Attention dog lovers and sports fans! On February 4th and 5th*** (9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.), Appleton Farms in Hamilton, Massachusetts, will play host to the 2012 New England Sled Dog Races. Grab your cameras and fast lenses — there’s exciting action waiting to be captured!
This year the New England Sled Dog Races move to a larger field off Highland Street. This new location not only offers plenty of room for the races, it also provides space for an entire Winter Festival that will include vendors, games, music and more!
The racetrack is comprised of varying trail lengths — Four Mile, Six Mile, Eight Mile, and Eleven Mile. Click here to check out the GPS Maps created to illustrate the different trails as they weave their way through the woods and across the fields. Each map gives a bird’s-eye view of the action as it moves along the trail. Simply click on the trail length of interest, and sit back and watch. It really makes you appreciate the strength and stamina these incredible dogs need to go the distance!
Sled Dog History
Sled dogs have an interesting history. From the early years as a primary form of transportation and vital means of survival, to vehicles of exploration, and now as the stars of major sporting events. It’s been quite an evolution.
Every sport has its own lingo, and Sled Dog Racing is no exception. Below are some terms and an interesting note culled from the Iditarod’s web site.
- Pedaling - Pushing the sled with one foot while the other remains on the runner.
- Lead Dog or Leader - The dog who runs in front of the others. Generally must be both intelligent and fast.
- Double Lead - Two dogs who lead the team side by side.
- Swing Dog or Dogs - Dog that runs directly behind the leader. Further identified as right or left swing depending on which side of the tow line he is positioned on. His job is to help “swing” the team in the turns or curves.
- Wheel Dogs or Wheelers -Dogs placed directly in front of the sled. Their job is to pull the sled out and around corners or trees.
The Verbal Commands
As the sleds approach and whoosh past you, it’s not at all unusual to here the “musher” yell out various commands to the sled dogs. Knowing what these phrases mean may give you a head’s up on how to frame your next shot!
- Come Gee! Come Haw! - Commands for 180 degree turns in either direction.
- Gee - Command for right turn.
- Haw - Command for left turn.
- Line Out! - Command to lead dog to pull the team out straight from the sled. Used mostly while hooking dogs into team or unhooking them.
- Mush! Hike! All Right! Let’s Go! - Commands to start the team.
- Trail! - Request for right-of-way on the trail.
Note: It should be thoroughly understood that as dogs are not driven with reins, but by spoken commands, the leader of the team must understand all that is said to him and guide the others accordingly. An intelligent leader is therefore an absolute necessity. At times it appears that there is ESP between musher and lead dog. Don’t be surprised if you hear a musher have an in-depth conversation with his lead dog.
There are multiple excellent viewing spots along each of the trails for the New England Sled Dog Races. Photographers are welcome to shoot the event, the only caveat being please do not interfere with the race or startle the dogs by trying to get a shot.
Photographer’s Note: All of the photos featured in this article were taken with a Nikon D300 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
As a spectator, you’ll shoot the race from your perspective. However, some mushers utilize a “helmet cam” and capture the race from their perspective as shown here in last year’s race…
What If There’s No Snow? ***
For the latest info visit the New England Sled Dog Races Facebook page. If Mother Nature continues to be stingy with snow this year, the races will most likely be rescheduled. Despite this year’s slow start with the white stuff, this is New England. Snow will come eventually! I’m sure we all remember last winter…
*** UPDATE: 1/27/2012 – Due to the unusual lack of snow, the races have been officially cancelled for this year.
~ Liz Mackney