Dog sledders of Upstate NY share a passion for the historic sport – newyorkupstate.com

Dog sledders of Upstate NY share a passion for the historic sport  newyorkupstate.com

The first Olympic dog sled demonstration was held at the first Lake Placid Olympics in the Adirondacks on February 6, 1932. While the sport never gained official Olympic status, some Upstate New Yorkers and people across the United States still participate in the sport of dog sledding.

The Iditarod is the most famous dog sled race in the U.S., created at a time to maintain interest in dog sledding in the face of modern alternatives like snowmobiles. Mushers have a passion for the sport and so do their dogs they say.

Buy Kratom Powder, Extract, Capsules

Today, there are still dog sled races throughout the U.S. and Canada with categories like sprint racing, mid-distance racing which is generally run with 8-10 dogs from 60 to upwards of 100 miles, and long distance racing which can be up to 1,000 miles. There is skijoring which involves people on skis with their dogs and even dry land racing.

Here are a few Upstate New Yorkers who shared their experiences in the world of mushing.

Kindred Moon Kennels in Camden, NY offers dogsledding experiences and driving lessons for both humans and canines.

Jo Lynn Stresing from Camden, NY in does it all. She offers both dog sledding experiences to the public, but also lessons if people want to learn how to mush, as well as demonstrations at winter fairs. Stresing has also published “Under a Kindred Moon”, a book about her life with sled dogs.

Stresing calls herself a recreational musher, meaning someone who sometimes competes for fun, but mostly just enjoys taking her dogs out and training and running with them.

“A professional musher may travel from Maine all the way into Canada and Alaska and compete in a different kind fo way. I have been involved in mushing for 30 years, but I am more of a recreational musher,” Stresing said.

Stresing has been to The Iditarod as a spectator, but has only competed in New York State. In nice weather, she shows her Siberian Huskies and has had several AKC champions.

Mild winters in recent years have affected how often mushers get to be out and sledding. Ice and rain have made trails unfavorable to travel on for safety reasons.

“If you don’t have good packed snow, it’s not safe because you won’t have good braking,” Stresing said.

She initially got into Siberian Husky ownership because she liked the thought of having a blue eyed dog.

“They’re not all blue eyed, but I thought that would be a very cool thing. As I learned more about the breed, I found out about their heroic history what a wonderful temperament they have. They are very inquisitive, curious, athletic of course, and friendly,” Stresing said. “They’re a very fun dog, especially in this climate because you don’t have to put a sweater and boots on them to let them out. That’s not to say that some don’t use them when they’re running a great distance. They make wonderful pets.”

Dennis Brundage of Lockport, NY competes in a dog sled race.Provided photo | nyup.com

Dennis Brundage of Lockport, NY calls himself a fun racer.

“When I go to races, the ideal finish is where I get to the finish line and I have four happy and healthy dogs. If we finish last, oh well; if we finish better than last, fantastic,” Brundage said.

His passion for dogsledding began with an excursion he took in the Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada. Brundage and his wife fell in love with it, had a Siberian Husky and eventually joined the Siberian Husky Club of the Niagara Frontier based in Western New York.

After gaining a team of dogs, Brundage started running recreationally with their club and participated in doing talks and demonstrations at winter festivals in their area. It was a trip to The Iditarod that inspired him to start being a race participant instead of just a spectator.

One of the challenges he said is that building a team of racers is a constant cycle of bringing in new dogs and retiring those who have aged out. There is a variety of ages of when mushers start training their pups, but Brundage said the best teachers are the other dogs.

“You put a puppy in with the team of experienced dogs and they will teach the puppy. They will run them on an easy short trail that’s flat and they’re not hooking the tug line up to the back of the dogs. They’re not pulling, they’re just running,” he said.

While Brundage owns Siberian Huskies, he said not all racing dogs are Siberians. They are considered to be the pretty sled dogs, but they are not always the fastest. Alaskan Huskies are popular as they are a mixture of Siberian Husky, Greyhounds, and German Short-Haired pointers. The goal is to keep the best traits of those breeds.

Having the independence of the Siberian Husky is important Brundage said, when running large sled teams.

“When you get into running teams of up to 14 dogs, the lead dog is about 45 to 50 feet ahead of you. Sometimes they’re going around corners before you have any idea what’s around there and you have to trust that the dog is going to make the right decision and do the right thing,” Brundage said. “But sometimes the dog makes their own decision and does their own thing.”

Dennis Brundage mushing on dry land with his sled dogs.Provided photo | nyup.com

Brundage does both snow and dry land racing. He uses custom made carts to make short runs with his dogs from late October to December when the snow hits and then again in springtime, but never in summers.

“The general rule is that you don’t run Siberian Huskies in weather over 50 degrees,” he said.

Brundage has been as far as Michigan with his dogs for musher bootcamp, to train. He has also traveled to Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada for races. Vehicle reliability is currently keeping him closer to home, but if that should change, he would like to race in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.

“I love the relationships that I develop with my dogs through dog sledding. They have to trust me as their leader and I have to know and trust each dog,” Brundage said. “That only occurs with lots of training and going through lots of different experiences together. The payoff is running through the woods where all you hear is the runners of the sled and the panting of the dogs.”

Jenny Stroh of Centerville, NY prefers mid to long distance racing with a bigger team of dogs.Provided photo | nyup.com

Jenny Stroh, from Centerville, NY, grew up in a farming family that had logging horses that would haul wood out of the forests. When she was a kid, she was too little to drive the horse team, so she started driving with her own dog.

Her mom was traveling in Ohio when she came upon a sprint dog racer. The racer gave Stroh some semi-retired dogs to create her first team and loved it. She heard about races put on by the Canadian American Sledders group and participated and has been hooked ever since.

It’s now been 25 years since Jenny has gotten into the world of dog sledding. She has a large group of Alaskan Huskies, both active sledders and retired athletes.

Jenny Stroh driving her dog sled team in Upstate New York.Provided photo | nyup.com

A typical training day involves loading the dogs into her truck and taking them to a state park where they will run 5-10 miles. During the training season she feeds her dogs a high protein diet which includes kibble and either beef or chicken, a technique she learned from a professional sprint racer.

“We try to do beef year round at a 75% kibble to 25% raw meat ratio. There’s amino acids that can be destroyed during the cooking process and even just a little bit of raw meat gives them an extra edge and boost,” Stroh said. “They have better recovery times and never seem to get quite as tired.”

Stroh prefers mid to long distance racing distances and she and her teams have done everything from 4 mile to 110 miles. She also runs everything from a four dog team to a 12 dog team.

“When you start getting up and over eight dogs, the power is just amazing. It can be quite scary because if we make a wrong turn or anything, I have no physical way of stopping them, I just have to ride it out and hope they don’t get me into trouble” she said.

Stroh has raced with her dogs as far away as Fort Kent, Maine and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her time with her dogs creates a special bond and those who make the best leaders seem to be best connected; reading her thoughts before she gave them a command.

“I love the magic between me and the dogs working as single being with a common goal — to see what is waiting around the next turn,” Stroh said.

If you want to see dog sledders in action

If you want to watch competitive dogsledding in Upstate New York, catch the Tug Hill Challenge, hosted by the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club. The two day event will take place Feb. 15 and 16 starting at 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. both days at the CCC Camp in Winona State Forest in Mannsville, NY.

Read more

Mushing through the snow: Where to go dog sledding in Upstate NY

Go ‘skijoring’ in Upstate NY with cross country skis and a dog that loves to run

Bucket List: 50 Places to visit in Upstate NY in 2020