There is a country club near to where we live that hosts some of traditional activities you'd expect from an exclusive English country club during the summer including Horse Jumping and Polo.
On Thanksgiving day this year they hosted a traditional Fox Hunt complete with a Yorkshire man who was the Huntsman. I had a great time photographing the hounds and the people in their jodhpurs and red jackets.
A friend who is a horse riding instructor let me know last week that the club was going to host its first dog sled racing event.
I had read about dogs pulling sleds when our boys went through reading Gary Paulson's books when we first came to America.
I had read Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod and had been impressed with his description of the dogs and the relationship that the rider has with them.
Although you most often associate this sport with Husky's there are several breeds that are used in the teams. Huskies are such an incredibly interesting looking breed - at once attractive, with the thick fur and features that remind me of a wolf, and spooky with those intense blue eyes.
So it was a great opportunity for me to go and take a look at people and dogs who compete in this sport!
We had a storm a few weeks ago and it has been bitterly cold over here for days, but as the week leading up to the event drew to a close the temperatures soared to an uncharacteristic 46F (7C). We had been dealing with 20F (-6C) since Christmas so it was a wonderful relief, but not so good for the dog sledding. They need snow to run.
I met a friend from our camera club at the parking lot and we stood in the snow (your feet feel it even if the air is relatively warm) for about an hour and a half while the officials tried to figure out what to do with the sections of the course that were not doing so well. There were 3 tracks of 4mi, 8mi and 11mi each and we had heard that the longer ones had areas on them that were not going to hold up.
Eventually they decided to start with the very young contenders because they rand the length of the field - probably a 50 yard dash.
It was really cute to see the children and the parents gearing up for the start. Almost all the dogs were startled when the starter shouted to go and the parents had to push them forward to get them back into the moment. Once the dogs realized what was happening they were off. You can tell that they and the riders enjoy doing this and it reminded me of our dog when it sees a ball - from distracted to intense focus in a split second.
Gary Paulsen describes this very well in his book. The dogs will run themselves to a standstill if you ask them to.
We moved to a different site for the longer runs and met up with a photographer from the Salem newspaper. I had also seen the staff photographer from the Boston Globe hanging around at the beginning. He had been at the Thanksgiving Day Hunt as well and had published a remarkably similar set to the pictures to the ones that I had picked of my collection from that day. I had really appreciated that we had seen similar scenes. He told me that the pictures that had sold the most from that day were the ones he had taken of the spectators!
From this new spot we were able to watch some of the adults skiers doing something called Skijoring. You attach a line to your belt and have one or more dogs pull you on your skis.
These riders went on the 4km run and took around 30min to complete it for each of them. I heard that the teams of dogs that pull the sleds average about 3 minute miles which is pretty fast one dog and a skier not so fast.
The light more or less behind the people we were photographing so we tried to find a different vantage point where we could get better light. In the end the direction of light didn't matter that much. If you know much about photography you will know that shooting in snow on a sunny day is not ideal. The camera exposure meter compensates for the snow by darkening the entire scene which ends up making the people and dogs (particularly black dogs) impossible to see. I had adjusted for this beforehand, telling the camera to overexpose so that it would compensate for this problem.
A good thing about getting into the new position (aside from light) is that we got to see the dogs working hard on an uphill. I got my best picture of the day here with a spread of dogs looking as pleased as anything and a very happy young rider egging them on.
The other interesting thing we discovered is how obedient the dogs are. One of the children fell off his sled and he shouted one word and the entire team stopped. He shouted the word in mid-flight as he was falling so he just jumped back on and off they went.
The last event that we watched was a multi-dog adult sled. I was disappointed that I had to leave because they had professional teams geared up to run in the afternoon and it would have been good to photograph them but it was all a great deal of fun!