Frieda Mae - 1992-2000
Frieda Mae was the Original Agile Leo - the pioneer, the First Lady. Her person, Bonnie Goodfriend, wrote about Frieda Mae in 1999.
When Frieda and I first began doing agility we did not intend to compete for titles. We were only looking for something fun to do. My husband, Norman, and I had grown frustrated in our attempts to deal with an extremely intense, serious and insecure young Leo. All of the things we had tried in anticipation of bringing Frieda out of herself had not had the desired effect. Since Frieda is a very intelligent dog I thought that obedience work was something she would be suited to do but it was clear from the beginning that Frieda hated obedience classes. Her attitude was especially apparent when she developed a limp that would last the duration of the obedience class itself. The only time that she seemed happy was when she was running through the wilds of the Santa Monica Mountains on our daily hikes. When I saw an article about Contact Point Agility in our daily newspaper I thought the description of an agility course and its equipment sounded like it would be fun for Frieda. After all, she jumped, scrambled, climbed and balanced on all sorts of natural obstacles everyday during our hikes, and I thought the para-style course sounded like it might be fun. So we started agility training.
Frieda loved agility from the very first day. The limp that had become such a bother on Thursday nights at obedience class disappeared on Saturday mornings in agility class. She seemed to look forward to agility and took on each new obstacle with enthusiasm. Jumping over hurdles and through tires kept her tail wagging in circles. Wiggling through tunnels is something that all dogs seem to enjoy, and Frieda did not prove to be an exception. The A-frame and dog walk were easily mastered and her confidence level increased accordingly. When the A-frame was raised to its full height (over 6 feet) Frieda became a mountain goat and we had trouble getting her to come down from her lofty perch. The decision to stay up at the top had nothing to do with fear but rather her discovery that the view was much better at the greater height. When the see-saw was introduced, she quickly learned how to maneuver her weight and size to find the balance that would tip the board and allow her to walk off gracefully. The weave poles took the longest, but soon Frieda had mastered all of the individual obstacles and we began working on drill sequences and short courses. It was about this time that I began to believe that it might be possible for a Leonberger to title in agility. It would not be easy, but it was possible.
Norman and I worked as volunteer ring help at agility matches long before Frieda was ready to compete. It was amazing to watch the Starters, Advanced and Masters dogs run the courses directed by only the vocal commands of their handlers. Without collars or leashes, these animals were so fast and so accurate it seemed impossible that our Leonberger could ever hope to compete against dogs of such caliber. Many of the competitors had heard of our Leo, Frieda Mae, and wanted to know when she would be competing. Everyone was so supportive about our goal to compete with a giant breed that we felt like a part of the group even though we were new to the sport and did not have a dog in the ring. Frieda's popularity has remained constant and we have been told by more than one of the clubs we compete with that they watch the mail for Frieda's entry in hopes of "the Leonberger "attending their agility trials.
After eight months of training we were at last working mostly off leash and decided it was time to enter Frieda in a Fun Match that our agility school was putting on, just to see what would happen. Frieda won a fourth place and Norm and I were hooked on competitive agility. I began to entertain real fantasies of a Leonberger with an agility title. Once we began to compete in earnest however, it became apparent just how difficult that title would be to achieve.
It became clear early on that the element of speed was missing from Frieda's performance but not technical ability. Frieda was consistently turning in clear runs, but they were way over time. For us to run clear means that we incurred time faults over the course time set by the judge but that Frieda performed all of the obstacles correctly and in the right order. The sport of agility was designed with Border Collies in mind, which is to say that the courses are designed for their smaller body size and great flexibility. Border Collies are able to cut tighter corners than Leos and their initial take off from a dead stop is much faster than that of a giant dog. To ask a Leonberger to be a Border Collie is to ask for the impossible and along the way I have often been very frustrated. I have learned to accept that there are inherent physical limitations between one breed and another. But I have also kept working towards those coveted maroon and purple qualifying ribbons and the agility titles that come with them. I knew that Frieda was capable of winning maroon and purple ribbons that signify a clear run which is done at or under course time, it just might take us a little longer to do it.
In the hopes of decreasing our course times, Frieda and I began to do training clinics and usually we have been the least experienced and the only untitled pair (handler/dog) in the group. Frieda has always been the largest dog in any of these groups. Peter Lewis, a noted agility teacher and judge from England, pointed out to me that Leonbergers are not noted for the kind of drive that would cause them to "race" through a course. He told me that he did not know of any Leo that had done well in English style agility and thought I was amazing to have taken on the challenge in the first place. Peter's comment was typical of most that I receive though some people are not quite so subtle. I have been told that I am out of my mind to try and title a giant breed dog in agility and I have been given numerous suggestions as to more "appropriate" breeds to run. I never stopped believing that a Leonberger is an appropriate dog to run in agility because agility is good for all dogs. I have grown to love the crowd reaction to Frieda's entry into the ring because people are amazed that the "big" dog can do it too. The applause when we go forward to collect her ribbons is always louder than for any other dog.
Our quest for an agility title has taken us throughout Northern and Southern California and several times into Arizona. We have met a lot of wonderful people and had lots of experiences and made new discoveries along the way. For instance we discovered that Frieda Mae loves to run in the rain. The more inclement the weather conditions the happier Frieda is and faster her course times are. Give her mud up to the ankles and she is in heaven. The Northern California agility clubs have been more than accommodating in arranging for rain and "mud-bowl" matches. Frieda showed them her appreciation by beginning and completing her Novice of Agility Certificate at Bay Team (San Francisco Area) events.
