Susan Koldenhof is a 27-year-old agility handler, who has been running agility only for 6 years, but who has managed to perform extremely well, e.g. by being 10th in Agility World Championship 2018, winning Avallon cup 2018 with her border collie Time, and getting to EO team Netherlands with two of her dogs (Time and Ace) this year.
Susan thanks her dogs for her success: “Ace is very easygoing and the best ‘first dog’ I could have wished for. A few years later we bred Time, my soulmate, out of my mum's female Alyx. Since I’ve had her, everything has changed. I’ve traveled the world for seminars and for competitions. And I really think I owe that to her. She reads me so well, follows me everywhere, sleeps on my pillow, and always wants to be close to me.” Susan also has a wonderful border collie puppy called Sign.
But like so many successful agility handlers have said, success doesn’t just happen by getting the right dog. Susan admits that she’s always been very intense with everything she’s done, first with field hockey and horse riding, then with agility: “I’m always pushing my limits and wanting to become better and better.” This may explain her success to some extent.
Dogs and agility have helped through difficult times
Dogs and agility helped Susan through difficult times: “I’ve been through quite a traumatic and harmful youth which caused some mental problems and not the best mental state. Without going into details, I sank emotionally and have had very low lows. In large part, my dogs and agility with them helped me through it.”
“They gave me something to hold on to and fight for. Dogs give their unconditional love and are always there for you, regardless of you feeling depressed or having a panic attack due to flashbacks. They don’t care, they just want to be with you. That was, and still is, so important to me. To have them around me, to comfort me without judgement.”
But what is the role of agility in recovering? “Agility has always been a great distraction, something else to focus on for a moment. In addition, since I’m quite competitive and intense, agility offers me some direction and something to put my energy into. Although I haven’t always been in the best physical shape to run, still, I’ve somehow managed to do agility, no matter what.”
Development in dealing with disappointments
Few people can naturally deal well with disappointments. It’s only natural to feel disappointed when you fail at something that’s important to you. But you can learn to deal with failures in a way that gets you forward.
This is the case also with Susan: “A few years ago I punished myself for failures. Blaming myself for it all and feeling like the world would end only made it all worse. But now I can say that I learn from my disappointments and have grown a lot stronger. I try to turn them into something positive. Because the only one that can make a change is you. So now, when something disappointing happens, I try to clear my head. Of course, being disappointed is okay - and normal - but it’s all about how you deal with it. You need to choose whether to let failures consume you, or try to grow stronger and see what you can learn from them. And this is what I am trying to do now. Life is tough, but so are you.”
Keeping things in perspective
It’s so easy to lose perspective when competing. After a win, the pressure to win again can grow and there’s a real risk of losing the joy.
Despite her competitiveness, Susan still finds her relationship with her dogs and seeing them enjoy themselves more important than agility results: “Seeing them happy is something that just warms my heart. To see their smiling faces and sparkling eyes when they do something they like. Or the love they give when they want cuddles. So it’s not hard for them to give me a good feeling. All of this is more important to me than the results in training or competition. Of course, I want to win, I am serious when it comes to competing and good training, but the joy and excitement of my dogs makes me happier than any results in the world.”
This is probably why joy is still present in Susan’s agility training and competitions. It’s extremely important to keep things in perspective.
The agility community can support you or pull you down
The agility community, just like any community, can be wonderful as well as cruel: “I think people experience this in different ways, because not everyone has the same sensitivities or cares about the same things. But in general, I think the whole agility community has its pros and cons.
On the one hand, you can bond with a whole bunch of people with the same passion and love for dogs and the sport. Being the crazy ones who wake up on Sundays at 5:30 am to go to a competition. But at the same time I have noticed, how cruel people can be. What jealousy can do and how easily people try to pull others down. I have recently been put in such a situation myself, even though I usually try to stay out of all the rumours, bad-mouthing and such. It is definitely something I dislike in the agility community. But then again, I also love the sport too much - the fire in my dogs’ eyes when they enter the agility field. So, in the end, I always try to stand above the negativity and enjoy agility with my true friends and my dogs. I wish we would all just focus on positivity and how we can keep this sport fun for everybody. ”
Susan has a great mindset to avoid the feeling of jealousy: “My vision is always this: when someone else wins, don’t be jealous, complain or try to put him/her down, instead make sure you become even better.”
Susan’s tips to those who have lost the joy of agility
There are times when you can lose some or all of your joy of agility, and that’s horrible. At its worst, it can cause one to finish with the hobby altogether. Above all, this sport should empower you, not wear you down. Susan shares her tips to get over such moments.
Try to remember why you started, why you decided to train and go to competitions.
See how happy it makes your dog to work with you in this exciting game that can be so much fun.
Take a small break from agility. No training or competing for some weeks, because your dogs feel it when you’re grumpy and don’t enjoy the activity. Then your training will only get worse which makes you will feel less joy and it all ends in a downwards spiral.
Make a plan on how to get your joy back: “I train with a friend and talk about it all, or enter a small trial without pressure and without people expecting something of me.”
“In the end, no one forces you to do this. So make sure you like what you do, whether it’s on a high level, or just as a fun hobby. Everyone has their own goals, and that’s okay, but make sure you feel good about the way you do it.”
Use AgiNotes to help you celebrate small wins and keep motivated
One of the reasons AgiNotes exists is that it helps you concentrate on your dog’s individual needs. Every dog has his/her challenges as well as strengths, and you need to grow together, build a strong bond and learn how to celebrate small wins. This way it is easier to enjoy agility and take steps towards the best version of you two as a team.
Read also the articles by Jenny Damm and Olga Kwiecień, and the interviews with Martina Magnoli Klimesova, Tobias Wüst, Ole Kristoffer Sagløkken and Mark Laker.