My first weekend of full-on dog racing was the June long weekend, up near Shepparton for the North Victoria Sled Dog Classic. 2012 was the first year that the race was being run by a new committee, but lots of people still referred to it under the previous name: Undera.
The gathering at the You Yangs had seemed pretty massive to me, with so many dogs, so I was stunned at the size of the race. Taking advantage of the long weekend, people had travelled from South Australia, Canberra, and all over Victoria. The family atmosphere was still there, but now there were a lot of enormous trailers with dozens of dogs staked out. A new level of camping etiquette was required for such a gathering - the number one rule being: no loose dogs!
Most sled dog breeds - Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Huskies, and Alaskan Malamutes being the most common at races like this one - are bred to be intelligent and independent - capable of recognising dangers that humans can't perceive in the ice and snow and, when necessary, ignoring the instructions of their mushers to ensure that they don't lead the team into hazards. In a modern, Australian setting, this translates into a camp filled with dogs who would LOVE to explore the camp and the surrounding bush, but will NOT recall to their owner the way a retriever or terrier might.
Personally, Undera was special for a number of reasons. We travelled up with friends, including the wonderfully bubbly M, who brought up two of her dogs, Mischa and Lync. M taught me the finer points of handling the dogs for J, and also gave me the thrill of my first time mushing, with her boy Lync.
Amazing! Silent. Effortless. Gliding.