Bronwyn Prytz competed in the International Agility Competition at Crufts in March 2020 with her border collie Epic. She is a Bad Dog Agility VIP member. This year, Crufts coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and the NEC (the site of the event) was shut down immediately after. This interview has been lightly edited.
Esteban: Thank you for letting me share your story with the VIP. Congratulations on making it to Crufts this year with Epic! Let’s start there. How did you end up representing South Africa at Crufts?
Bronwyn: South Africa actually hasn’t sent anyone to Crufts before. I think it’s been three years since we’ve had the option of sending someone. Once a year, there’s a specific show run by our Kennel Union that has a contact course (agility) and a non-contact course (jumping) and the best dog over both those rounds has the opportunity to go to Crufts. The first two years we came second, and the person who came first elected not to go. But then we came first, and we decided that we were going to go, so that’s how we ended up at Crufts. It’s something that I think wasn’t very well advertised before—a lot of people didn’t know that this was a Crufts qualifier, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens now that they’ve seen that you can go to Crufts on that particular show.
Esteban: Very cool, now tell us a little bit about Epic.
Bronwyn: Epic is my first border collie. He’s now 6 years old. He was given to me by a friend so he doesn’t have papers. He can’t go to AWC so we’ve always looked for opportunities to compete that don’t require a pedigree.
Esteban: Crufts doesn’t require a pedigree?
Bronwyn: No, Crufts doesn’t require a pedigree as long as your dog is allowed to go according to your kennel union. We registered him in the UK with an Authority to Compete Certificate and they were fine with that.
Esteban: That’s very interesting. What’s Epic like around the house?
Bronwyn: He is the most chill dog that I have. [laughing] He is an absolute blessing, really, compared to the other dogs. He has always been the dog who wants to get everything right. He’ll always double check and ask that question unlike some of the other dogs who will just decide what’s right. It has made him one of the most consistent dogs in our country and one of the easiest dogs to live with which is what makes him special.
Esteban: How many dogs do you have living with you right now and how many are competing?
Bronwyn: Six and four.
Esteban: Do you have another border collie?
Bronwyn: [gesturing to border collie] This is Fable, she’s a year younger than Epic. She does have papers and she does yell the whole time. Getting her to listen to what I’m saying is a little more challenging. And Rogan actually comes from your side of the world—he’s from the States and he’s a year younger than Fable. He’s turning out to be a lot like Epic except that he has arousal issues around shows and things like that, but the work that we’re doing with the VIP has really helped him start to settle and think about what he’s doing. [calls a dog] And Presto is a Pumi—South Africa’s first Pumi.
Esteban: What do you mean South Africa’s first Pumi? There’s no other Pumis in South Africa? Or none doing agility?
Bronwyn: None, no registered Pumis in South Africa. He was offered to me by a breeder in Estonia who wanted to place a Pumi in an agility home in South Africa. He came through and his brother joined him and it’s just the two of them on the continent as far as I know. Definitely in South Africa, it’s just the two of them, these brothers that are just now starting their agility careers.
Esteban: Tell us a little bit about agility in South Africa.
Bronwyn: Agility in South Africa is a lot smaller than we would like. It’s a growing sport and we send a team every year to the AWC and to the IFCS. We have two main governing bodies: the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA) and the South African Dog Agility Association and they run separately. We have all of the standard IFCS classes and then under KUSA we have agility and jumping as well as dog jumping which is unique to South Africa. Dog jumping is a class that developed here before mainstream agility came. It was based on show jumping and was mainly to entertain people at horse shows. It’s run very much on the same rules as show jumping, so there’s two rounds and no contact equipment.
Esteban: How many people compete in South Africa?
Bronwyn: We’re fairly small, maybe a few hundred. Our big championship event is bumper weekend (two shows per day for 4 days), which was supposed to be last weekend but was cancelled. At that event, we can expect upwards of 150 dogs; we will run two rings and sometimes even three on the really big days, and that causes absolute chaos. [laughing] No one can cope with the fact that there are more than two rings at a time.
Esteban: South Africa hosted the FCI AWC several years ago, did you go?
Bronwyn: That event was held the year before I started agility.
Esteban: How did you get interested in agility then?
Bronwyn: I am a veterinarian so I’ve always had a lot of dogs. As part of my job, you just end up living with a lot of dogs and I really needed a hobby to get me out of that constant work focus. I decided to take all my dogs to a dog school and they had agility there. I had a cross-breed, a chow mix, and she was my first victim and she did not love agility at all. She started when she was about 6 or 7 years. Eventually she managed to reach top grades; she made our provincial dog jumping team but she hated everything. [calls Jessica the chow mix to her] She’s now 12 or 13. She was a rescue. My husband said to me after watching her jump, “Seriously we have to get you a dog that wants to do this.”
Esteban: Tell us a little bit about the Crufts experience. What was it like with all the people and the crowds? Had you ever been to Crufts before?
