Kiruna Sleddog Symposium
The last weekend I stayed in Kiruna for visiting the Kiruna Sleddog Symposium that usually takes place every two years but since Corona stopped everything it was already three years ago that it took place last time and additionally we couldn’t join the last one because it was short before Joël’s birth and 2017 we stayed in Norway. That means, the last time I had the possibility to be there was in 2015. So, maybe you can imagine how happy I was to have the chance to go there ☺️
For all of you who are a bit interested in dog mushing or the musher’s scene I will write a review about the symposium and be sure, you don’t want to miss the next one.
First of all I want to emphasize how great it is that the Kiruna Sleddog Club organizes this event every other year inviting not only local mushers but also speakers from the US and Canada.
This year there were new speakers on the podium with very impressive stories but before I talk about this I want to say thanks to US-veterinarian Dr. Jerry Vanek, who was also a speaker this year (like many other times) but couldn’t be on stage in person. But anyway I met him at Mats’ kennel where I stayed for the weekend. I know Jerry as long as I am working with sleddogs what is now more or less exactly eight years. He taught me a lot about the physiology of a dog, the influence of equipment on dogs, best possible dog care, etc. He is not only a veterinarian and teacher in the field of sled dogs but also a very experienced race vet. And I was really happy that I could assist him with his harness and movement studies in 2018/2019 and with his work as race vet at the Lapland Quest 2019 learning so much from him. And after we haven’t met since February 2019 it was great to have him back in Sweden now 😃 At the symposium he hold two lectures about the sled dog spine what is a part of the body that is easily overseen because it’s much easier to realize a limping dog than to see issues related to the spine. Of course, not everything was new to me after having worked and listened to Jerry for many years but anyway it is always good to be reminded and strengthen your knowledge in all those fields. I am already now looking forward to the next time we meet.
Ok, let’s go on to the mushers who were speakers this year. First one was Rob Cooke. Initially he is from the UK and 25 years ago he just wanted to buy one Siberian Husky as a pet dog. You know what follows? Yes, one dog needs a companion, so you get a second, but having two in front of the training cart or sled you might take one more, or two and within no time you suddenly have ten dogs. Sorry Rob, that’s life with dogs 😂 In his first speech Rob talked about how he started having dogs, about his experiences in sprint and mid-distance mushing in the UK and how he finally ended up in Canada, having a kennel with about 50 Siberian Huskies running Yukon Quest and Iditarod always finishing with a very happy dog team. In his second speech he spoke very, very open about how you get to the starting line. That means starting with breeding, over feeding, training, preparations and ethics. Even if the time was too short he gave a deep insight in how and what he is feeding, how he train and socialize the dogs and much more. For me it was really impressive how much happiness and joy you could read in Rob’s eyes when he was talking about his dogs. He emphasized how important it is to always have happy dogs, and that you can see on every single photo and video he had in his presentation. The dogs were always smiling, laughing or jumping around, not only before the start but also at the finish line. A great musher with a great attitude to his dogs. If you want to read his full story visit the Homepage of his kennel Shaytaan Siberian Huskies.
Next speaker was Malin Strid who together with her partner Lars Hoffmann runs Cold-Nose-Huskies where we have our dog Mavas from. Malin talked about her way from childhood over handling for Petter Karlsson to starting her own kennel and finally being part of the top elite of long distance mushing. Finishing 3rd in her first attempt of Femundløpet 650km this year behind the great Norwegian champions Thomas Wærner and Robert Sørlie can indeed not been seen as a loss just because her lead dog refused to overtake Robert, being on the podium with these idols is a success itself and just more motivation to go on follow your dreams, what by the way led to another 3rd place in Finnmarksløpet 600km the same season. Malin pointed out how important it is to have a plan and follow it. Yes, it can be necessary to change to plan B or C or D, but if you take every little problem or setback as excuse for not training, not racing, etc you will never reach your goals. I totally agree on that, follow your dreams no matter which complications make adapting you the way. But only if you keep your goal in sight you have a chance to reach it. Dreams can come true but to work for it helps a lot than just waiting for being lucky to reach it by accident. And we will see, maybe somewhen in the near future Malin will also stand on the starting line of the Iditarod.
