A husky ride was on the wish list for our week in Finland.
I’ll be honest though, I was a little dubious… I had visions of some poorly kept dogs, been whipped and forced to run beyond exhaustion for the sake of making money out of tourists.
What we experienced couldn’t have been further from my vivid imagination!
We arrived at Gegwen Getaways and were met by huskies barking at the fence closely followed by a gentleman named Erkki (“Eric”).
There were 7 of us in our group and a couple from Hungary also joined us.
Once we were all ready he introduced himself, talked about his history with dog sledding and explained what would be happening.
There were two dogs running loose, one who was darting back and forwards from us, not eager to approach but not worried, while the other slowly plodded up to everyone for fusses.
Erkki pointed out that some of the dogs are more shy than others, but said that they are all fine around people.
We went down to a clearing where the rest of the dogs were tethered up at various points around the sled.
The dog trainer in me was observing everything and I found it fascinating just watching the dogs. I prefer to allow a dog to chose to interact with me rather than force myself on a dog, plus my experience as a dog warden has taught me not to approach a dog without getting to know it a little bit first, so I kept back and just watched for a while.
The more I watched the more I relaxed. I grew fond of the husky who wasn’t willing to approach people, she wasn’t afraid but simply eager for her run. She reminded me a lot of Guinness when we used to go to agility or if I’d take him to the field with a frisbee or ball. Darting backwards and forwards, all revved up for the game or the run. She was driven, and cuddling with people was the last thing on her mind in that moment. My kind of dog.
Erkki slowly harnessed each dog up and attached them to the line. It was clear to see he was a natural dog handler. Quiet and compassionate with his animals. They wanted to be with him and were eager to step in to their harness and line up.
I was impressed to see they all had good quality, modern harnesses. Similar to the ones I have seen used in the UK by people who compete in canicross and bikejor.
While the dogs were getting ready Erkki was chatting to us and answering questions.
I learned about how he decides which dogs to pair up, what characteristics and physique is needed from the wheel dogs (the ones at the back closest to the sled) and what makes a good lead dog, how often the dogs are trained with the sled (1 day rest day per week minimum is important! Just like us humans) and so much more.
What I especially liked was that these huskies didn’t look like the “pretty” huskies we see in the UK. They weren’t uniform silver/grey and white, with symmetrical markings on their face. They were brown, grey, black, tan. These dogs hadn’t been bred for their looks but for their stamina, their instincts, their natural abilities.
As we came closer to setting off the dogs were ramping up, barking and howling. The two lead dogs, who were brothers, were leaping in the air every so often.
The first couple took their place in the sled and then they were off! Like a rocket.
After a couple of minutes they returned at a more leisurely trot, dogs panting heavily. Erkki explained that because the snow is so soft and powdery its really hard work for the dogs.
He gave the dogs a break and allowed them to tell him when they were ready to go again.
Before long it was our turn. Each time the dogs set off like a rocket then settled down in to a comfortably trot. Erkki explained how the lead dogs understand left and right commands and explained that they shouldn’t have a strong instinct for chasing wildlife as that makes it quite interesting. 😂
He also told us about how they have wild moose and deer in the area. Unfortunately we haven’t see any.
The course took us over some dips and turns which I imagine would be quite hairy at speed!
Erkki explained how good dogs could happily do 100km treks in about 5 hours. What a way to travel the country! I might give up my dream of running ultramarathons and instead take up husky trekking instead!
One of the wheel dogs was especially fit, in beautiful condition and barely panting after each run. He was also a lovely dog, happy to fussed by people and very switched on. There was one young dog, not yet 2 years old, who had suddenly become really frightened of people. I was given some treats to try and coax him over to me and I quickly had the full attention of that particular wheel dog while the rest were quite oblivious to my hidden treasurers!
After we had all had our ride the dogs were unharnessed and tethered up, some were left attached to the sled while others were moved to spots at the sides. They all lay down, happy to rest while we went inside a teepee for a sausage and hot drink.
I wondered why they weren’t let loose but then realised they’d probably all be stealing our food and causing a nuisance, plus they were really happy and calmed right down after the runs.
Overall it was an amazing experience, lasting almost 3 hours, and at no point did I feel like we were being rushed.
I’d highly recommend Gegwen Getaways if you are around Tampere in Finland – http://gegwen.com/index.php?l=en.