Mount Vernon girl and her sheepdog 'Fire' win international dog agility competition

12-year-old competed against teams from across the world

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MOUNT VERNON — When Natalie Spinsby learned she was the first American to win a portion of the European Open Junior Dog Agility Trial in July, she thought it was an “‘Oh My God, I might pass out’ moment.”

Spinsby, 12, of Mount Vernon, and her 3-year-old Shetland sheepdog, named Fire, traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, to compete in the international dog agility trial July 8-10. The team medaled in the jumping portion of the trial.

Spinsby’s mother, Mary Drexler, said family friends and others in the dog agility community across the Midwest raised more than $4,000 to fund the trip overseas.

Spinsby has competed in dog agility trials since age 5, and she has been training dogs since she was 3, starting with her first dog — Peach, a Samoyed. Her dream is to be on a professional adult dog agility team, Drexler said.

Fire and Spinsby were placed on a team with another American dog agility competitor and two Polish competitors for the jumping event. Spinsby knew the pair performed well, but she waited for her teammates to compete before looking at the scoreboard.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m in first. I’m not going to look. I’m going to watch my teammates, cheer them on.’ When they had finished and my coach or one of my teammates said ‘You’re in first,’ it was kind of like, ‘Oh my God, this actually happened.’ I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I expected (Fire) to run well, but I wasn’t expecting to win.”

Dog agility races are judged on speed, but also on whether the animal makes as tight and precise movements as possible. A lot of that depends on the trainer’s ability to give clear instructions and help the dog plan ahead by cuing the animal on the course about what their next move is, Spinsby said. Spinsby trains with her three dogs nearly every day.

“It’s very mentally challenging because it’s a lot to process,” Spinsby said. “You have to be thinking about where you need to go but also executing it.”

And, of course, you’re still working with dogs, who sometimes have a mind of their own.

During the agility portion of the trial, Fire jumped off the teeter totter Instead of continuing, Spinsby chose to take Fire out of the agility portion of the race, which turned out to be a smart move, her mother said.

“I was so proud of her,” Drexler said. “She came out of there and I said, ‘Honey, I’m so sorry.’ She’s like, ‘(Fire has) already done more than I ever could have dreamed of. I don’t want her to be scared of the teeter.’ That was a really proud moment for me because it shows a lot of maturity.”

Drexler said the experience was unforgettable, and she’s looking forward to watching Spinsby and Peach compete in another trial in a few months.

“This experience, she could have gone and gotten a no-score on every one and it would have been incredible,” Drexler said. “To see her on the podium with the flag behind her, that’s just great. It’s all her.”

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