Sled Action

July 05th, 2018
Sled Action
Dog-sled racing might seem as out of place in Australia as a Jamaican bob-sled team.
However, you might be delighted to learn that Australian dog-sledding is a popular sport for our four-legged friends and their minders.
The Australian Sled dog Sports Association holds races all over the country throughout winter and is having its national championships in the Mount Crawford forest this month.
For the last nine years Renee Hennessy has been participating in the canine friendly sport.
Her team of well-trained huskies have run on tracks all around the country.
“It starts with just general training in the back yard or on the street,” Hayley said.
“We teach them things like left and right and a few other commands much like how you'd teach a dog to sit or shake.
“When it starts getting colder we head out on and train them up to 6km runs.”
The championship two-dog event is raced on a 4km track so Renee gives her dogs plenty of room to make the grade.
They even go to what you might think is a husky's natural habitat: snow.
“Every year we go up to Falls Creek,” Renee said.
“There is also a race at Mount Buller in August in the snow at night.
“The snow is a bit more challenging for me.”
Of course, the whole sport is all about the four-legged runners who switch from companion to competitor at the first sign of a leash.
“Our guys are real couch potatoes at home,” Renee said.
“But if we're getting ready for a simple training run they scream and carry on with excitement to go out. They love it.
“Obviously they have a huge drive to run because if they didn't we wouldn't do it.”
Sled dog racing is a family affair for Renee whose children also race in the pee-wee events.
“My son's four and he started last year,” she said.
“They can run on a scooter or mini three-wheeler and do sprints of about 100-300 metres.”
Adults can race using mountain bikes or big-wheeled scooters but for teams of three to eight dogs a specialty three or four wheeled rig is required.
Renee is aiming to make the top five at this month's national championships in Mount Crawford.
“That would be ideal,” she said.
“But we haven't had the most fantastic start to the year with one dog needing bowel surgery early on.
“There's certainly some really good quality opponents as well.”
One of the fierce competitors looking to take out this month's national championships is Hayley French-Davis.
She and her trio of Eurohounds are the reigning champions of the three-dog event.
Hayley has been racing since 2005 when she took her prize-winning Alaskan Malamutes onto the track.
“They're the kind of dog that most people associate out sled-dog racing with,” Hayley said.
“I refer to Malamutes as being more like the touring cars of the sport.
“They are best running a steady pace over long distances but in Australia we run more sprint racing.”
Hayley's current team is made up of Eurohounds, a cross-breed of German shorthaired pointer, English pointer and Alaskan husky that are specially bred for their desirable running attributes.
“Eurohounds are like the Formula 1s of the sport,” Hayley said.
“They really are the ideal sprint dog but just about anyone can join in.
“We've had all sorts of dogs like Labradors, Border Collies and Whippets running around with their owners.
“It's a lot of fun for everyone.”
Hayley will be the first to tell you that it's not just the type of dog that breeds success.
Running a championship sled-dog team also takes elite commitment and dedication.
“We train 3-4 times a week in winter,” Hayley said.
“Our schedule is designed so that they are at peak performance for nationals.
“But it's just as important that our dogs live balanced lives.
“They come camping, swim at the beach and run free.
“A happy dog will run much better than a stressed one.”
Hayley used to raise dogs that won at shows, now she rides behind a team of winning sprinters.
“My attitude is that if I'm going to do something I have to give it my all,” she said.
“That being said, it's also a lot of fun and our whole family gets in on it.
“We've got a three year and a four year old who run in the pee-wee events.
“They love to be a part of it.”
The 2018 national sled dogs championship event is being held at Mount Crawford on the weekend of July 14-15.
For more information head to the Australian Sled-dog Sports Association website at http://www.assa.dog

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