Kristin is a dog agility instructor and competitor with 20 years in the sport.
The Agility Champion
While still relatively young, the sport of dog agility is nonetheless steeped in rich history. Among the most interesting pieces of historical trivia in the sport is how the MACH bar developed into a trophy.
A MACH is the American Kennel Club's (AKC) highest agility title. MACH stands for Master Agility CHampion and indicates a dog who is an Agility Champion. Once earned, the initials MACH can go before a dog's registered name. Earning the MACH is very difficult and takes dedication, accuracy and speed. The honor is highly celebrated in the AKC agility community with parties and cake following the achievement.
The History of the MACH Bar
In 1999, the AKC instigated the MACH title into their new agility program. Allowing the sport of agility to have its own championship elevated the sport within the AKC, and teams immediately began their journeys toward the highly valued agility championship.
Even in the early days, the MACH required 750 Speed Points (called Championship Points early on) and 20 Double Qs. Dogs can earn one speed point for every full second under standard course time, which is the maximum time allotted for a dog to complete an agility course and still "qualify" - or pass the requirements. To earn the Speed Points, the dog must run the course clean, and the dog must be fast.
A Double Q is earned when a team "qualifies" on two agility courses on the same day. These two courses must be a Standard course, which has all of the usual agility obstacles, and a Jumpers With Weaves (JWW) course, which only has the obstacles of jumps, weave poles and possibly a tunnel. In agility competitions, both the Standard and JWW classes are held on the same day, and teams that run both of these courses clean and under time—thus qualifying—earn a Double Q. To earn the MACH title, teams need 20 of these Double Qs. (See the video below for examples of both classes and a Double Q.)
A PACH (Preferred Agility CHampionship) is basically the veteran's class equivalent of the MACH, requiring the same 750 Speed Points and 20 Double Qs. The difference is the dogs can jump four inches lower than their regular jump heights, and five seconds is added on to the minimum course time. Many, but not all, competitors in the Preferred classes are veterans who have moved into the lower Preferred jump height as they age.
In agility, dogs jump over jumps made of PVC. These jumps have displaceable PVC bars that can easily be knocked down if a dog hits them. This is a safety factor for the dog.
While training for competition and during competition, dogs will jump thousands and thousands of jumps and bars. It is easily possible for a dog to have jumped 130,000 jump bars in a 10 year agility career.
In the early days of the MACH, upon finishing their "MACH run," the handler would take the last bar the dog jumped on the course and run a victory lap with the bar to the cheers of the audience. The handler would then leave the ring with that bar as a "trophy" for their accomplishment.
This bar was a true agility jump bar used by the host club at agility trials. The dog earning the MACH really jumped that last bar. The MACH bar thus represented all of the bars that dog jumped in training and in competition on his or her way to the grand achievement of Master Agility Champion. After earning the MACH, the bar would be available for friends to sign notes of congratulations on it with Sharpie pens.
The decorations on the early bars were from the wear the bars received from competition such as dirt, nicks and stains. The bars also had the required tape on them to make them legal for competition, and they had notes of congratulations written by friends.
Later host agility clubs decided to "decorate" MACH bars to hand out. Because these bars were heavily decorated, they did not meet the legal requirements to be put on a jump on the agility course, so when teams earned their MACH, they would run their victory lap with the last jump bar, but would reset it before leaving the ring. A decorated bar would be presented to them later. (see video below at 3:18)
Today, most clubs offer only a decorated MACH bar and the rich history of using the last true jump bar on the course has been mostly lost.
Some competitors love the highly decorated MACH bars as their trophy while others prefer the sentimentality of the old, traditional bar off of the agility course. Clubs should have plenty of extra bars to put on the course, so those wishing the dirty, true jump bar as their MACH trophy can have it. Clubs also should have decorated MACH bars available to those desiring a more visually pleasing bar.
