Dog jumps over 9-foot, 3-inch wall to win GoPro Mountain Games in Vail
Sarin defends her crown at 2021 event
VAIL — A 4-year old Belgian Malinois named Sarin won the K9 Superwall finals Sunday evening by jumping over a 9-foot, 3-inch wall in Lionshead Village at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Sarin’s handler, Whitney Lightner, said after visiting from Glendale, Arizona, to enter Sarin into the DockDogs Big Air competition in 2019, she discovered the K9 Superwall competition and figured Sarin might perform well in the event. The K9 Superwall was a new event at the Mountain Games in 2019.
Sarin won that event, and Lightner began looking into K9 Superwall competitions, learning a great deal about the emerging K9 competition.
“There’s a lot of events in Australia, so we watch it online,” she said.
Lightner is a K9 conditioning coach in Glendale, where she trains dogs to perform athletic feats.
She said there are not many K9 Superwall events in the U.S. currently.
“In the Midwest and East Coast, there’s only been a couple of events,” she said.
As a result, she was ready to travel to Vail again from Arizona in 2021 to take part in the only K9 Superwall competition in the West that she could find.
To find another competition venue, you may have to visit Lightner’s backyard in Arizona for an amateur event.
Lightner and her husband are constructing a competition practice arena on their property, where dogs can jump with the aid of harnesses, so a team of handlers aren’t required to catch the dogs, as is the case at the GoPro Mountain Games.
“They’re hard to catch, because they’re 50 pounds, so we’re going to use a pulley system so that we don’t have to catch them,” she said. “If they miss, they just come down really slow.”
Lightner made the trip to Vail with her sister, Cortney Adams, who also has a high-jumping Belgian Malinois. Adams’ dog, Brew, won a preliminary round event at the Mountain Games on Friday but was eliminated prior to Sunday’s finals with Lightner and Sarin.
K9 Superwall dogs must jump from the ground over a wall to higher-elevation platform to advance to the next round. The wall sections are raised in 3- or 6-inch incriments as the dogs advance to the next round.
A dog is allowed two “faults,” or failures to jump over the wall unassisted by the handlers, who are stationed on both sides of the wall. A spotter stands below to catch the dog or help break the fall to avoid injury.
When a dog clears a wall, and no other dogs are able to clear without faulting, that dog is declared the winner, so a dog can win without needing to clear the full height the dog is capable of clearing.
‘I didn’t want to go any higher’
Brew was able to win Friday’s round with a jump of 6 feet, 11 inches. On Sunday, however, dogs quickly advanced into the 7 feet and higher jumps, and Lightner and Sarin finally won with a jump of 9 feet, 3 inches.
Lightner said it was the highest she has ever seen Sarin jump.
“That was a personal best all the way,” she said. “And we didn’t want to go any higher. … I may have gone one more, but she only caught it by her front feet, and then she had to pull herself up.”
After an afternoon of jumping and clearing heights every 3 inches, the dogs will become fatigued in the end rounds, calling into question their maximum jumping capabilities. But that’s part of the competition, Lightner said — finding the balance between enough jumps for the dogs to feel comfortable to go their highest, without jumping so often they become too worn out to perform at their peak.
Dogs can enter the competition at any height.
“They work up to (their maximum height),” Lightner said. “It’s a confidence thing. They need to know they can make it, and then they just go higher and higher. I started (Sarin) at 6 feet, but I might try 7 next.”
Adams said she could tell Brew had, at very least, learned the technique of jumping over a wall at the 2019 Mountain Games. She was excited to see if it had stuck and was pleased to see the dog reach into the 7-foot jumping realm.
Meanwhile, Lightner said she had been training Sarin four days per week and knew the dog would be a contender to win again in 2021.
“She is pure strength,” she said.
In the end rounds, the Sarin’s technique was to jump and grab the wall with her front legs and pull herself over in a similar manner a human would use to scale a wall.
“She just has the power to do it,” Lightner said of Sarin.
And while the large crowd gathered for the event loved the drama of Sarin’s slow pull over the wall, Lightner said it was not a proper wall climbing technique for a dog.
“Early on, she was coming in, launching, putting her back feet on the top square of the rubber and lifting over,” Lightner said. “At the end, she was loosing juice.”
While Sarin was able to jump to a comfortable win in Vail on Sunday, in Australia she might not do so well, Lightner said.
“They go higher,” she said of the Australian dogs in the K9 Superwall competitions Down Under. “Because they’re able to do it more and work on the technique.”
Lightner said she had been talking with organizers at the Mountain Games about bringing more K9 Superwall competitions to already existing dockdog events to the area.
“We have nothing on the West Coast,” she said of K9 Superwall. “So when I heard this was coming, I said we are so going to Vail.”