Sled dogs enabled explorers such as Byrd, Peary and Amundsen to explore the frozen wasteland of two continents and played a vital role in bringing civilisation to the snowbound areas of the world.
Few of the inhabitants of the far North are dependent upon dogs for basic survival today. However, the same intimate relationship between man and dog still exists and is evidenced through the sport of sled dog racing.
There are four pure bred Sled Dog breeds, though only one, the Siberian Husky, is the breed likely to be seen at racing meetings. The Siberian breed was originally imported into Alaska for racing, and the sport soon became popular throughout North America, and very soon, Europe. The first huskies were imported into Britain in 1968 and the first rally was held in 1978.
Racing sled dogs are among the best-cared for animals in the world. The sport is one based on athletic performance and, therefore, diet and physical fitness is always of the utmost importance. Spectators may be surprised at the dogs' lean appearance, but it should be remembered that an overweight dog, like an overweight person, is not fit and cannot run at a competitive pace.
The training of sled dogs begins at an early age over short distances. With age and experience distances increase, but at all times the welfare and enjoyment of the dogs is of primary concern.
British sled dog races are generally held on a looped course over forest or similar trails with each team being timed by stop watch starting at timed intervals. In races of more than one lap, the total elapsed time is taken to determine the winner.
Teams are divided into classes, based on the number of dogs in the team and distances of the trails; in addition to the main races novelty and junior events may be scheduled, however, all races are governed by the Working Rally Rules of the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain which ensures safety of teams and drivers alike.
It is in this connection, that of safety, that Forest Heath Raynet - which, in some recent years, has hosted three meeting every year - together with the Medical user service, is concerned.
There are many ways in which the safety of racing dog outfits can be compromised. The speed at which the dogs take corners mean that the ‘musher’ must lean in like a sidecar racer to hold the lightweight chariot upright, and it is quite easy to overturn, branches overhanging or underfoot add to the danger. If the rider is dislodged, the team will carry on dragging the cart, and can cause injury to themselves when it crashes into trees. Sometimes the harnesses become tangled, dogs detached from them, or a rider entangled may be dragged along and into trees.
To ensure that each team is safely progressing within it's time span, Raynet vehicles are parked at frequent intervals, to check the passage of each; it has been known for a Raynet operator to catch a stampeding dog team, while its owner runs a losing race to catch up!
All these situations can be the occasion for unfortunate consequences, and the presence of Raynet observers in handy places is therefore a welcome sight to anxious drivers.©