Next one on the stage was Dan Kaduce who finished Iditarod 2022 on 4th place with all 14 dogs in harness. For some people – including me – that is almost as good as winning the race, maybe even better. In his first speech Dan let us participate in the race by going from checkpoint to checkpoint showing impressive pictures and videos he took on the trail. The second speech focused on questions Dan got from the audience what covered everything from breeding, feeding, training and equipment. One question he got from many mushers was related to the harness he uses, because it is a so called short harness, in Scandinavia almost all long distance mushers use X-back or similar harnesses. So, Dan explained the advantages he sees in this kind of harness but also pointed out that it’s important to look at every single dog, because some harnesses just don’t fit a dog even if it is the right size in theory. That is why he also has other harnesses for some dogs but, of course, because the line setting is totally different for short harnesses you can’t mix them with X-back or the stick harnesses that have become very popular here, even if he is quite interested in trying this too. But this harness topic can fill a whole symposium itself, so let’s get back to the dogs and mushers 😉 If you want to know more about Dan visit the homepage of Dew Claw Kennel.
Another speaker on the symposium was Anny Malo together with her husband Marco Rivest. They talked about their live with their dogs and two sons what means that the whole family is involved in the sports and travels around for taking part in mid distance and stage races. Anny is probably the best Canadian race musher in this category and shared here experiences and thoughts about how to prepare your team and yourself for these races. But to be honest mid distance and stage races are not that interesting for me so I can’t tell you the details of her training because it’s nothing I would adapt for me. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from her because topics like how you bond with your dogs are completely unrelated to races or tours, it’s just a general question. And Anny as all the other mushers on the scene showed the same happiness when talking about her dogs what’s great to see.
Last but not least Lina Hallebratt was on stage. She is not that well known as a musher because she just started in this field. However she was named the Swedish Female Adventurer of the year twice with a lot of really interesting expeditions almost always accompanied by one or more dogs. Beside some other expeditions by foot, by bike or by kayak she completed the White Ribbon – a trail of 1.200 to 1.500 km over the Swedish Mountains, from Grövelsjön in the south to Treriksröset in the north, already eight (!) times, two times in both directions what means 3.000 km. That is really, really impressive. Especially when you hear that she hasn’t grown up in an outdoor or animal family. The last White Ribbon was first time with a team of sleddogs and standing on a sled what lead to already ten own huskies right now… mmh, I think that reminds me on my comment to Rob’s speech 🙈
Beside listening to interesting speeches the Kiruna Sleddog Symposium also has a trade fair where all the big (and smaller) companies who are active in the sled dog business show their products, are there for talks and information and with a bit of luck you find things you need for a good price. It’s always nice to get the possibility to see some products „live“ instead of try to imagine how they look and feel in reality when you just see them on the screen.
Before I end this article I have to tell one really funny story: the Kiruna Slädhundklubb who is the organizer did a lottery where you could win a sled. In fact it was two lotteries, one for an Axaeco sled where all participated automatically who had registered before a certain date and one for an Oinakka sled where you could buy lots during the symposium. And guess who was the lucky winner of the Oinakka sled? No, not me… It was the producer of Björkis sleds, the other well known sled company in Kiruna 🤣 so what should he do with an Oinakka sled? He gave it back to the club for an auction to the audience with the goal to collect money for the kids in the club. And with the help of Jodi (Dan’s wife) a spontaneous auction was held in Kiruna’s Folkets Hus. Probably the last one because the Sleddog Symposium was the last big event in this building in the old city center of Kiruna. Almost everything around is already closed because since some years the town is moving to give the iron mine the possibility to go on with their mining without risks for houses and people in Kiruna. A whole city is moving – that’s indeed a topic for another article.
But if anyone is not infected of the sled dog virus after this weekend please let me know, I can’t imagine that this is possible 🐕🥰 and keep in mind: don’t stop follow your dreams, they only come true if you work for them.