida AKC Shows, and Mari-Beth O'Neil put information on the AKC Juniors website. We also ran several articles in Horse & Pony News of Florida.
As word of the event began to spread, registrations started steadily coming in. We ended up with over 100 registered participants and a great mix of experienced and semi experienced AKC & 4-H Juniors. We even had participants registered who had never shown in AKC or 4-H Junior Showmanship but were interested in learning more about it.
The day of fun and education would not have been possible without the support of the Tampa Bay and Inverness Kennel Clubs. Both clubs recognize the importance of providing the financial support needed to make this type of event possible. The clubs provided invaluable education to our youth and helped bring new Juniors into our sport.
The other ingredient that was vital to the clinic's success were the instructors, who all freely shared their knowledge and experience with the Juniors. Instructors who not only took a day out of their busy schedules, but many drove long distances, just to teach the Juniors. Thank you very much to all of you. AKC Judges; Jacqueline Corwin, Dana Read, Steward Wagner, Chantal Andrew, Edy Dykstra Blum and Alice Bixler. Professional Handlers; Meredith Hector, Sam and Debbie Steding, Susan Thibodeaux, Vesta Hevia, Lucy Granowicz and Former Junior Handlers; Heather Denham & Jessica Rothering. Tampa Bay Kennel Club volunteers; TBKC President Mary Manning Stolz, Dan Stolz , LaWayne and Georgette Wyatt. The Hillsborough County 4-H Dog Project Leaders provided all the behind the scenes work, thank you Jerry Manning, Mary Rothering, Bruce Hutcheson and volunteer Diane Gentile. In the end participants reported they not only learned a lot but also had fun, and enthusiastically asked when the next Showmanship clinic would be held!
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