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October 6, 2013

From Each According to His Ability

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve split my dogs into two very different teams: my Slow Old Dogs, a.k.a. the B-Team, a.k.a. Everybody Else, and the dogs who have a shot at making my skijoring team, the A-Team.  I’ve divided up the dogs before, but it’s been after months of training.  This is the first season I made that split before my first run.  I’ve been surprised at how much fun it’s been, both for my dogs and for me. 

It didn’t start that way.  My first run with my A-Team was the one after which Zappa had a very mild petit mal seizure----I didn’t know what was going on at the time—that foreshadowed the set of seizures that would start seven hours after the run and be the only symptom of whatever actually killed him. 

My first run with the B-Team, Murphy dropped.  It was quite warm, 60 F or so, but I stopped five times during a three mile run.  Vixen and Fondue, 13 y 8 m and 12 y 3 m respectively, were standing at the end of the run, as was everybody else.  Five stops and a slow pace to begin with made even 60 F comfortable for the dogs.  As it ended up, Murphy had a bug that he’d get over in a week.  The heat probably exacerbated this, but its contribution was as much in his mind as it was a real problem.  Rationally, I knew I had done fine---the image of all of my old dogs in the B-team standing after their run stuck in my mind.  Still, it shook me. 

The runs did improve.  Murphy got better and running with the B-Team is now easy for him, just like it should be.  I didn’t have Sima in the first run, but did run him with the B-Team several times after this.  Sima’s back has deteriorated compared to last year and it looks like he’ll be running a lot less.  Still, it seems that if I’m careful, I’ll be able to get him in on runs now and again. 

It did take six runs to settle who was on which team.  At first, I ran Thor with the B’s.  That lasted for one run.  I also started Kennicott with the A’s.  She floundered, so I moved her to the B’s where her tugline didn’t even think about slacking.  Particularly with her being as young as she is, I figured I should see if she’d figure out that a six year old can keep up with a bunch of nine year olds---three dogs are younger than nine, five are nine, and one is older---so I moved her back up.  It took her a few runs---she’s not an intellectual giant or a bastion of self-confidence---but she did figure it out.

The rest of the dogs on the A-Team have also been feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm.  Just like us, they’re working hard because it feels good to join in.  It’s been close to two years since I had a team pull my ATV and I up the steep part of my driveway without a little help and I can’t remember when any team did that by run ten in a season.  Yet, that’s what these guys did. 

Of course, Sima has also been reminding me of how much older all of my dogs, including the A-team, are.  The year after I came back from Iditarod, I ran a team in the 12 dog class at Flathead.  The race was heat based and 35 miles each day.  It was considered by many to be the best tune up for the Wyoming Stage Stop.  In training for that race, both Sima and Tok surprised me with how well they ran.  For three years, I had been training the dogs for distance races and rarely saw them lope.   A team doing 35 miles each day had better be able to lope, and the two boys really could.  When the season started, I figured they’d be on the bubble for the team.  By the time we raced, they were sixth and seventh on the ladder.  Both had turned seven before we ran down the start shoot.  At Flathead, we beat a couple of decent teams of Alaskan huskies. 

The following year was the first that I saw them ease up on their pulling. This is now four years past the season I ran that race at Flathead and both dogs are happy whenever they can just keep up with the B-Team.

Part of what makes this sport exciting for me is that I am continuing to learn.  It started with training Dawn and Tenaya, my two show stock Siberians.  I learned a lot by training dogs whose heads weren’t quite into pulling and whose bodies weren’t quite as well designed as my racing stock dogs.  There’s no way I would have moved to Montana understanding as much as I did, and it was still looking at being a Novice from the short side, had I dealt with racing dogs. 

I’ve continued to learn every year, though some years more than others.  This year, splitting the dogs has worked out for everybody much better than I had hoped.  Along with the novelty of distance skijoring, dealing with a bunch of really old dogs has me learning and smiling.  It’s going to be a good year.

   
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