Born to run – Dog Sled racing at Drumlanrig Castle

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04/03/2006 - 05/03/2006

In association with the Sled Dog Association of Scotland, this event will be the flagship event of Dog Sport Scotland's racing calendar.
This is no normal dog race - this one will be on a much bigger scale and this year will have lots of activities to keep the children involved such as Hug a Husky and a Nature Trail. We will also have children's competitions so they can win a souvenier of the day!
Racing starts at 8.30am and will finish at around 3pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Admission and car parking will be free! Come along and have a look!

When the invitation came to experience Dog Sled driving in Scotland it was impossible to resist. We have looked at Dog Sledding before but never managed to actually get on board – until now.

Steve Lindsay, a championship dog musher and project director of Dogssport Scotland was reaching the highpoint of the UK Sled Dog race calendar with the UK Finals in the grounds of Drumlanrig Castle. The venue will be hosting the World Finals next year and they would be hard pressed to find a better location.

Drumlanrig has a long history of open access and has been at the forefront of ground breaking estate management, Dog Sled racing looks perfectly at home. The grounds are extensive and have superb forest trails that make a beautiful backdrop to the fast and exciting sport of Sled Dog racing.

Dogs have often featured on BlueDome and we are pleased to be able to look at this aspect of working dogs in the UK. And that is what Steve and the other mushers are all about. Finding a team of sled dogs that will use stamina, strength and brains to be across the finish line first.

Training is done almost daily and the dogs are kept in top shape with a diet that many human athletes would envy. Power food is the order of the day and in addition to the dry food diet the dogs will often find Salmon, steak or prime chicken on the menu. Equipment is designed by specialists and then tweaked and fitted by the mushers. Each dog has a tailored harness so that they can run without any discomfort.

Steve uses a quad bike to allow the dogs to run at speed without the need to pull a loaded cart. The technique is one of fun running for the dogs with the chance to apply brakes that are not a feature of the lightweight acing carts. The central trace allows the dogs to be connected together safely with a collar leash and a harness lead to take forward motion of the dogs back to the wheels.

It is worth saying that as Steve gets each dog ready to be clipped in the level of excited barking gets very loud. Running is in the blood of these dogs and they love it.

As Steve clips the last dog in and checks the others again I sit on the rear of the quad bike and I can feel the dogs pulling in anticipation. Steve gets aboard, fires the engine and we are off. The dogs are not pulling the quad bike, although they could haul it along with the two of us on it at around 10 KPH!

A Sled cart for racing is a very light affair and uses the wheels from BMX bikes. Even then the wheels and tyres take a hammering, Steve is becoming an expert at wheel building to keep up with the toll of racing.

The dog team, and they are a team, chase away up into the forest. I look over Steve’s shoulder and see that the Speedo is at 28 KPH. The first turn is a sharp right hand bend and the dogs do not slow down. The quad bike leans over onto the two outside wheels and then we are straight again and bouncing along a slight downhill section – we are at 34 KPH.

The bends are taken by the dogs at full speed and with complete control. The different characters in the team are becoming obvious. Steve’s lead dog is the smallest of the six yet she leads the team like a master around the bends and corners. The younger dogs can be seen taking a slightly wrong line and the others pull them back on track.

The effect of driving through the forest behind the team is fantastic – like having a 24 wheel drive Ferrari with no brakes!

The four mile courses ends with a steep drop back into the main grounds of the castle. Training day is over and the water and snacks are distributed.
The older dogs look relaxed and the younger team members are starting to show their colours. ‘Think Dog’ is the mushers credo and Steve can read his team like a good football manager.

Dog Sled racing in the UK is a fast growing sport. Put together the dogs, the outdoors, the speed and the excitement and you have a fascinating mix. I will be back for the World Finals in 2006 and we hope to hear more from Steve and his team in the future.

Now where did I put those old BMX wheels?

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