Frazee sled dog races are back
Next weekend, the sounds of excited, snow-loving, hard-working, four-legged friends will be echoing throughout Frazee as the annual Frazee Sled Dog Race gets underway.
The event is being held Saturday, Feb. 23, at high noon. The races, which are returning after a no-snow winter forced its cancellation last year, begins and ends one mile south of Frazee on Highway 10. The event is free and open to the public.
There will be a variety of races, including the 3-dog junior for youth 16 years old and younger, then the 1- to 2-dog skijor.
"That's where dogs are hooked to a line that's hooked directly to the skier," said Neal Seeger, club president. "So the dogs do assist the skier in that one, but the skier also has to be able to maintain balance and speed with the dogs and give commands for right and left corners -- it's really man and beast working together there."
There will also be sprint racing at the event, which will include a 4-dog pro, which races four miles, a six-dog pro that races six miles and an 8-dog pro racing eight miles. The skijor and the sprint races are all paying events for the winners, which will split $4,000 in cash prizes.
Seeger says the races are always exciting for spectators who rarely get the chance to see a unique, high-energy event like this.
"They love to watch dogs and man working together," said Seeger. "The beauty of the dogs, the serenity of it all...the dogs scream and bark and holler as they get hooked up to run, and as the flag drops it's completely quiet. All you can hear is the skis running over the snow or the command of the musher."
But getting everybody in synch to work as a team doesn't just happen. It takes a lot of work and training, which typically starts in the fall.
"We start out using ATVs or carts. We hook the dogs to the front of them to pull it, that way we can maintain speeds and work on conditioning their muscles and minds," said Seeger, who says by around Christmastime, simple conditioning turns into speed training. "They're running at 18-miles an hour our faster, so four dogs can usually do a four-mile race in around 15 to 20 minutes."
Seeger suspects this year's races might not be quite as speedy, though because of virtually no way to train in last year's mild winter and this year's late start.
Although Seeger has been sled dog racing for 20 years, he says there are parts of it that remain challenging no matter how long you've been doing it.
"The more dogs you have, the more you have to focus on because you have to keep an eye on each one of them," said Seeger, "because if a dog stumbles, they can get tangled up, they can sprain a wrist or tangle up the rest of the dogs, and every second counts.
"You really have to focus and block out everything around you and keep that gang line tight, and if there's slack you have to put the brake on and know the abilities of your dogs."
The Frazee Sled Dog Club, which is associated with the North Star Sled Dog Club, currently has around 15 members, but Seeger says they are always looking for more.
"It's labor intense because you've got a kennel of dogs you have to take care of with carrying buckets, feeding, shoveling dog doo," said Seeger, "but the good thing is we don't have to spend time at a gym," he laughed, adding that the club has some basic equipment to help new comers get started.
Spectators for this weekend's event can expect to see a mix of dogs within the teams, including Huskies, Setters, Pointers, Spaniels and Labrador mixes.
"The bird dogs do really well because they take commands and are very eager to please their master," said Seeger, who says although not all dogs are cut out for sled racing because they simply don't enjoy it, most do.
"Dogs that are really social with people and will chase people, bicycles, cars...they have a natural desire to run," he said.
For more information on the event, e-mail Neal Seeger at email@example.com.