And they’re off! Our resident skijoring expert Kevin Roberts sounds off on what you need to know about races before you cross the finish line.
It’s the time of the year when all your preparation pays off – the skijoring race season is kicking off! If you’ve been hitting the trails with your best friend and feel ready to test your skills on the race course, please read some tips, culled from many years of racing experience, that’ll come in handy at the starting line.
Is This Something You and Your Dog Will Enjoy?
Racing isn’t for everyone or every dog! A race setting can be stressful on a noob pooch, with all the new sounds, dogs and people around. If your dog doesn’t do will in these situations, not to worry – there are plenty of people who simply enjoy skijoring and don’t want to compete. You can check out local skijoring clubs for fun runs, charity runs or meet-ups. You get all the fun of skijoring, without the fuss of a race. If your dog is nervous or shy, he might be happier skijoring with you in the quiet woods than on a crowded track.
Dogs who display aggression towards other dogs or people will be asked to leave. If your dog gets worked up around other dogs to the point where a bite is likely to happen, do your dog a favor, and skijor in a controlled setting. He’s trying to tell you something with his behaviour, so listen!
Find a Race
The Sled Dog Central website is the best place to find out where the races in your neck of the woods are being held. See what’s being offered in your area, and make contact with the race organizers. Send them a quick e-mail letting them know you are coming, well before the registration is due. Organizing a race is a lot of work, and you want to ensure that you have given them plenty of time to let them know you are coming. This allows them to forecast their numbers, to round up prizes and ensure semantics, such as adequate parking, are dealt with. Dropping them an early e-mail also allows them to add you to the contact list. Changes of race venue or dates are not uncommon, depending on snow conditions, and you’ll want to know about them.
Even if it’s their first skijoring race, dogs pick up on cues from the other teams. Excitement is in the air, and your dog is going to want to GO, GO, GO! Skijoring is a team sport, where everyone needs to work together – which means it takes practice and training for everyone to get on the same page. Set a schedule to help you meet your goals. Train and condition your body, so you can keep up and make your dog proud! All the hard work will pay off on race day.
Recruit a Handler
Come race day, it can be a challenge to keep your excitement from turning your brain to mush. You need an extra set of hands. A good handler knows the personality of your whole team, including you! They will help with watering the dogs and getting your gear to the start line. Depending on the weather, your handler might be responsible for any gear you shed on the start line, like dog coats. Your handler will also hold onto anything you don’t want to race with, like your truck keys. A good handler can really make or break your race experience. In fact, my handler was so awesome that I married him! Handlers are worth their weight in gold at the end of the race. You’re tired, you feel like dying, and your dogs are dragging their butts. An excited handler yelling and calling your team in will give you the pickup you need to cross the finish line.
Pack Your Gear Carefully
The night before a race, lay out everything you need for race day. This includes what you will be wearing, food for the dogs and a snack for yourself. Have your skis and gear organized neatly in your vehicle. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute, looking for your lucky gloves on the morning of the race. The goal is to be calm, cool and collected.
Eat a hearty meal before your race, and drink enough water to keep your well hydrated. Your meal should include carbs and fruit for a healthy punch of energy. When I first started to race, I was always so nervous that there were only a few foods I could eat without puking. Happily, I have learned to relax… well, enough to keep my meal down.
Avoid making any changes to your dog’s diet close before a race. If you want to try some beef broth in your dog’s kibble, the night before the race is not the time to do this. Your dog should be running a race on the same food you have been training on.
Know the Rules
Read the rules for the race, and then read them again. Be clear on the rules are, and if you have any questions, ask the race organizer beforehand. The rules are in place to ensure that everyone is safe and has a great experience. Don’t be that person who ruins the race for everyone else!
If another competitor breaks a rule or makes an unclean pass, bring it up quietly with the race organizers. Emotions can fly at a race, and I have seen fist fights at the finish line. It’s best to bring it up privately to the race organizers, who will deal with the offender. The rules are there for a reason, and reporting the offence means that we all play fair and safe.
Say Thank You
The race that takes you 15 minutes to complete is the result of months of hard work by the organizers. Send a quick thank you note, outlining what a good time you had. You can even post it on their Facebook wall or on Twitter. You know they’ll be getting their share of flack and negative feedback, so be sure to send some positive vibes their way. Without the race organizers you wouldn’t have had this opportunity.
Not Here to Race?
Spectators are always welcome at a skijoring race. Bring your camera, take lots of pictures, but please leave your dogs at home. There will be enough dogs in attendance, and your well-mannered dog is an unfair distraction to the pooches who have been working and training for months (or years) for this race. If you’re just there to watch, make sure you cheer when you see the teams coming in to the finish line. Many dogs and racers really respond to a crowd, and this makes you an important part of the race experience!
These are just a few tips I’ve picked up in my years of skijor racing. If you have anything to add or have a question for me, please post it in the comment section below. I’ve also included a video of my dog Burger’s first race, along with some training sessions.
Kevin Roberts lives for adventure. Together with his pack of rescue dogs and his husband, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Kevin lives by the motto: “Get outside and play with your dogs!”