How We Got Addicted to Mushing
In June 1984, Gail got her first Siberian Husky puppy, Kiska, while she was teaching in a small, rural Vermont school. Kiska was named after an Alaskan mountain Gail wanted to hike someday. They went everywhere together, even to the classroom during the last month of school when Kiska came into her life as a young pup. The students measured, weighed, and graphed her daily growth as a learning exercise and became well socialized with children. Gail began to learn about obedience training and the special needs and personality traits of the breed.
Siberians are gorgeous dogs, but they are not for everyone. They are intelligent, easily bored, lovable, stubborn, beautiful, escape artists in need of lots of exercise but who can NEVER be let off leash outdoors. Siberians are literally born to run and love to run for many miles at a time. They can't help it; it's in their DNA. These are dogs who can wear out an overhead trolley line by running back and forth and then escape to get in troubleor worse. Trolley lines are not for this breed. These are canines smart enough to open a screen door latch. Siberian Huskies need very tall, strong fence enclosures with double-entry doors or traditional mushing stake-outs. Gail had lots to learn, and Kiska was a great teacher.
As an avid outdoor sportsperson, Gail wanted to find a way to bring Kiska out cross country skiing with her. That first winter in 1985, Gail hitched Kiska up to her waist when she went x-c skiing. Eventually she found out that this was actually a Norwegian sport with a name: skijoring. (Norwegians pronounce it "ski-yoring" but most Americans pronounce it with a hard "j". Either way it's lots of fun to do.)
When her dad asked what she wanted for her birthday, Gail gave him a catalog marked with the skijoring gear she wanted. Her father once again wondered about his child but delighted her with a skijoring belt made in Alaska, a towline, and properly fitting harness for Kiska.
Gail discovered that skijoring has the thrill of speed, especially on the downhills, is a tough aerobic workout, and is a great way to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature's beauty without waiting in a line for a chair ride. Putting on skis with a dog hitched to you and pulling away at the towline with eagerness is a challenge in itself, and gives friends a really good laugh. Gail and Kiska both fell in love with skijoring as Gail trained Kiska to be a working sled dogor was it the other way around?
came into the picture three years later, tried skijoring with Kiska
and also became addicted to both skijoring and Siberians.
Gail got hooked on the joys of driving the sled but realized she wanted and needed more dog power. It became clear it was time for another dog to join the family and to once again puppy-proof the house and train Ilyaga (Inuit for "my friend") for obedience and as a working sled dog.
We learned about living and training with multiple dogs as we went along and we still continue to learn and research. It's a never-ending learning process to improve our skills as mushers and caretakers of our beloved canine companions and best friends.
been lucky to have had the ongoing wonderful help of our friend, mentor,
and dog benefactor, Andrea Ripley McMahan of Ripanco Kennel in Duxbury,
Vermont. Andy is a former competitive sprint musher, owns an all breed
boarding and grooming kennel, and is a breeder of Siberians for the
show ring as well as working sled dogs. We've now gotten her back into
mushing with the joys of skijoring--when she isn't working with dogs
at her business or showing her dogs in the ring.
So we had three dogs, then four, then five, then.... Some dogs are officially ours, some are Andy's or her son's, Caulder Ripley (a former Westminster Dog Show Jr. Handler and professional handler now a trained veterinary technician studying business.) Some dogs are co-owned between us. The "loaner dogs" live full-time, year-round, with us. It doesn't matter to us or Andy whose name is on the AKC registrationall the dogs at our home are loved, cared for, and live with us as "our" dogs.
We are lucky and grateful to have Andy & Caulder (and family) as such wonderful friends and mentors. They have enhanced and enriched our lives in so many ways and we can never thank them enough for their trust and all else.
We also learn from other mushers and read various related books, journals, and websites devoted to the sport. Mushers love to "talk dogs" and help one another by sharing ideas about nutrition, training, dog yards, gear, innovations, etc.
Ask any musher driving a dog team: they'll tell you that this dog-powered sport is a wonderful, time-consuming lifestyleand an addiction.
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This page last updated Dec. 12, 2007.