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Little legs are racing

There’s a champion in Martinborough’s midst.

With his longish body [compared to his little legs], wide grin and big ears, he might not look like your typical athlete, but Bryn Parker is a racing legend.

He’s also a corgi.

Bryn [2] was crowned Champion of Champions at the annual Blackhawk Corgi Races in Lower Hutt last month.

According to Michael Romanos, a former journalist and founder of both the Wellington Welsh Corgi Walking Club and the race event, corgi racing is the third most popular form of dog racing after greyhounds and whippets worldwide.

So popular, the 60m corgi dash has become a regular halftime feature at NFL [National Football League] matches in the US. Strange but true.

Unlike the increasingly unpopular sport of greyhound racing, however, corgi racing is “totally amateur and fun”, Romanos said, with typical race-day tactics being owners ‘greeting and treating’ their dogs at the end of the course.

As recent royal history shows us, behind every great corgi is a great owner, with Bryn no exception.

Lifetime corgi owner Cath Parker – who “could talk about corgis forever” – is the power behind Bryn’s throne.

He is the younger of Parker’s two dogs, with nine-year-old Gryff also something of a racing powerhouse, having placed second in previous years on the track.

From the age of six, when Parker’s mum bought the family their first corgi, Becky, this breed of “medium-sized dog with short legs” has been part of her life.

“They sort of get into your blood. They’re a very intelligent dog, very personable, very loyal, so fun and very independent.”

Parker can’t recall clearly how she first heard about corgi racing, but in 2019, “off we went, all tongue in cheek, to this corgi race in Belmont and low and behold, this one [pointing to Gryff] came second, which was absolutely a surprise. He’s easily distracted, he just loves people.”

It’s hard to imagine, but the corgi is a cattle-herding dog, with several YouTube videos attesting to their herding prowess and surprising speed and agility.

Bryn’s engagement with his shepherding instinct is a little hit-and-miss, Parker admits.

“He goes to work [on the farm] with my husband and sometimes he wants to work and sometimes he’s ‘yeah, nah’,” she said.

Bryn prefers to watch the farming action from the comfort of his own home. He’s a fan of Country Calendar and is known to drop everything as soon as the theme tune plays to follow all the action from the carpet.

While corgis are undoubtedly modest in stature – standing on average about 30cm tall [about the height of a piece of A4 paper] – they have big personalities, as demonstrated by Bryn and his housemate, Gryff.

“They are high-maintenance dogs, very assertive. They are not a lap dog. They are a very busy dog,” Parker said, while her mum, also a corgi owner, describes them as “having too much grey matter”.

For Romanos the corgi is the ‘little dog that could’: “They are a small dog that can do things big dogs do and they are playful and loveable and most of them have a big smile.”

He started corgi racing in his backyard as part of his involvement with the walking club. This year, the races attracted over 20 competitors and their enthusiastic support crews.

“It’s all non-professional. We do it as part of a fun day out. There’s no betting, it’s a family-friendly affair.”

The corgis are not trained for racing, though Romanos encourages owners to do “some training of some sort”.

“A lot of them are now; they’re going out in a field and calling them.”

While Parker claimed she did no training with Bryn before his championship run this year, he learned to race down the 60m track in response to her husband Mike’s “next level whistle”.

Gryff, on the other hand, is “very food-oriented”, encouraging him down the track with the offer of treats.

Regardless of the tactics deployed to urge the dogs to travel in a straight line, “corgi racing can be chaotic”, Romanos said. “They can go anywhere. They are on the loose. Many of them are overweight. It’s all fun.”

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