By Jenevieve Monroe
Saint Mary’s class of ‘24 McKenzie Minto takes on a new role as a dog agility judge. Minto is now a UKI Approved Judge, whose role is to score a dog and handler on their performance within a presented obstacle course. Part of the judge’s responsibility is to design the course that handlers and dogs will be tested on; these courses must be both appropriately challenging and safe for competitors. This includes mindfulness of tripping hazards, sharpness of obstacle turns, and momentum of the participants. Opportunities to utilize this skillset are just around the corner. “I was pleasantly surprised to have received a handful of invitations right away,” says Minto. One of these offers came from a tournament in North Carolina. “This is quite an honor considering that I have not yet established a reputation as a judge, so these invitations are purely based on my standing as a competitor.”
As a full-time student attending Saint Mary’s, Minto has learned to navigate life both on and off the course. She often competes on weekends, which means her free time is spent working diligently on school assignments and running through training exercises with her dog Safari. “Course designing also takes a decent amount of time,” says Minto. “I am sure to prioritize time for that and treat it as if it is a school assignment with a deadline.”
Minto is looking forward to embracing this new challenge of judging and growing alongside it as a handler, “I genuinely believe that being a judge will inform me as a competitor; it will help me understand dogs’ lines better, spot common off-course hazards, stay informed on course trends, and recognize the skills that get tested on specific layouts of obstacles.”
She admits that she is a bit nervous to be delving into something she's never done before, but Minto knows the agility community will be patient and supportive as she paves her new path. Ultimately, she is looking forward to seeing herself progress throughout the year and being able to reflect on a newly honed skill set.
Over the last decade of competing in dog agility, Minto has represented the United States at international events on six occasions and obtained podium placements at National level competitions. This coming May, she will be traveling to the Netherlands with her dog to represent Team USA at the World Agility Open.
One of the hardest parts of Minto's journey was obtaining a mentor judge who was willing to supervise her through her first trials, help her with course design, and answer all her questions. Since she is one of the youngest judges to be approved, it was important for her to find a mentor who was well experienced so that she could learn the best judging practices. According to Minto, “Agility is a rapidly evolving sport, and it is becoming increasingly important to handlers that judges are actively involved and in-tune with the changing trends.” Due to her previous accolades as a competitor, she was able to efficiently connect with someone for mentorship.
For anyone interested in following this career path, Minto advises “to have a deep understanding of the sport” and “compete for at least a few years before progressing into the role of a judge.” Saint Mary’s has aided her career in the agility world by establishing the Intercollegiate Dog Agility Club; Minto has expressed her appreciation for the college, saying “Saint Mary’s has been an enthusiastic trailblazer…[being] one of about 5 colleges across the country to have dog agility as a club sport.” She is grateful for the opportunity to represent our school and looks forward to her career ahead.
Madison Sciba '24,