Today’s theme, for me, is the young men and women who are the future of mushing and the sled dog. I feel a passing of the torch at work, where the champions of the first 40 years of Iditarod make way for an up and coming class of young mushers. The most exciting part: these young mushers are willing and eager to carry the torch.
On the first leg of our field trip, we watched the Insider video “Why Do They Run?” I love the faces and voices of the mushers who, to me, have been the heart and soul of Iditarod since I began following: Dee Dee Jonrowe, Martin Buser, Jeff King, Lance Mackey. Champions of the past. But things shift, times change, and youth comes up from behind. Bright, young faces like Joar blaze to the front, to shine under the arch. Bright young faces like Matthew Failor. Like Blair Braverman.
Matthew Failor was a handler for Martin Buser, who helped him get started on his first Iditarod. Today, we met two of Matthew’s handlers. One is Michael Baker, who is about to run his second Iditarod. He is taking on more responsibility for maturing the team. The other, Kaci Murringer, has finished the Copper Basin, Kobuk, and Goose Bay races, to qualify for Iditarod next year. This is classic torch passing, but what is more important is that Matthew is passing on more than just basic mushing and dog care skills.
On the Insider video, we heard Martin Buser explain how a calm dog yard reflects contented dogs. A dog yard with pups lazing peacefully on their houses, or strolling to nose a neighbor, is a dog yard where dogs are getting their needs met. They are cared for. They are nourished. They are given the chance to run and live their heritage. This is the core, the essence of good dog care. Knowing the dogs, attending to their needs, allowing them purpose. This is dog care a la Buser. This is exactly what we heard and saw from Matthew. Which is what Matthew’s handlers are learning. Which is likely what they will pass on. Which is all about having integrity as mushers.
Matthew explained how shifts at his kennel reflect his deepening mission to explicitly focus on education. He is committed to carrying the message. His is one of a growing number of voices, many of them young voices, coming forward to speak for the integrity of sled dog sports. They teach their young apprentices (handlers) and they open up their kennels to share with visitors what it looks like to run a sled dog kennel with integrity.
The organization Mush With P.R.I.D.E. has been around since 1991, and seems to be growing in both voice and numbers. From the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. website,
P.R.I.D.E. stands for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment. The relationship between sled dogs and humans is one of the oldest bonds of its kind. Modern sled dog owners are proud of their dogs as canine athletes that are bred and trained to do what they love: run as part of a team. Mush with P.R.I.D.E. supports the responsible care and humane treatment of all dogs and is dedicated to enhancing the care and treatment of sled dogs in their traditional and modern uses.
The organization’s mission is to :
- Increase awareness, support, and membership of Mush with P.R.I.D.E.
- Review and revise Guidelines and other PRIDE publications
- Promote the Voluntary Kennel Certification program
- Help to educate the general public, new mushers, veterinarians, and others on the proper care of sled dogs and responsible kennel husbandry
New rules adopted by the Iditarod in the last year clarify its commitment to a standard of care that is consistent with the guidelines in the Mush with P.R.I.D.E program. I believe this commitment is amplified by the voices of young mushers like Matthew. The message is: the bar is high, and we stand together in our commitment to excellence in dog care.
And then there’s Blair Braverman. As soon as we arrived at the Iditarod Headquarters vet check, I saw her. Blair is OUR rookie musher (meaning she’s the musher my class has adopted). She is 30 years old (the same age as my children). She is running her first Iditarod, and she speaks with the same voice we heard today from Matthew, and that we hear from a growing chorus. These are young mushers with integrity. Enthusiastic mushers who love their dogs, and who are committed to doing their best for sled dogs and sled dog sports.
At the Iditarod Headquarters, I spent so long hanging around Blair and her dogs that I didn’t realize Martin Buser was in the vet check area until his dog truck was ready to pull out. I managed to run and catch a quick smile and wave. I like to think he would agree that
- These young mushers are the future of sled dog sports.
- The future of sled dog sports is “stepping up”.
- The future looks bright.
*Teachers: Mush with P.R.I.D.E. is being proposed as a “standard” or framework for dog care. Research the organization and the documents that they publish for dog husbandry.