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Zara has a suspected strain in her iliopsoas, which is a groin muscle that connects the lower spine to the top of the back leg. Trying to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan has been frustrating and keeping her on leash rest for the past few weeks has not been fun. It’s even more upsetting because she was at the top of her game when this happened and I had plans to run her in multiple field trials this spring. She’s placed in every trial I’ve entered her in this season, earning one first place, two second places, a third, and a fourth. If either of those second places had been wins, she would have finished her Field Championship (FC) title.

I’ve been worried that I’m running out of time because she’s ten years old. I didn’t think I could keep competing with her after this spring. I know titles aren’t everything, but I am very goal-oriented and like using those sorts of things as benchmarks.

Do you ever have limiting beliefs about what you can do or achieve?

Zara has constantly challenged my ideas of what’s possible, mostly in regards to age and starting late. Colloquially, you hear people say things like, “you have to teach duck search before steadiness” and “you have to do field trials before hunt tests or your dog won’t range far enough.” While it may be easier to do things in the “recommended” manner, you don’t have to.

Consistency and time go a long way. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll be surprised how far you can get.

When Zara didn’t pass the NAVHDA Invitational in 2022, I was going to retire her from NAVHDA. She was eight years, eleven months old. I can’t run a nine – almost ten – year old dog at the Invitational next year, I thought. She’ll be too old.

Part of the reason I decided to try again was that there was a 12.5 year old dog who passed that year. I was shocked to hear that – it definitely challenged my beliefs. So in 2023, I ran a nearly ten-year-old dog at the Invitational. And she passed.

Zara at eight years, 11 months

Zara at nine years, 11 months. Not at whole lot of difference.

Last spring, I was fixated on finishing her field trial titles by the end of the season. I was already stressed out about running a nine-year-old in field trials. I worried about her health and the fact that many of the other dogs were much younger. I can’t run a ten-year-old dog in field trials! I thought.

And then I ran a ten-year-old dog in field trials. But I was still convinced, for sure this time, that I was going to retire her at the end of the season. I absolutely cannot run an ELEVEN-year-old dog in field trials!

But this injury has forced me to reconsider my limiting beliefs. Who says I can’t run an 11-year-old dog? There’s no upper age limit. I met a GSP this year when we attended the Master Hunter Excellent test who was 12. She tore up the course and was steady as a rock. Her gait was not as smooth as it must have been when she was younger, but she moved persistently forward. If the MHX had been a competitive event, I’m betting she would have won.

I looked up her performance record recently. She won a 10-dog (2 point) stake shortly after turning 11 and placed third in a 20-dog stake this year at 12. That means she beat 17 other dogs! At age 12!

There aren’t many people out there running dogs past ten so it can feel intimidating to do so. Some of the other competitors have dogs who are only two or three. But even though it’s impressive when a young dog wins or finishes their field championship, it often speaks more about the training and the handler. For most of the people winning with two-year-old dogs, it’s not their first dog. In my mind, a 10+ year old who is still winning is the more impressive feat. To maintain that level of conditioning, mental fortitude, and desire in old age is remarkable.

Seeing these 12-year-old dogs still compete at high levels has inspired me to keep going. Zara still has the desire to compete – why should I deny her something she clearly enjoys? At this point, I don’t know what the future holds in regards to her injury or her performance career. But I’m going to remain open to the possibility that she can continue to compete successfully even as she ages.

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