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Dogs and their owners zoom down the track at Ontree near Ski Martock during the second East Coast Mushing Jamboree on March 19.
MARTOCK, N.S. - There’s an intensity to watching a group of dogs rush down a hill, pulling a small sled behind them, as the rider kicks out with their foot behind them. The dogs pant as they dash, eyes wide, down the snow-covered hill.
It’s the second day of the East Coast Mushing Jamboree at Ontree near Ski Martock, and dozens of dogs and their owners are taking part in the excitement.
Shelly Repchull, one of the event organizers, said the event, now in its second year, has doubled in size in terms of participants, with people coming from all over Atlantic Canada.
“Our teams are made up of family pets, and the jamboree is about getting all of these people together,” Repchull said. “It’s a huge social event for everybody, for all the mushers, they can learn from one another.”
Repchull said this type of sport is described as micro-mushing, which involves using one to four dogs to pull a small kick sled, scooters, mountain bikes, or a person on skis.
The kind of vehicle and number of dogs varies widely with each event.
Some race down a track with blinding speed with four dogs on a small ‘kick sled’, while others keep pace on cross-country skis with their canine partner in front.
Children give micro mushing a try during a break between relays at the East Coast Mushing Jamboree in Martock.
A growing sport
Repchull said micro-mushing is a growing sport in Atlantic Canada, and the increase in attendance seems to only emphasize that.
The jamboree itself isn’t super competitive; other than some prizes, cupcakes and bragging rights, the goal is simply to come together to learn and socialize.
Repchull participates in micro-mushing herself with the help of her two dogs, a Nova Scotia duck toller and a Labrador-husky mix.
“It was more popular in Western Canada initially, in Manitoba and B.C., and it’s big in Quebec as well, and people started realizing, oh my God I can do this with my family dog,” she said. “It’s great exercise for the human and the animal.”
Repchull said pretty much any type of dog can participate in micro-mushing - and many different breeds were seen at the jamboree: from border collies to Jack Russell terriers, German shepherds to doberman pinschers.
All that’s needed is the proper gear and canine power.
Dogs can pull roughly three times their weight, said Repchull. Dogs shouldn’t mush until they’re at least 18 months old so they can fully develop, but training can begin earlier.
“You and your dogs are working together as a team; the dogs aren’t doing all of the pulling. Like if you’re on a bike, you’re peddling along with them, so you’re both getting exercise,” she said.
“The animals love it, they get so excited, they know it’s coming. As you start packing up the gear and the harnesses, they know they’re going to go do something fun.”
Repchull said there will likely be another jamboree next year as well.
Dogs and humans work together as they work their way around the track in Martock for the second East Coast Mushing Jamboree.
Participants get in on the fun
Jonathan Lucas brought his kennel of dogs to Newport Corner from the Yukon, where he’s been racing competitively for years.
“We’ve got 80 acres, so we built trails on our own land and run them wherever we’re allowed to,” Lucas said.
Lucas brought the dogs to the jamboree to let them get some more experience and socialize with other dogs.
“You don’t need a kennel of dogs to do this, you really only need one dog to make it work, and they’ll enjoy it,” he said. “I started off with a rottweiler, he wanted to pull and I didn’t want to cross-country ski, so he pulled me. It’s very healthy for the dog and the person.”
Dave Fraser from East Uniacke said he got interested in the idea after his grandchildren wanted his dog to pull them through the snow.
“I got started up with micro-mushing after meeting others already in the sport,” he said.
Fraser describes his dog, a larger golden retriever mix, as “stronger than an ox that loves to pull.”
Dave Fraser from East Uniacke tries out the track with his dog and a kick sled.