Beginners Mush

by Sleddoggin Staff on April 7, 2011

By Cindy Filmore

Hello! And welcome to my first column at . In case we haven’t met, I’ll let you in on a few points about me:

My name is Cindy Filmore, and along with my family, we own and operate a dog sled tour kennel called Beavercreek Farm and Kennels, in Kearney, Ontario, Canada. We began our journey into dog sledding over 6 years ago, when our sons were asked to help out a friend and neighbor in her dog yard. She was running tours, and extra hands make lighter work, so Doug and Scott were happy and eager to learn about dog sledding.

They had grown up hearing about Uncle Harry’s dog teams, about how Aunt Jane had traveled into Algonquin Park by dog sled, and with our own myriad collection of dogs and other critters. We’d hooked up a dog or two over the years, but at 12 years old, handling a whole team was a pretty exciting challenge.

Since that first time, they’ve graduated to: a team they shared, their own teams, and then to a family-run tour kennel. And, it all happened within a 2 year period.

It was a pretty steep learning curve! But, it has been a lot of fun, and we have all learned a lot, and grown much wiser. We’re still learning, because that is what life is all about.

With this column, I hope to help and encourage others beginning their own journeys in dog sledding.

If you have any questions about starting out, please drop me a line and I’ll do my best to find you an answer!

The first thing a new dog sledder needs is … old dog sledder! Mentors are all the rage these days, but dog sledders have long known the benefits of having someone show you the ropes.

But where can you find a mentor? Well, luckily, dog sledders are a happy lot, and most are friendly and willing to chat about their dogs, their excursions, and all the things that they have learned over the years. If you can find a dog sledder, you can probably find a mentor.

The trouble starts if you CAN’T find a dog sledder. Where do you start to look?

The internet is a great tool, and one that can help you in this quest! Type dog sledding into just about any search engine, and you’ll be inundated with hundreds of links to tour kennels, race sites, race kennels, and dog sled clubs and organizations. These are great starting points!

Contact local tour kennels, and ask if you can drop by for a chat! If you are really interested in learning about dog sledding, many tour kennels would be happy to give you a tour of their dog yard to get a “feel” for the sport (but, please leave your dog at home!). If you play your cards right, you might even get invited to watch at feeding time, or at hook up when a tour is heading out! If they think you have potential, and if the “fit” is right (not all personalities mesh!), you might even get invited to help out!

If there are no tour kennels near by, why not plan a tour as part of your next vacation? Lots of tour kennels welcome “extra” interest from guests, and would be glad to take the time to show you a little more about their sport than the average guest wants to see.

Another great way to learn the ropes, is to volunteer at a sled dog race. Not only will you gain the admiration and respect of dog sledders (because we really DO appreciate the volunteers that make racing possible!), but you will learn TONS about sled dogs, dog sledders, trail troubles, and committee organization. Whether you volunteer to pick up after the Iditarod racers, or man a check point at a sprint race, rest assured you will gain experience and knowledge that most people never encounter, from dog handling pointers to feeding tips and tricks.

Dog sled clubs and organizations can give you contact information of members that are willing to act as mentors, and may even have listings of members with dogs, sleds and rigs for sale, while email lists, websites (like this one!) and chat boards can put you in contact with dog sledders from across the globe!

Regardless of where you find your mentor, pay them good heed! The things they’ve learned have often come to them from experience, and what they teach you could save you time, money, or (on an long distance race or adventure) maybe even your life!

But, more on that in another column!

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