So Seri is out for 26" altogether, is what I have decided. She will continue trialing, of course, until and unless she is no longer able to do so (we are nowhere near that point!), but she will do so at the lower jump heights, because her enormous jumping arcs put more stress on her front end at the higher heights than the lower ones. We are going to run 20" in AKC over the summer, and if she isn't significantly better by October I may not bring her to USDAA Nationals in KY. I have already pulled her from her Team. i do not have the time or money to requalify her at 22", so we will try for that next year. I have also decided I am definitely not bringing Drifter to the WAO next year. I think 9 and 1/2 years old is a bit old for such a long stressful trip. I probably won't bring him to AKC Nationals in Reno either, not because he won't qualify, and not because he can't jump 20", but because I feel like, again, that is a lot of travel and stress, and with Drifter, who has won the last 2 National events in a row, I also strongly feel like we have nothing left to prove. Winning 2 years in a row is pretty damned good, and while I know there are dogs out there who have won Nationals more than twice, I don't feel a need to do so with him. He is definitely going to USDAA in KY this October, and if the schedule is not too bad, he will run Team, GP, and Steeplechase. After that, I may qualify him in Performance 16" for 2012, but maybe not; I may just allow him to retire as soon as he completes his MACH2 (he's about halfway there).
So that leaves a gap to be filled for International competition. I really, really enjoy my now-yearly trips to Europe to compete and sight-see a bit. And I really enjoyed the WAO event, despite my anger over the ridiculous jump height waffling and breed discrimination. So my choices boil down to this - take Kiba to the WAO jumping 20.6", or take Strafe to the EO jumping 26". There are problems with both choices, of course. Kiba is a difficult travelling dog, and I would have to be creative to get her over to Europe. i think it could be done, if I think outside the box a little bit. Also, this means I have to work her back up to the higher jump heights I had "retired" her from a year ago. When I dropped her down to 16" across the board, it was because her back was getting rather tight after a long weekend at 22", because she qualifies to jump 16" in AKC anyway (and is required to at the Nationals), and also because at the higher height she sometimes does a slight stuttering behavior before jumping. So we would need some strong conditioning and jump work to do well, but I think it's definitely doable. i've run her at 20" at home a couple times this week and she did quite well. The option of taking Strafe to the EO has a few different hang-ups. I have no idea if he'll be ready for tough International courses, no idea if he'll be ready to travel overseas on a long, stressful trip. He almost certainly won't have flown cargo by then. I will have to pay for a Rabies titer at least 4 months before leaving. And then there's the fact that our EO team doesn't have any sponsorship money like the WAO team does, so the trip would be entirely on my shoulders to pay for.
Right now I am leaning towards working very hard to get Kiba on the WAO Team. She may not be as viable a Biathlon contender as Drifter, due to having to work harder over the 20.6" jumps (NOT because her competitors are bigger!), but she could potentially, easily, win the Pentathlon and aid the Team quite a bit. She is fast at any height, but fastest at 16/18". Still, she won many local classes and placed at National events at 20/22" as well, and I'm sure she's actually faster now than she was then.
The next thought that pops into my head after all this, is that I am planning to bring a single dog to Reno next spring for AKC Nationals. I am pretty sure it won't be Drifter. I had originally thought maybe Seri, even at 20", but I'm still not sure if she can keep her head in the game consistently enough to drum up 6 QQ's between now and November. So again, that leaves Kiba - she already has, I believe, 3 QQ's for this year (maybe 4), so it would be easy to finish qualifying her. And if my plan for flying her to Belgium seems viable by practicing similar situations, then why not fly her to Reno too? I would definitely need a packable soft crate for the rental car that blocks her view out the windows, but other than that, she should survive reasonably well - it should actually be much easier on her than a 3 or 4 day drive!
So in order to get started on this new plan, I have entered Kiba in a 3-day AKC trial in August at 20". I will try to get good video of as many of her runs as I can, and then I will take a good long look at it and see how she does, and also check her constantly for signs of soreness or tightness. We will spend September at 20" as well, before dropping back down for USDAA Nationals P16".
Kiba at 22" back in 2008, showing her occasional tendency to arc too early
Kiba at the same trial, with an appropriate takeoff spot this time
Kiba over 16" at AKC Nationals a few months ago.
Of course there are plenty of pictures of Kiba at 16" taking off too early as wel, and in fact she gets away with it at 16" because the jumps are easy for her and so she doesn't tend to have that slight hesitation/stutter. I'm not entirely convinced that 20" is perfect for her, however I am pretty convinced that 20" won't hurt her.