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February 12, 2014
Mushing through the snow
Rural Westbrook woman Robin Madson has been raising Siberian Huskies since 2001
|Robin Madson with her Siberian Huskies Thor left, and Raiza.|
|Tom Merchant photo|
WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- westbrook — If you have seen a woman driving a dog sled with two Siberian Huskies tethered to the sled — you are not seeing things. On a regular basis Robin Madson of rural Westbrook takes her two Siberian Huskies, Thor the Alpha male and Raiza a female of her team for a run.
In 2001 Madson bought her first female which she bred to a male owned by Wanda Lee Einertson. She bred this dog successfully for about three years.
By this time her daughter Lexi was drawn to the dogs, and told her mother that she really wanted to raise Huskies.
Later Lexi, her husband Jon Hansen, and Robin travelled to Southwestern Iowa to Bruck’s Siberians to purchase a pair of Huskies from separate blood lines. While there they purchased a male named Loki, and a female named Misha.
About a month later Madson bought another higher quality female named Raiza hoping to breed her to Loki. Unfortunately Loki and Misha were totally monogamous, and he would not have anything to do with Raiza. However to satisfy Raiza’s maternal needs, Loki and Misha’s puppies were often penned alone with Raiza.
During that time Loki and Misha produced many litters of pups. Madson has placed her pups all over the United States, and even placed one of her pups in Alaska. She raised puppies for about six years and at one time had five adults — two males and three females.
Madson explained that she always educated new prospective buyers about raising and caring for Siberians. She noted that she runs her dogs about four miles a day for exercise most days in the winter.
She said if you are going to own Siberians, you can’t be a ‘Couch Potato’, “you can’t just walk them down to the end of the driveway and back, they require a lot more than that. She also noted when they don’t get enough exercise they can get very naughty.
In the summer Madson walks her dogs using the same harness she uses to mush with the dogs in the winter. She wears the belt that has a lead line to their harness. “That way they never get ‘rusty’ with the mushing commands and I maintain control throughout the year. We go out either early in the morning, or evening, to avoid the heat of the day, as the huskies can’t stand the heat and can succumb to heat exhaustion.”
Her current male dog Thor was produced by Loki and Misha. Misha was retired and was given to a new family with children and is living a fine life.
Now she is just enjoying having this Thor and Raiza to mush with her sled. She mushes about four miles, usually around a section. She said, I don’t plan on raising any more puppies in the near future.”
She talked about mushing, “it is quite a workout, by the time I get back I am completely drenched in sweat. You have to do a lot to control the sled and pushing through the deep snow.”
Madson wears a safety harness hooked to the sled, so if she wipes out the dogs can’t take off without her.
While mushing she uses special commands to control the dogs. She believes the commands were handed down from Arctic Indian Tribes. The commands control direction, starting, and stopping.
Once the dogs are trained the lead dog which is usually a female communicate with her and listen for her commands.
She bought a sled kit which her and her husband Mick assembled. It is very light weight made out of fiberglass runners, and pine for the bed. The sled weighs in at about 20 pounds and is meant just for recreational use.
When she first started training, she said it was very frustrating until she was able to get the dogs to follow the commands. She said it was fun training Thor as a puppy, the two females would slow down when they thought he couldn’t keep up. Also when he would bolt to the left or right, they would keep him on track.
She explained the commands she uses. Haw means left, Gee means right, Straight on Up Front means not turn back, Hold means complete stop, and Who means slow down.
Thor is six years old and Raiza is two years old. These are the only dogs she has left on the place. Loki continues to live with Lexi and her family, and he sometimes comes here to visit from time to time.
This writer was given a ride on the sled to get some pictures of the dogs running from the sled.
I have to say, there is a whole lot more to dog sledding than meets the eye. So you jump on the sled, and almost immediately you find your self skimming over the snow at what seems a break neck speed. When you watch someone running a sled it looks like it would be perfectly smooth. However that may be the case in the north country where there is fresh powder snow. Running along a typical road ditch is anything but smooth. One feels every slight bump in the snow, and those dogs are bred to run full speed.
Another problem we encountered was, after going a couple of blocks down the road ditch, the plan was to turn back to bring the sled home. Unfortunately Thor and Raiza had other plans, they normally run about four miles and were just getting started. Turning back for home was not in their plans.
Eventually I got off the sled while Robin unhooked her harness and wrangled the dogs in the other direction. I am not sure when it happened but the dogs took off before I was completely seated on the sled. I was unceremoniously dumped from the sled with my camera slamming into my mouth. I quickly put my frozen fingers to my mouth feeling to see if I still had all my teeth, they seemed to all be in tack. So we continued our adventure back to the place. When we got back I told Robin, “I really think I am getting too old for this sort of thing!”
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