A Year in the Life of an Irish sled dog kennel – Eat more carrots

Another rally, another mud bath. The season 2015-16 has been one of mud, rain, rain and mud. Dryland mushing really hasn’t applied this year, most rallies have been short due to higher temps and humidity, and the organisers acknowledging that teams haven’t been able to train longer distances. The rally that we entered last weekend was meant to be over two days, unfortunately as the trail deteriorated so badly after the first day, the second day was cancelled. The dogs had to work extremely hard in the mud and with a huge uphill towards the end, I employed my trek technique, attaching a suicide line to the rig, and walking up behind it, so that the dogs only had to pull the rig, without any of my weight on it, not conducive to fast times or winning races, but this sport is about working as a team, the dogs were working really hard, so it was up to me to lighten their load. As always, my fantastic dogs did all that was asked of them, including Tala who ran her first rally of the season as part of a dog team.

Finding places to train sled dogs can be difficult, not just surface appropriate trails, but we need quiet places, without too many other users. Off lead dogs can be a major issue, wildlife interesting, and not all walkers or joggers appreciate fast dog teams going past them. This is why most sled dog teams train at night or very early morning. Whilst training a couple of weeks ago in the morning, we were coming to the end of the session, so dog walkers were appearing, I had a 2 dog team out, very well controlled, when a JRT came running at them. His owner made no attempt to call him back (our training area has a policy of dogs on leads at all times, but some dog owners feel it doesn’t apply to them), I stopped my team, they stood quietly on the trail, the little dog ran between, hit the neckline that connects their collars, did a backwards somersault and landed back on his paws, with a very puzzled look on his face.

As the last few nights have had really bright moonlight, making it almost as bright as daytime, I decided it would be safe to go and run the dogs by myself, something that I stopped doing, for safety reasons. Last night the temperature was perfect, below zero, nice and dry, I was anticipating a fantastic training session, with us bathed in moonlight, dogs running fast, my headtorch picking out the trail ahead of us. Of course things never quite work out that way. I hooked the first team up, swapping some dogs around, I was going to run 3 of my DR4 team from this season, along with Darcy, who normally runs in the DR2NB team, as his fitness levels aren’t as high as the rest of the dogs, I was hoping that running in a bigger team would help him. It all started off very well, with the dogs lining out nicely, I hopped on the rig, released the snub line and off we went. About 50 yards on, my head torch died, and that’s when I remembered placing the torch that goes on the rig handlebars on the floor of the van when I was getting dogs out. So I now had 4 very excited dogs, full of running, and it was pitch black. Thankfully I had put Head-Lites collars on the two lead dogs, so I had some light, but under the tree canopy in the forest, it really was dark. I had to make a big decision, turn the team around, or carry on, and trust the dogs, as I couldn’t see where we were going. I realised that trying to turn a 4 dog team around in the dark at the beginning of a run would probably prove impossible, so I chose to carry on, do a short loop, and trust my dogs. As always, they didn’t let me down, thankfully they and I know the trail very well, and, whilst I kept the brakes on to keep the speed down, they didn’t put a paw wrong, and we did a 2km loop and ended up safely back at the van. The Yukon Quest has just finished in Canada, and the Iditarod will be starting very soon, 1,000 mile races when mushers and dogs literally put their lives in each other’s hands. Whilst it may well be over dramatising what happened last night to say it was the same in our little forest, standing on a rig in the dark, not knowing where the trail ended and the forest began, being pulled along by 4 dogs, and hoping that they wouldn’t run into a tree or a post was incredibly scary. I was as worried about the dogs as I was about myself, I had a helmet and body armour on, if I fell off, I would probably survive but if I lost the team, would they find their way back to the van? There is so much trust between human and canines when you work together in any capacity. As it was dark, I rushed getting the team out as I didn’t want to be out too late, I should have taken my time, done my usual safety checks and made sure my second light was on the rig – I owe the dogs that, and it is a lesson learned. dn’t run the second team that I had planned to, and when we got home, Ghost jumped out of the van, all ready to go, and the look of pure disgust on his face when he realised he was back home, and not in a forest, going for a run was priceless.

Continuing my team introductions: Diesel was my second husky, bought from a breeder when he was 9 weeks old, he is now 10. He is a KC registered Siberian Husky, but I have always thought that he has Alaskan Malamute somewhere in his lines. He is a big lad, and isn’t great with other dogs – unless he is in harness, when he has his working head on, he goes past everything and ignores every other dog. Unfortunately he has a bad back, so hasn’t worked for a couple of years, but still enjoys going for walks. He was an incredible working dog, a real powerhouse, winning a Weight Pull title when he was younger, and a great tutor to the younger sled dogs when they were learning the trade.  One of my favourite ever photos is of Diesel leading the team into a huge puddle on an AMWA trek, we were going in, no matter what, he then led them out of the puddle to the side, leaving me to push the rig through the water, which came over my knees. He has also been invaluable in the house for keeping harmony within our dog family, dogs that come here very quickly realise not to mess with Diesel, and to behave themselves with the other dogs, or he will tell them off. He is also an expert thief, and screw top lids on glass jars are no bother to him.

Thanks to  Rita Wilson Photography


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