Frieda continues to compete in both NADAC and USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association). Each time she competes, she gets faster and faster. The better she does the more her confidence soars. Frieda is a magnificent Leonberger and to watch her run an agility course is to see beauty and grace in motion. She can bring a crowd to its feet cheering as she races for the finish line and I am right behind her knowing how much she loves every second of her time in the spotlight. Agility is all about "play" and the sight of Frieda's tail doing helicopter spins as she flies over jumps is the signal that she is having fun, and that was what we were looking for in the beginning.
Frieda Mae left this world November 24, 2000. Bonnie posted this tribute to Frieda Mae on the LeoList:
The sun comes up, the sun goes down and life continues to go on, But the house is quiet and the dogs are sad, because Frieda Mae is gone.
ARBA, IABKCA-Multi Ch Frieda v Manderly AD, NAC, NJC, NGC, OAC, OJC, OGC, EAC-V, CGC, TDI aka Frieda Mae crossed over the rainbow bridge this past Friday, 11/24, she was 8 years 3 months old. Her death came as quite a shock because she had not been sick or shown signs of being in any kind of physical distress. In fact she had been down in the agility area playing on Thursday and racing around the place on Friday morning. She went to the groomers on Friday afternoon, in preparation for a trial this past weekend, she was walking from the kennel to the tub when she suffered a massive heart attack. She was dead before her body hit the floor. If Frieda Mae could have been asked, and answered, the question, "how would you like to die?", she would have answered without hesitation, "I want to go out with a BANG! I don't want to get old, I don't want to be sick... I just want to be here one minute and gone the next." Like everything else in Frieda's life, she got what she wanted. She always did. Needless to say both Norm and I are devastated.
Frieda loved agility more than anything. Those of you who saw her run know this is true. I tried to retire her awhile back, but she was so upset that I had to let her return to the ring and run. She always knew when it was her "turn" to run and she loved the spotlight on her almost as much as the agility that she was so good at. She ran in the Good Dogs trial in Phoenix two weeks ago winning ribbons (Frieda loved winning ribbons)and was entered in the Seaside Scramblers trial in California this past weekend. I almost didn't buy the pictures of her running in Phoenix because I had so many Frieda Mae agility pictures already. Something made me go ahead and purchase them, and I am SO glad that I did. I didn't know then that it was to be Frieda's last time in the ring.
Frieda was always a very driven Leonberger. When she came to us as a puppy it was clear that she NEEDED to be doing something physical. She loved to go hiking, and I don't mean meandering trail hiking, I mean up and down steep, mountain, hiking. A 10 mile hike was nothing for Frieda and she was ready to turn around and do it again... when we were dying from the pace she had set. She was not crazy about the conformation ring, although she finished two titles to Champion Class. She hated obedience classes and developed a limp, though always a different leg, on that particular night. And then we discovered Agility, and Frieda said "Wow guys, this is IT! I can really do THIS!".
At the time we began agility training there was only one organization (USDAA) and one jump height(30")for a dog of her height. Frieda Mae sailed over the jumps with her tail whipping around in happy circles. Even when I was told to forget doing agility with a giant(and get a "real" dog)I always knew deep down that she had the talent and the drive to succeed. And succeed she did! She remains the only giant breed dog in the record books with a 30" USDAA Agility Dog title. I am incredibly proud of that achievement! When she finished the last qualifying round the crowd screamed "Frieda IS a real dog". The jump heights were lowered to 26" and she continued to run with great enthusiasm. We had to take a break in competition for Norm's back surgery and recuperation and that really upset Frieda. She seemed to know that agility was going on without her. I moved her to Performance Class when she was 7 where she only had to jump 22" and she surprised me earlier this year, when I wanted to retire her, with a 1st place Qualifying run 10 seconds under course time. Frieda really enjoyed NADAC style agility and she completed all titles in Novice and Open,into the Elite level, made the Nationals and showed no signs of stopping. She loved going to NADAC Camp at the Nelson ranch in Idaho where the days were filled with agility, agility and more agility. All you had to say was "Idaho" and she was excited and ready to go. Frieda Mae was a true canine athlete of Olympic caliber.
Frieda was a very special dog. When you looked into her eyes you could almost forget she was a DOG. A person could get lost in those dark brown, soft, warm, soulful eyes. She was also a very vocal and energetic greeter. Norm and I had to prepare ourselves, when coming home, for a Frieda that would vocalize while leaping over the rest of the pack to greet us before any of the other dogs. She was always talking, chattering, about something and leaping into the air to make her point. Perhaps that is why the house seems so quiet, I never realized just how noisy she was. Frieda also sucked ear,like no other dog in the house, and expected hers sucked in return. A Leo thing, yes, but she took it to an extreme. Frieda loved to travel, anywhere, whether it was running errands, to an agility trial or on vacation, she was ready to hop into the truck or RV and GO, GO, GO. She was a very social girl and enjoyed making the rounds at agility trials so that she could visit with her friends, both human and canine, and enjoy a few treats on the way. An actor or politician could not have worked a crowd better than Frieda Mae. She was an exceptional Leo. Frieda was beautiful inside and out, there was not a mean bone in her body. She was classy but could be goofy and silly (like the time she took the dogwalk multiple times in a run so that the crowd could watch her strut her stuff)with her own,unique, sense of humor and she was an exceptional canine athlete. We feel so lucky to have had her in our life. We miss her more than words can say.
At the beginning of an agility run I would always tell Frieda to "fly" and so I will finish this the same way, because she was my Ferds, my Frieda Frieda, my Maisey Girl, my Frieda Mae...
Fly, Frieda, Fly... may all your runs be clean!