By Irina Filippova
Orlovshchina (in the Volozhin District) was bright and sunny, despite the winter frost, bringing a cheery outlook to the unusual event. In the morning, entrants gathered in the forest with their pet Siberian Huskies, alongside at least 500 spectators, each eager to support the teams from Belarus, Russia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Huskies are so friendly, loving human attention, that breeders joke about how ineffective they are as guard dogs. If a thief were to enter the house, a Husky would most likely lick them to death! Visitors to the event had no trouble giving the beautiful dogs a pat.
Intriguingly, huskies don’t bark at each other; rather, they use howls and growls to communicate, with a wide range of intonation. Their canine chatter and shaggy furred appearance created the impression of being somewhere in the Far North, rather than in a Belarusian forest.
The Siberian Husky Breeders’ Club in Belarus joined the Festivalny Country Club and the Riftour Publishing House in organising the event, with support from the Volozhin District administration. Drivers competed in several disciplines: dog skijoring (skiing with one or two dogs) and dog-sled racing with two, three-four and five-six dogs. A spectacular three stage relay race added to the excitement.
The 4km track was soon filled with professional dog-drivers — known as ‘mushers’ — and skiers with dogs. Alla Protasova from the Moscow Region told us, “Running is in their blood; huskies can’t sit on the sofa. Before each race begins, our Justin paws the ground with impatience. Huskies need huge amounts of exercise, to ensure their physical and emotional well-being.” Alla’s family used to live in Siberia and always loved sports. The appearance of two huskies, Justin and Lika, two years ago, forced every member of the family to go skiing. Stanislav and Alla won first and second prizes in dog skijoring with their two dogs, while their son, Daniil, came third in dog skijor racing with one dog.
Arseny Belorusets from Russia claimed first prize in the dog-sled racing with 3-4 dogs; his pets take part in competitions several times each season. Of course, the track near Minsk was absolutely unfamiliar to his huskies, but it wasn’t a problem. “They could imagine the length of the track; as we usually train on a similar site, they knew how to make their strength last. During competitions, they always do their best. They love seeing other dogs and enjoy the excitement,” he smiled.
Siberian Huskies can run at up to 25km/h over short, straight sections, with drivers having to concentrate hard to keep the sledge upright around sharp corners. Mr. Belorusets asserts that anticipating problems is the true challenge, saying, “You need to think for each of the dogs and for yourself, looking ahead to anything which might appear on the track. For example, if a horse comes into view, as once happened with me, the dogs will go hunting. As a musher, you must see everything before the dogs do!”
Belarusian musher Sergey Volynkin came second in the five-six dog event. “Having a sledge dog has been my dream since childhood. I’ve read Jack London’s works thoroughly, as I’m sure have all the dog lovers gathered here.”