Crufts is an amazing experience, with or without a dog.  Whether a spectator, competitor, shopping or catching up with friends, all happen in that unique atmosphere which is Crufts.

Qualification to compete at Crufts in the British Heelwork to Music and Freestyle Finals begins just a couple of weeks after Crufts has finished with the first qualifying competition.  10 of these ‘qualifiers’ are held throughout the year with the top 2 competitors from each show qualifying for the Semi Finals which are held the following January.  The 20 qualifiers plus the winners from the previous Crufts make up the 21 who compete for the top 10 places which will take them onto the Crufts famous green carpet (Astroturf).

Personally I find the Semi Final absolutely nerve wracking.  It is the point where your future is decided and competing at Crufts becomes a fabulous reality or is snatched away leaving you gravely disappointed.

I have competed at Crufts every year since the Final was first held, except for the last 2 years.  This year was very special for me as I returned to the green carpet with my youngster, Midge (Kingsfarm Spring Surprise).  At just 3 years old Midge made me so proud when she qualified to compete at the semi finals in both Heelwork to Music and Freestyle and then amazed me by being the youngest dog that year to qualify for the Finals at Crufts in both divisions!

Our Crufts days start very early, usually around 5:00, to allow us to arrive at the National Exhibition Centre in good time to make our preparations.  There is a long walk from the car park to the benches which is no joke when you have so much to carry including cages, props, costumes and everything that you and your dog will need for the day.  We have this planned like a military operation with trolleys and back packs full to capacity. Practice is usually allowed in the arena between 7:00 and 8:00 but may be cut short or cancelled at any time by the organisers of the show!

Practice over, it is time to chat to fellow competitors, exchange good luck cards and gifts and catch up with friends visiting the benches.  I love this time of the day when practice is finished and the competition still far enough away to relax for a while and enjoy a coffee and a bite of breakfast while decorating our benches and enjoying a good gossip! 

A changing room with, toilet, shower and ‘show business’ light bulbs all around the mirror are provided for the competitors to share.  Happy banter abounds as we all change into costume and apply our make-up ready for our performances.  There is a competitors briefing around 1 hour before the start of the competition where we are informed of how the competition will be run and any changes that may have been made.  Next, around 30 minutes before the start of the competition we assemble in the back stage area to begin our personal preparations.

I don’t tend to talk very much to the other competitors back stage as everyone is focussing on their own arrangements and I like to get myself mentally ‘into the zone’ at this point.  Midge requires more warm-up than my previous dogs, so I start early working through my plan.  My warm-up includes lots of rewards and ensures that Midge is listening, feeling confident and focussed.  We then relax on the floor together for around 10 minutes before entering the ring.

I have to admit that I feel very little in the way of nerves at this point, just the anticipation of performing in the best ring in the world.  The hard work is done and here is the reward for all those hours training, planning, travelling and working through the worst of winter.  Nothing compares to waking out of the Crufts archway into the Arena to take up your start position.  The area is huge, beautifully lit and the audience are always very receptive.  Best of all is the audience reaction while you are performing with spontaneous oohs, ahhs and applause during your dance which lifts the spirit still further. 

Every time I have entered the Crufts arena, with every one of my 3 dogs that have danced there, there has always been a moment during the routine that I feel myself becoming emotional.  My chest constricts and I get a lump in my throat with the pleasure that my dance partner is giving me.  I have to be quick to control the emotion and gather my focus back otherwise the performance would be spoilt.  The 4 minutes always seem to fly by and the final pose is followed by my huge congratulations and thanks to Midge just before we exit the ring.  I often shed a tear of joy when I am safely back in the collecting ring! 

I play with Midge for a good few minutes which helps to hide my moist eyes and then make sure that we both have a drink of water; we are always thirsty when we come out of the ring.  Next we chat to those who have already competed, congratulate each other and catch up with the scores.  The competition is available to watch on 2 televisions in the collecting ring.  With an early draw I am able to watch most of the competition from behind the scenes; a later draw means I don’t see much of the other performances as I am focussing on my own warm-up and presentation.

As the last team compete there is the organised chaos of everyone lining up, ready to re-enter the ring for the awards ceremony.  The top 3 lead the parade into the ring.  Of course we never know what the final competitor has scored at this point, so the order can change.  The order certainly changed for me this year – two days running I was called to 3rd position, only to be knocked down to 4th by the last competitor!  To be honest, I was thrilled just to be there with such a young dog and I would have been happy with any place.  To be among the top 10 in the country is wonderful and I was absolutely delighted with my 4th place.

So the awards are given in the ring to the top 3 competitors and there are huge cheers from the crowd as they do their lap of honour.  Next the awards for the 4th to 10th place are given back stage followed by a photo call for the press along with friends and family getting one for the album.

We all make our way back to the benches where congratulations continue to be given and received, and then Allan takes Midge out for a walk while I get changed.  Next we usually take time out to sit by the benches and have lunch chatting to the other folk who are still there.  Time flies and soon we begin packing our belongings and prepare for the hike back to the car, ready to do it all again the next day!

Tiring, emotional, wonderful, unique.
That is Crufts for me and I wouldn’t swap the experience for the world!




© Carmen Schmid