Where the world of heelwork to music began!
We tracked down the very busy Mary Ray and asked her a few questions on her career in this magnificent discipline.
We have so much to thank her for and we all look forward to watching her stunning routines every year at Crufts… but what will this year’s routine be?
Enjoy the full interview below.
How did your career in heelwork to music first come about?
In 1990, a friend asked me to appear at an “Evening with Mary Ray”. I was extremely nervous as this was a first for me, so he decided to compare the evening with him being more or less a chat show host. Then just before the said evening, he contacted me and said that having thought that the heelwork of my dogs was what he called spellbinding, he wanted me to perform a round of heelwork to a specific time and he would play music to it.
The audience of well over 100 went away saying that Mary Ray had performed 'Heelwork to Music' and that is exactly where the name comes from.
This was repeated in 1992. There were some people in the audience who travelled abroad training and, by coincidence, the sport appeared in North America in the early 1990s and, as we know, has now spread worldwide. It's also worth mentioning that in the audience for those shows was Bill Hardaway who was placed fairly highly at both the Kennel Club and Crufts and he decided that he would like something like this at Crufts. So I was duly invited to put on a display in the Activities Arena and I thought that it might be a good idea to actually choreograph the heel work properly to the music and that is where the sport started.
How long does it usually take you and your dogs to learn a routine?
The quick answer would be three months but that, of course, is for the biggest showcase for heelwork to music in the main arena at Crufts. Then, within that three months, is the training of the individual moves which usually take place at home, so it is a case of the total being three months but it’s ‘little but often’ in the initial stages of training. I then move on to hiring the Rugby DTC training barn to complete the routine. My aim is to make the training and the performing of the routine enjoyable for the dogs.
What is the favourite routine that you’ve done over the years?
The problem is that there are so many favourite ones! But, if pushed, I would probably go for the Glenn Miller routine. It was one of my earliest with two of my magnificent dogs, Quincy and Kizzy, and I don’t think anyone had seen a handler work two dogs in an arena like this at that stage and it’s just a wonderful piece of music. But that would have to be followed by Riverdance, Mack and Mabel with four dogs and Slum Dog Millionaire.View more Heelwork to Music videos
Where do you most like to perform your routines?
Well, that has to be at Crufts! Where else could you perform a routine in front of thousands of people plus live streaming and hopefully coverage on television? It brings joy to so many people and an exhilarating thrill to myself.
What are your top tips to becoming a heelwork to music champion?
Number one is ‘Music’. Getting the choice of music right is absolutely critical and when choosing it, you need to ensure that the beat of the music is suitable for how you work your dog and also that it is possible to choreograph a routine to the music.
Number two is ‘Timing’. When choreographing the music, it is imperative that you get the timing right and that a change of beat in the music means you change the pace of the dog or the move. It’s not about doing a series of tricks with music playing in the background – the timing of the choreography is so important.
Number three is ‘Patience’. I say it takes me three months to put together a routine and I do it patiently. If things don’t go quite right, I stop, change what I’m doing or in fact leave it to another day and just have patience with your dog as they do learn it eventually.
And lastly, you need a clever dog! If anyone follows me on Facebook, they know that when I have a puppy, I do lots and lots of play training in my lounge, mostly early in the day when I’m still wearing my dressing gown and I make it fun with the dog and like to think that I can make my dog a very clever dog by doing so!
We know that you take part in many other disciplines, which do you find the most thrilling? And which do you find the most challenging?
All disciplines have both a thrill and a challenge to them. But heelwork to music for me – or should we call it Freestyle – the most challenging part about that for me is firstly choosing the music and then it’s actually putting together the routine.
In Agility, it’s such a fast moving sport that I just find it so thrilling especially if you can win a class that has 200 competitors in it.
And lastly, probably the first sport I started with can be termed as one of my favourites, which is Obedience. The challenge for me is to build that special bond that I have with my dogs, and build up the trust between my dogs and myself. And we always have to remember with obedience, that it is the basis of virtually every other dog sport as you need obedience in agility and you also definitely need it in heelwork to music.