When her children were young, Barb Nystrom would pull them on a sled with their pet Doberman.
Until she had a better idea: to hook her dog up to the sled instead.
Thus began her love of dog-sledding, something she enjoys even more since she retired.
“It’s all about playing with our dogs and they’re having so much fun,” said Nystrom, of K-9 Ranch Kennels in 100 Mile House. “They love it.”
Nystrom, along with her friends Georgina Vellenoweth and Sherry Rosser, have a mushing team that they zip up and down North Horse Lake Road all winter. Their current dog team is made up of two Shiloh Shepherds – Jakes and Riggs – and two Alaskan Malamutes, Kanook and Miska. Most of the dogs are under the age of four and just started running together last winter.
The group usually meets at the K-9 Ranch Kennels. Rosser, who met Nystrom and Vellenoweth when they would walk their dogs together, joined them in dog sledding after she got her first Shiloh Shepherd two years ago. Rosser will often run ahead of the dogs and lead them, while Vellenoweth is usually on the middle of the sled and Nystrom on the back.
Rosser said her dog shakes with excitement whenever she gets his harness out to hook him up for a run. “They just take off. Oh my lord, there is no keeping them back,” Rosser said, adding that even with the ice brake on these dogs go full out.
“They’re very fast learners and very fast on the sled too,” Nystrom added, noting their old team was clocked at running downhill at 27 miles an hour.
Rosser said riding the sled for the first time hooked her, as the synchronicity of the running dogs is mesmerizing. Vellenoweth agreed and said it’s the most fun you can have with your dogs during the winter. They note they couldn’t handle any more dogs as their team would be too fast and powerful.
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“Why we don’t go out with more than four because these guys don’t have ‘whoa’ down solid yet,” Nystrom said, adding the mushers have their own commands for the dogs. “You can get away with them not being as good at gee (left) and haw (right) but they know what hike (go) is right off the bat. Soon as you say that, they’re all off ready to go.”
Sledding for the trio is purely for fun, Nystrom said as their dogs are built for duration runs, not for speed. Racing dogs tend to be lean animals, Rosser added. They weigh only 50 pounds while all of their dogs weigh over 120 pounds. All of their dogs are family pets first and sleep in their bedrooms with them rather than kennels.
This year wasn’t the best for dog sledding because of the erratic snowfall and the fact Horse Lake North Road was being used by logging trucks. The mushers mostly go out on the weekends whenever they got a chance. The three are hopeful that next year will be better and they’ll be really able to get out there.
“It’s just fun to get out in the winter with the dogs it’s just great sport to do it,” Nystrom said.