I am more than thrilled to introduce DFR readers to a talented, unique, inspiring and very accomplished young woman.
Her name is Tori Self, and her loyal teammate – who is always by her side – is her adorable Border Collie, Revolution or Rev for short. This duo has managed to stay at the head of the pack in the agility world and keep on moving up. Their adventures in dog agility have taken them all around the United States, as well as to France and England. Soon they’ll be traveling to the Czech Republic.
When Tori was just 8 years old, she watched dog agility on the cable network, Animal Planet. Ever since, she’s been working hard to become the person she is today – performer, competitor and trainer.
When she isn’t going to agility events, training or teaching agility seminars, she (Tori, that is) attends college and enjoys the sunshine in Orlando, Fla.
I had the opportunity to have a Q&A with Miss Rev – who was chewing on her toy – and Tori about all of their adventures. I wanted to find out exactly how the team got where they are today.
So let’s take a closer look at the world of agility with Tori and Rev. . .
KB: Let’s begin with a brief bio, starting with you, Tori.
TS: Well, I’m Tori, short for Victoria. I’m 20 years old and attend the University of Florida. I have been training and competing in agility for eight years, starting in 2004 with my Lab, Toby. I slowly grew into a Border Collie, Chase, and another Lab, Rocky.
These dogs were basically our family dogs. When I was 15, I decided I wanted my own dog – one that was not going to leave the ring and search for my father at the end of our runs!
In the summer of 2007, I found a breeder and I got Rev. I raised her and trained her while balancing high school and everything else. Then in 2009, both she and I competed at our first USDAA [United States Dog Agility Association] National together. She was 2, and I was 17. We ended up making all three finals, winning the Steeplechase, and placing 5th in the Grand Prix as well. I was in shock that we were able to do that; I knew Rev was fast, but I didn’t know we would be that consistent at our first National.
Rev was competing in the 22-inch and 20-inch heights. In the fall of 2010, I set out to do a few shows here and there. We qualified for the AKC National – which we planned to attend – but not much other than that.
I soon realized I couldn’t stop there. In fact, I moved Rev to the tallest jump height – which is 26 inches. This is the height she would have to compete at to compete internationally. I quickly became refocused with doing all things agility again and set out to try out for the World Agility Team 2011.
Prior to tryouts, we attended the 2011 AKC National Championship in the 26-inch height class and won the class. Then we were selected to be part of the World Agility Team, where we won the Large Dog Team Jumping class over 93 teams at the 2011 FCI World Agility Championships in France.
We also were selected to compete at Crufts in 2012, where we took second in jumping and third in standard. In the finals, we placed fifth overall. And this year at the AKC National Championship, we seated first and ended up fifth in the finals.
Each of these competitions were great experiences!
KB: Can you tell us a bit about Rev, NAC MACH ADCH Sagehill’s Change the World OF?
TS: Rev just turned 5 years old. She loves to play with her favorite dog toys and have fun. She’s a really cool dog and very special to me!
KB: Do you show in conformation?
TS: No, I never showed in conformation. I really like competing in the sport of agility. Over the past year, I started teaching seminars, which I really enjoy as well. My favorite part about teaching is covering international skills and coursework.
KB: Thanks for mentioning that. On your blog, Hippiedogs.com, you have a page dedicated to seminars. What kind of students do you usually see?
TS:It’s mostly people who’ve seen me at events and watched me and Rev – which is really great. Most of the seminars are for anyone and everyone. It’s fun to work with a diverse group of people.
Recently I also had the opportunity to teach my first juniors-only seminar. It was really fun working with the juniors. They didn’t give me any “I can’ts!”
KB: Speaking of your blog, what inspired you to start it?
TS: The dog community/blog world just exploded in the last couple of years. In 2007 when I got Rev, I was reading some other agility blogs and decided to make one of my own. I’d keep up with it for a while and then I wouldn’t. It was strictly a training blog. I used to forget it was even there.
Then I started writing about anything. We started going to these big events, and that’s when I started to record my experiences. This spiraled into what my blog is now. Writing has become very therapeutic for me. I like to be able to look back on everything. Just reading other agility competitors’ and instructors’ blogs was really inspiring to me. Blogging is something anyone can do. Back when we didn’t have any of these accomplishments, I could blog about anything and still have a voice.
