Back in December we announced we were stoked to have Flint Sky Alaskan Malamutes joining our athlete team, and now who better to give us an intro to her pack but Red.
We are extremely excited here at Flint Sky to be working with SnowPaw Store again this year! SnowPaw Store has been a fundamental part of our working journey with the dogs - the kit and the knowledge behind the kit has been second to none, and we’ve been very grateful to have them as our supplier for many years, and this year as one of our sponsors.
To begin, I’d love to take a moment to introduce us, our team and talk about where we are in the world of dog sport at the moment, what challenges we plan to tackle and how we came to be involved in the world of sled dog racing.
Our journey to running sled dogs began like many others - we wanted a pet.
I was a trainer and breeder of working Labrador Retrievers in the US for many years, but living in Scotland with my husband Tim, we decided it was time to get the sled dog we had always wanted.
In 2012 we went to our first SHCGB Aviemore rally and not only did we have snow, but a huge turnout of Malamute racing teams as well as stands of mushers talking to the public about the breeds and what owning one is really like - something I am so very grateful is a part of the sport.
Our own journey began just a few months later with a move to southern England, and our foundation girl, Memphis. Memphis came from working lines - and her breeders were very experienced racers and mushers. We began by looking for a pet - but there was no way Memphis was ever going to be just that. We decided very early on that we would try everything and if she loved it, we would do it.
What we didn’t have any idea at the time was that Memphis would love - and excel - at everything.
A little over a year later - after racing Memphis with two different team mates, doing her first treks and backpacks and qualifying for Crufts at her first show, we brought Sawyer home too.
Sawyer was the dog who made us a team. Memphis lived to work - and it was impossible not to fall in love with her wild enthusiasm on the trail (her pre-run screams are legendary to this day….and no less emphatic now that she’s 10 1/2). But Sawyer - who came from another very experienced working breeder - instantly became the rock of our team.
Though we began with no real desire to compete with the dogs - our Memphis and Sawyer team became something that needed to be run to it’s full potential. At the time the Malamute teams in the UK were extremely competitive with many phenomenal mushers and dogs to run against. Any win was a huge accomplishment, and after several years of stopping pretty much everything but training and running, our team was able to accomplish the highest award in the UK - the AMCUK (Alaskan Malamute Club of the UK) Working Malamute of the Year Rally Dog and Bitch awards. We were also the fastest All Malamute team at Aviemore that year taking home the Polar Run trophy.
But the dogs loved to work so much it didn’t stop there. We chased titles in long distance trekking (and the notoriously brutal AMWA Christmas trek one year completing 25 miles with Memphis and her brother Sam). We began weight pull where both dogs excelled - especially Sawyer who by the end of his first season was routinely pulling the highest weight of the event.
I fell in love with long distance backpacking. Memphis never quite saw the point of it - as there was never anyone cheering at the end - but it was work, so she did it with as much enthusiasm as anything else, criss-crossing the Salisbury plains every winter carrying 30% of her body weight sometimes covering near 100 miles over the cooler months.
Even showing found it’s place as a way to keep the dogs focused and happy during the summer and each dog routinely placed well and qualified for Crufts every year that they showed.
But no team is without it’s set backs, and we were no different.
In 2018 - just as we were introducing our newest member of the pack, Nevada (Sawyer’s niece) I had a terrible accident training the dogs and tore the ACL in both knees. It was many months before I was up and able to work with the dogs again, and with a new puppy to train and my core team in desperate need of training - I did the inevitable and came back too soon.
At our first race after my injury I re-tore one knee getting Sawyer to the start line (Sawyer - who is our most gentle and accommodating dog at home is a force to be reckoned with when racing, and we have - more than once - had to use several mushers to hold him when the other teams are taking off).
This time I was out for almost a year before I could use the knee with any confidence again. In that time, we had a far more devastating blow. Sawyer - our lead dog - was playing too rough with the new puppy which ended in a serious back injury. We were very lucky to know some excellent physical therapists and chiropractors that we still work with to this day, but it was a blow almost too much for our team to take. We tried running just Memphis for half a season - and training Nevada, but leaving Sawyer behind in the van while the girls ran was almost too much to take.
We all found some peace running the dog in the snows of Aviemore - where even if he couldn’t run Sawyer could walk the trail with us first to check that all was clear for his girls. We decided to make a change for our team and packed up everyone and moved once again to the north of Scotland where we decided to focus our attention more on long distance trekking, backpacking and climbing.
For Nevada this was perfect - she’s our little ray of sunshine, and though an amazing dog on the rig - she lacks the competitive nature that her uncle has. Nevada just loves to run and run - she can go all day and still have a smile on her face.
So we kept Sawyer (and me) in intensive rehab, trained Nevada and Memphis getting ready for the days when we would be a whole team again. Sawyer did his first run on the rig again the following winter and looked like he might be ready to fold back into the team.
That was the winter of 2020.
As we all experienced, the next couple of years became a real challenge to do anything. Nevada didn’t get to compete in her early years and running at all became a win.
My dogs who were in their prime when we moved to Scotland suddenly were almost 9 and 10.
Which brings us to 2023.
We knew that it was time this year to start fresh with a new outlook and new challenges. Memphis and Sawyer - even in their golden years are still running together - if not quite as fast or far - and Nevada loves nothing more than spending long days and endless miles packing with me on the quiet mountain trails. But our days of running a team are far from over, and so it was embracing great hope this year that we added our newest dog, Colt, to the team.
We will begin proper training with Colt in the next few months, and we hope you will follow us through this process as we talk about what training he is doing and when - what works for him and how we approach it, and what kit we use through each stage. For anyone else just beginning to run a new dog on the rig (or your first dog) we hope that our journey will be of help and that any questions you may have along the way we will be happy to answer, and SnowPaw Store will be able to fill you in in detail on any of the kit that we discuss and help you familiarise yourself with how best to use it.
I do hope that we have given some of the knowledge we gained from others back over the years in our time working the dogs. It was very special to me that we had the help that we did - and I feel it’s very important to continue to pass on these experiences for others to learn from. The good days and the bad days of running dogs are equally important, the fresh starts and the rehabs - all part of this beautiful sport we all love so much. I look forward to our new season - and to sharing that experience with the SnowPaw community!