My name is Caroline Holicka, and I had the honour of representing Canada at the International Junior Handling Competition
at Crufts this past March. It was one of the best experiences of my life, not only because I had the chance to compete with the best junior handlers in the world, but also because of the love and support I received from our dog show community.
Before I get into the details of my trip, I have to take you back about 10 years, to when my handling career began. I was seven years old, with pigtails and chubby cheeks. My family had just purchased our first boxer, and we started to attend shows sporadically. My mom showed Lambada, our girl, while I was the designated clapper, and even an occasional towel holder. It was a great job, one of my favourites, until one day I got a promotion. A huge promotion. I was to show Lambada in the ring! I was excited and scared and nervous all at the same time. I don’t remember anything from that first show, but I know we did it. There was none of that refined grace or polished handling that we know today, but Lambada and I conquered the ring for the very first time, and even got a ribbon, though which colour I cannot remember. This was the first of many times to follow, with Lambada and I teaming up to flash our most persuasive smiles at the judges. At one show, our friend suggested I try the Junior Handling competition with her Chinese Crested. It sounded like a good idea, and like all good ideas, or at least most, it led to the start of an adventure.
Of course, I don’t remember much from that first time in the Juniors ring, except that maybe my performance wasn’t exactly stellar. But slowly, I got better, and graduated from boxers and Chinese Cresteds to other breeds. I did all the junior handling specialties I could find, and by 9 or 10, I had handled a huge Great Pyrenees, a sweet Bulldog, and a very funny Pug named Milo. I continued showing in Juniors because I found it fun, and I made many friends along the way. It taught me, and still teaches me, the art of winning and losing gracefully, as well as supporting your competitors and building a rapport with your dog. I gained advice and I acquired new skills. Through many years of learning, I was able to move up in the Junior’s classes, and qualify for my zone finals. In 2016, I won my finals, and got to represent Central Ontario at the Junior Handling National Competition in Alberta. Although I didn’t place, it was a great experience, and helped me prepare for the next year, which would change Juniors for me forever.
In 2017, I had the honour of winning my zone finals in Junior Handling once more alongside the genius Tiger, my very favourite Smooth Fox Terrier. I told myself that this year, I would make my zone, my family, and my mentors proud by showing to the very best of my abilities. Tiger and I practiced for many months together, developing a closer relationship at each show. He was attentive and patient, and we learned how to read each other. In early August, we packed up our bags and flew to Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, where the Nationals were taking place. We arrived a few days early, and were able to explore the beautiful land around us. We ate more seafood than I had in my entire life, saw entire islands of puffins, and kayaked next to whales. It was an amazing experience, and each day we’d return to the hotel, exhausted, and Tiger and I would curl up on the bed together.
On the Thursday I met with the other Juniors, and we quickly became very good friends as we toured around St. John’s. On Friday we saw each other again at the pizza party, and by the following morning we were all excited and nervous for the competition. On Saturday morning, I took Tiger out for a quick walk to the bay, and we saw a praying mantis on the side of the road. Maybe it was just my own way of reassuring myself, but there was this peace that I felt there, looking at the reflection of Tiger smiling down into the water as he watched the geese on the other side. We quickly headed to the show afterwards, which had our own Juniors setup, called the Iceberg Alley. All of us Juniors got our dogs ready, took pictures, and then were paraded into the ring wearing bright yellow fisherman hats. First, we watched the Obedience participants compete, which was amazing to see. Afterwards, it was our turn. Wearing my lucky pink suit and with Tiger by my side, we went in the ring, incredibly nervous but smiling. Each one of us performed our patterns, then switched dogs and repeated a different pattern. Amazingly, I got a sweet Boxer as my second dog, and we had a lot of fun presenting in the ring.
After everyone had gone, we switched back our dogs and were called into the ring for the final judging. First, the Wenrick Sportsmanship award was presented, and I was so grateful to be the recipient among so many kind people. Then, the results of the competition came through. They announced the placements from fourth to first, and by the announcement of the reserve winner, I was quite sure I hadn’t placed, until they called my number. Tiger and I were so incredibly happy, surrounded by all of these amazing Juniors that were hugging and congratulating us.
Following the competition, we had a beautiful banquet afterwards, which included the famous screeching tradition, and the next day we showed again. Finally, it was time to say goodbye. It was hard, leaving the friends that I had made, and there were tons of hugs and promises to see each other again. I didn’t fully believe any of it until I got home, when we started preparing for the next journey; Crufts.
Planning for Crufts was a long process. Thanks to the CKC, my zone representatives, and fellow Juniors, money was raised to help fund my trip to England. I chose the dog breed I wished to handle, and got gifts for my fellow competitors. In early March, we flew out to England, stopping for 2 days to explore London before heading to Birmingham, where the show was to take place.
On Thursday, I went to the show and handled a Canadian Eskimo Dog for a friend from Canada, which was awesome. On Friday evening, my mom and I attended a dinner with the rest of the Juniors and their families. It was a great experience, meeting everyone and exchanging gifts. We also got a chance to run around the ring and practice with imaginary dogs. The following morning we were up bright and early, and arrived at the show site to meet my dog. I had chosen a Wire Fox Terrier as my top breed for the competition, and was given Bruce, who was just incredible.
The competition took place in three parts. First, we were judged with our chosen breed. That went well, and Bruce and I had a great connection. In the second portion, we were given a different breed to show. I handled a very majestic and reserved Greyhound named Manila, which was both challenging and rewarding because I’d never handled a Greyhound before. In the evening, we were given back our original dog, and we were presented to the judge for the final judgement. Although I didn’t make it in the Top Ten, I was extraordinarily grateful to have competed, and so happy to witness some of my friends move on in the competition.
Overall, it was such an amazing experience. The show was so huge, with over 30 green carpeted rings and millions of vendors. The Juniors from all over the world were so supportive and kind, and it was a little bit of a fan moment speaking to the winner from the previous year, who was also competing. I was so lucky to have my mentor Hailey Griffith by my side, as well as Canadian Juniors texting me their support and advice. In the audience, I had my friends and family, who were very visible with their huge Canada flag, and very proud, which made my heart ache with love and gratefulness. I hope that everyone can feel the same pride and hope for the dog show community as I did during my trip.
After my trip to Crufts was over, I returned home, and continued showing dogs. I just recently returned from my third Nationals in Alberta, which was a blast. I hope to continue showing dogs after I graduate from high school, and attend as many shows as I can. I love the atmosphere, surrounded by the people who have become my second family. I also hope to support future juniors and those already competing, because I want them to have the same amazing experience that I did.
Everyone says that juniors are the future of the sport, and this couldn’t be more true. I want to thank everyone who has mentored me, and who has supported Junior Handling. Please continue encouraging juniors, and making them feel at home at dog shows. We love our dogs and we love our community, and that, to me, is more important than any win.
The CKC would like to thank DogShow.ca for generously sponsoring the bursaries provided to the Best Overall Juniors in Conformation and Obedience. The Conformation Champion receives $2500 that they can use towards their journey to Birmingham, UK as they represent the Canadian Kennel Club at the International Junior Handling Competition hosted by Crufts.