MACH Bar Examples
How to Make a MACH Bar
There are many different ways to decorate a MACH bar. Understanding what exhibitors want in their special bar can help in deciding how to decorate the bar. Some bars are so highly decorated with stickers, paint and tape that there is no place for friends to sign their congratulations. This mistake should be avoided as the comments of fellow competitors written on the MACH bar makes the bar very personal. MACH bars should be about four to five feet long and made of schedule 40 PVC.
In addition, some clubs paint their MACH bars, so the bars are no longer PVC white. These painted bars can be very pretty, but make sure the paint used is light enough for the notes of congratulations to be visible and of a texture that the ink from the Sharpie pens used to sign the bars won't wipe off.
Some clubs provide stickers for the exhibitor to decorate their own MACH bar. This has its pros and cons. The handler is able to make the MACH bar their own creation and to their own liking, however for the less artsy exhibitor, this can become a bigger challenge than earning their MACH! In addition after a MACH, exhibitors are busy receiving congratulations and will want to get their bar out for signing as soon as possible before friends leave the trial. Placing stickers properly on the bar is time consuming.
Some clubs are making their own stickers using computers. They can then have the club's logo placed on MACH bars with these computer generated stickers. Some of these are very creative. PVC caps placed on the end of the bars with or without tassels attached to them provide an interesting decorator's touch. Also having alphabet stickers available where the exhibitor can place their dog's name and MACH title/number (ie. MACH4 Aslan) is a great improvement over handwriting the name and number on the bar.
Keep in mind when decorating a MACH bar that not only will the future MACH bar's owner want their friends to decorate the bar with notes, but they may want to put their exhibitor number sticker from the day they earned that elusive MACH on their bar. Keep room for that sticker, which varies in size depending on the stickers being used by each individual club.
Many clubs color coordinate their MACH bars with the clubs' colors. Their MACH ribbons might also be in the same club colors. This isn't required, however, and if a club's colors are similar to the colors found in commonly earned ribbons (like green qualifying ribbons, blue first place ribbons, etc.) the club may decide to make their MACH/PACH ribbons and bars different colors than the club's colors.
It is also very nice if clubs keep a MACH/PACH bar and ribbon close to each agility ring, so when a team earns the achievement, the bar and ribbon can be presented right after the victory lap. Of course, if the handler wants the last true bar off of the course, then the MACH bar is already present.
By keeping in mind the history of the MACH bar and what an exhibitor might want to have on their bar, a crafty member of a host agility club can create some beautifully decorated MACH bars that will be highly treasured by their owner. The club can also have some extra "course ready" bars on hand for those exhibitors wanting the last jump off of their MACH winning course. The earning of the MACH is an outstanding achievement, and much thought needs to go into the ribbons and MACH bars that will be handed to the teams that earn this highest of agility titles.
Aslan Earns MACH3
Kristin Kaldahl (author) on September 04, 2013:
Thank you, Sherry. Half of my MACH bars are right off of the course and half are decorated. I love them all too, but I have to say the first MACH bar and the last PACH bar for my dog Aslan are the most special to me. :)
Sherry Moore on September 04, 2013:
I voted that I would like the last jump my dog jumped as my MACH bar. In reality, I don't care, I just want a bar so I can remember my dogs special moment. My MACH bar is a new bar, well decorated and I love it!
Kristin Kaldahl (author) on September 03, 2013:
If anyone knows who or which club first started handing out MACH bars, please let me know. I'll add it to the article.
Kristin Kaldahl (author) on July 26, 2012:
Thanks so much Patty!!!
Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on July 26, 2012:
I don't own a dog, however I do enjoy reading your hubs and you always have useful as well as inspirational information for those that do own a dog!! Keep up the great work!!
Kristin Kaldahl (author) on July 25, 2012:
What do you like or dislike in a MACH bar? What special tricks did you use to create your club's MACH bars? Also, how many MACH/PACH bars have you and your dog(s) earned?