KB: Congrats on making the World Agility Team. Let’s talk about the tryout experience. How nervous were you and what was Rev’s reaction?
TS: I would say the tryouts are most competitive in the United States. The people who compete are the best of the country’s best, so there’s a lot of concentrated energy in one place. At the same time, I’ve seen the best sportsmanship at that event, and everyone supports each other. Someone once compared the experience to a fishbowl. People watch you on the live stream, your coach is watching, and your competitors are watching. It’s sort of intimidating. It’s like you’re stuck in a fish bowl.
Actually getting there and competing last year and this year, I found it to be a really supportive event. I definitely get nervous – I get very nervous before I run – but I try to embrace my nerves instead of getting worked up. Rev doesn’t typically get nervous. She really likes the high energy of the crowd. It’s her game, and she loves to play it. She always goes out there and gives it her best. I want to do right by her and give it my best. She’s a great partner!
KB: Now that you’ve made the team, what does that mean?
TS: Once the team is final we will have two practices over the summer that we have to travel to. For three days each, they’ll basically drill and drill us. We’ll be challenged in a similar way to what we can expect at the main event later this fall in the Czech Republic.
KB: Do you train on an everyday basis?
TS: I really wish I had a set answer for this, but it varies so much depending on what I have going on in my life and which events we have coming up.
Rev and I train all the time, just by living together. When it comes to agility training, at this point, most of the training is for me. If I didn’t need Rev to practice my handling, she could probably sit the training out!
Rev has different criteria for different obstacles. Mostly we do maintenance work on that every few weeks. The majority of our training is on jumping sequences; so again, I can work on my handling. We take breaks, but, as events get closer, we’ll do complete course work. We simulate an actual run at a competition. Right now, we’re doing smaller sequences to isolate different handling skills for me.
KB: Who has been your support system for your agility career?
TS: Hugely my parents! I’m very lucky. They never forced the sport on me. I usually have my mom or dad – or both of them – at an event. They’ve never put me down and if something is right, they are always supportive. I have the best parents, ever.
I have many friends who are supportive as well. Being at college during the year, I don’t have equipment available to me. We travel to friends’ houses to train together. This is a huge help and great support.
KB: Who has been your biggest inspiration? Do you or have you had a coach or trained with someone?
TS: My coach from the beginning was Mindy Lytle. I owe so much to her for teaching me about the sport from the beginning and for providing my foundation.
Another inspiration is Nancy Gyes. She’s the AKC agility team coach, and I hope to continue training with her. She’s been involved in the sport since the beginning, and her perspective is amazing.
One more big inspiration is Karen Holik. Karen is an eight-time world team member. She’s a big inspiration when it comes to the sport, She’s an amazing dog handler and an amazing trainer. She has some of the best sportsmanship that I have seen in agility. She’s always having a good time with her dog, whether things go great, or not so great.
KB: In your everyday life, when you’re not juggling school and agility events, what are your hobbies?
TS: Normal things, like going to the movies and hanging out with friends, just talking and being silly. I do end up helping my mom with my younger siblings when I’m not at school.
I love taking pictures too, when I have time. I end up taking more pictures on my phone than with my camera. If you go to my blog, you can see a lot of pictures.
KB: You said on your blog, “Nothing I could write could capture the impact they have each had on my life, and on my soul.” Could you explain this a little more?
TS: The sport – dog agility itself – for young people is very valuable for teaching sportsmanship. This can be applied in the sport and life in general.
I have three other dogs. The first dog I did agility with, Toby the Lab, was big on teaching me many of those lessons. My Border Collie, Chase, and Rocky, my other lab, have each taught me different things, in different ways. They’ve taught me how to communicate with dogs and how to handle them on the course and outside of the course. The lessons I’ve learned in and out of the ring have helped me with how I approach life and how I view life’s failures and successes.
I owe any success that I have to all four of my dogs and everything they have taught me over the years.
KB: Any last words?
TS: I’m very lucky to have such positive influences in my life, both human and canine. In agility – and in life – enjoy each step.
Love your dog and always have fun.
KB: I cannot express how lucky I feel to have had this interview with you. You are beyond inspiring, captivating and talented! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and with Best In Show Daily readers.
Don’t forget to check out Tori’s fascinating blog, Hippiedogs. I highly recommend it for a great read and many uplifting photos.
Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, Dogs Freakin’ Rule!