Bronwyn: No, I had never been to Crufts before. The biggest event I’d been to before was with Epic—we went to the IFCS in the Netherlands. And that was our first experience in a proper indoor arena and our first international competition. In South Africa, everything is run outside, mostly on grass on soccer fields and rugby fields. One of my main concerns for Crufts was that there would be people watching—that’s not something we see here. Even when we went to IFCS, the spectators were the competitors. We left here on the 27th of February, and within 2-3 days of us getting to the UK, all we could hear on the radio was about coronavirus and how they should cancel Crufts. Every day we would get an email from the Crufts organizers saying “we’re still talking to the house ministers, everything is on track.” They sent us the running orders for our class which was about 22-23 dogs, and we could see in the update that Italy was no longer running, that they’d been excluded from the competition. Our event was on Saturday, and Crufts started on Thursday. It was only when Crufts started on Thursday that it became real to me.
I managed to go to Crufts to see everything on the Friday. Crufts is an experience that I struggle to describe because it’s unparalleled to anything I’m used to. It’s a huge horseshoe-shaped building with an arena in every hall, there are 5 main halls. There’s shopping everywhere. And off to the side is the main televised arena that people are familiar with. It actually just blew my mind. I could not comprehend it. The Friday was still very quiet; they said the numbers were vastly decreased because of the coronavirus. So I was entirely unprepared for what happened on the Saturday. On the Saturday, we were the first class in the morning (jumping) and that went really well, there were 2 dozen people in the stands, everything was fantastic, we had a beautiful clear run. I was absolutely thrilled with how he handled running on carpet, running inside and being surrounded by loudspeakers and having cameras and lights—all of that he was fine with.
Over the course of a day, the number of people—I don’t know where they kept all these people, I didn’t know there could be so many people in one place…when we were walking down to do our second run, there was a queue and people were waiting an hour and half to get in! There was a long corridor and it was packed with people chest-to-back, chest-to-back which probably wasn’t a great idea given the coronavirus but that’s the way they were. They were saying if you get in the line, you can’t get out, so go to the bathroom first. That was a bit staggering, because those people were obviously waiting for other people to come out before they were allowed in. The entire arena was packed with people. Every seat was filled. The sound of the applause, the whole environment, was incredible—just absolutely staggering. If anyone out there has an opportunity to go to Crufts, as a competitor, as a spectator, or as a shopper, I can not recommend it enough. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. If they asked me to do it again, I probably would, as soon as I could afford to do it again.
Esteban: So your trip was self-funded, you had to pay for everything yourself?
Bronwyn: Yes, it was entirely self-funded. I was very lucky in that a friend of mine is a pilot and she arranged for the airline that I was flying to give Epic a discount otherwise it’s very expensive for us to fly all the way to England. As it was, it cost me three months’ salary to go. We’re still trying to make up for that now that we can’t work.
Esteban: How was the flight, did you have multiple stops?
Bronwyn: No, we flew direct so it was 10-11 hours.
Esteban: I watched both runs, obviously. Which run was the one where he looked more confident?
Bronwyn: He was quite in awe of everything in his first run of the day, in jumpers where he ran clean. When Epic is a little bit nervous, he slows down and he checks in a little bit more. It was a lovely course—the courses in general are much more flowing, there’s a lot less technical push and pull work to do, I think because of the spectators. There are traps, absolutely, but the lines of the dogs are very kind. His second run, the agility run, I knew that we were going to have a little bit of an issue. There was an a-frame to a pull to a jump (to the wrong side of the jump) and the distance was very, very tight for him. I knew that was a risk. We had just trained him from a stop to a running a-frame and I didn’t want to undo all of that work by suddenly asking for a stop for the first time in six months. He wouldn’t have given it to me. We put so much work in running but his running a-frame is large-striding and forward-moving. I knew there was a good chance he would take the wrong side of the jump, which he did. My goal at the start line was if he did that, just keep going and not let him know that anything went wrong. After that point, he threw out a beautiful run including his brand new running dogwalk. Unfortunately with a DQ you can’t go through to the finals. They said that they would take 15 of the 22 into the final, so if you had two clean, or a clean and fault then they would obviously take the lowest faults over the best time. I was so pleased with how he did run. I think that overall I would give him 99 percent.
Esteban: I thought he did great. That course, the part you’re talking about with the a-frame to the jump, that was really tight. Did you get to watch the finals?
Bronwyn: Yes, just before the finals there is a flag parade and then we all get to watch the final. It was just amazing. And the crowd there just went berserk, it was fabulous!
Esteban: What was it like being there?
Bronwyn: Epic is a fantastic dog and I love him dearly, he’s so consistent but he’s not the fastest dog. I knew that going in and I think that was a big benefit. If I felt like I had something to prove or I had a chance at the podium, my experience would have been less enjoyable. Going there and knowing that we didn’t have a chance to win if everyone went clear allowed me to be relaxed. A lot of people actually commented on it. The gate steward, the person who takes your lead, the person who walks you to the start line, they were all like, “hey how are you?” and I was like “I’m good, how are you, are you enjoying it?” and they were like, “you’re so relaxed!” That was just such a wonderful experience to go out there with nothing to prove except we were the first ones from our country to go. Just walking to the start line accomplished that. Everything after that was a bonus.
Esteban: That’s an amazing accomplishment and distinction to be the first from your country at Crufts.
Bronwyn: It really is just amazing. It depends on what country you come from as to how easy it is to get there, but it’s definitely on the bucket list for anyone who asks me.
Esteban: Thank you so much for sharing your Crufts experience with us.
Bronwyn: Thank you.