Mushing is the term used for the sport of racing dog sleds with huskies. It is a popular sport throughout the Arctic – in America as well as Northern Europe. Even though its origins were as a recreational healthy outdoor sport for families, now in Arctic countries, it is a widely recognised sport with set rules. Official racing associations such as the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) are campaigning to have mushing recognised worldwide as an Olympic sport.
Like many traditions, new developments in technology are threatening mushing, with many preferring snowmobiles for everyday use. However, some Arctic people in really isolated areas, prefer the reliability of a dog sled. It has also remained popular as a recreational sport.
Husky dog sleds can reach speeds as high as 28 mph with regular average speeds of 20 mph. To the untrained eye, huskies may all look very similar but each husky plays a very specific role in mushing. This formation is vital to the success of the race and a good musher will understand their dogs inside out.
Lead dogs set the pace and steer the rest of the team and this is usually a pair of dogs at the front. A good lead dog must be intelligent with common sense and a great ability to pick up a trail even in bad whether conditions. Swing dogs are positioned directly behind the leads and, as the name would suggest, they are responsible for swinging the rest of the team into place. Team dogs add the power but some smaller teams don’t require any team dogs at all. Wheel dogs bring up the rear and must have a calm temperament so as not to be put off by the sled directly behind them.
Before you see huskies in the Arctic Circle, here are some basic mushing terms you will need to know before you start:
- Hike: Get the dogs moving
- Gee: Turn right
- Haw: Turn left
- Easy: Slow down
The dogs are the most important component of mushing – below par dogs will hugely limit your success. Remember that each dog can burn 1,000s of calories when mushing. They need a high protein and fat content in their diet to sustain this level of exercise. A great musher will have a great relationship with their dogs.