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Dog Sledding in the Yukon

Hugh Neff

How did you get the title “Gypsy Musher?”

I was given the name because I am always wandering around Alaska with my dogs like a Gypsy. Every year our goal is to travel by dogsled more than anyone else in the world.

The races you compete in are incredibly long. What kind of plan or system do you use to get to the finish line? It's best to have a consistent run - rest schedule. Success is often determined by a good training regimen. The more miles through out the year typically creates better results. The dogs and mushers bodies and mind are tougher. Their spirit is one.

Looking at your race results, I see that sometimes you finish with fewer dogs than when you started. What would cause you to pull a dog from the race? A dog team is only as fast as the slowest dog.There are numerous reasons why a dog may be dropped: lack of appetite, inexperience, sore limb, sickness or injury. On average teams finish with 2/3 of the dogs they start with.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having more dogs in the race?

Larger teams have more power. However the likelihood of a dog having issues increases the more dogs that one has in their team.

What gear would you say is paramount in a 1,000 mile dog sled race?

All gear is of great importance for both dogs and musher. Proper clothing, boots, headlamps, booties, dog jackets and LOTS of dog food. They eat every few hours!

You've competed in multiple Yukon Quest and Iditarod races. Which challenging moments stand out to you the most when you recall those races?

6 Every race presents challenges, usually created by Mother Nature. Windstorms, minus 50, etc.

I have competed in 26 1, 000 mile races since 2000 so my body has been through a lot as well. I've been stuck in storms fearing for my life, flown down mountains with 14 dogs charging all the way. It's the silence and beauty of the landscape and the dogs which I remember most. It's why I love to play with the Dawgs each and every day. They are my heart and soul.

What approach do you take when training your dogs for these races?

7 Every day is a learning experience, we don't travel far but I want them to develop good habits. They must not only enjoy what they are doing but also get a long with one another. Spending lots of time with puppies is very important, creating a bond that lasts a lifetime. Winners don't just finish 1st in a race but seek to give their dogs the greatest quality of life that is possible.

How do you care for the dogs during the race?

The dogs wear booties on their feet for protection. We also lubricate their pads with ointment or cream.Likewise we have oils to massage sore muscles with as well.Dog jackets are worn in colder weather and straw is carried for them to sleep on. A positive attitude is very important too, the team feeds off of the mushers emotions.

How do you decide which dogs will race with you?

We decide by numerous factors. Do they have a healthy appetite? Good Attitude? Are they running well, etc.Experienced dogs have an advantage too. Less stress, better habits because they know where they are going. I'm most proud of my dogs who have competed in numerous races. Myain leader Walter has competed in 13 1,000 mile races, more than any dog ever has. He is so popular that he has his own Facebook page. Walter is 11 now and retired. He travels the world with me doing dog mushing presentations and symposiums.

You signed up for the Yukon Quest 2016. What is your goal for this race?

My goal for any race is just to have fun with the dogs. Too many people worry about winning, they usually don't last very long in this sport/lifestyle. Dog mushing for me is all about the journey, being one spirit with my furry family, honoring this beautiful planet. Living in the north is tough but we enjoy so many freedoms that others in the world can only imagine.

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