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Hey, Mush!

Jackie McKenzie experiences the call of the wild. crack

HURTLING through the rain-splattered countryside shouting “Hike, Hike, Hike!” isn’t usually how I would spend a wet Friday morning in October, but, for The Cheltonian, anything goes! And riding on a rig behind quivering huskies eager to run is one of the best, and most exhilarating adventures ever.

Arctic Quest ‘Sled Dog Adventures’ is a whole new ‘experience’ – a chance to get hands-on with some stunning dogs and to feel the thrill of working with them without having to go all the way to Alaska!

The fun all happens at Croft Farm near Tewkesbury and is the only husky experience in the whole of the South West. And it has been launched by dog lovers and ski sports supremos, Chantelle Goddard-Jones and Vickie Pullin.

Chantelle got her first husky, Dashka as a rescue dog and despite blood, sweat and tears shed making her into a manageable pet, she got well and truly bitten by the bug and soon McKinley joined the family, followed by fiery red-head Willow and now the latest addition, Minx.

Chantelle said: “I had owned a collie cross for 18 years and thought I knew about dogs but huskies are a whole new ball game. They are very intelligent, like to run off after ‘prey’ and escape from the garden but they are beautiful animals, full of fun, very loyal and love to work!”

The pair were exercising the dogs with bikes near their home but, after watching husky racing in the Forest of Dean, were eager to try them out on specially designed scooters and rigs.

Chantelle is Chief Instructor at the Ski and Snowboard Centre in Gloucester and Vickie runs the snowboarding sessions there as well as working as Development Officer for Snowsports England.

Vickie found a passion for huskies while working for a season out in Alaska alongside a relative, Wendy Smith, who became the first person ever to cross the North American continent by dog-team in a single winter. Vickie said: “Riding with the huskies is an awesome experience, there’s nothing in the world to match it and you’re entirely dependent on dog power. When the dogs are ready to run their ears go back flat and they’re off!”

The pair set up Arctic Quest this summer after a host of enquiries from other husky owners and dog lovers eager to learn more about ‘mushing’ – dogs pulling sleds and the like in harness, taken from the French word, marche. The ‘musher’ is the driver!

The breed was first developed off the Eastern Siberia peninsula to pull sleds, herd reindeer and to act as watch dogs. They were perfect for the conditions, able to withstand the harsh climate and work as a team for hours on end. They were taken to Alaska by fur traders for arctic races because of their speed and endurance.

Now Chantelle and Vickie are running sessions in schools; offering team building days using the dogs and a wide variety of packages from taster sessions with children to musher training, children’s parties and ‘the full musher adventure’ which is an adrenaline packed 2 hour session in which you meet the dogs, learn how to harness them up, enjoy racing around the scenic lake at Croft Farm and end with marshmallows and a campfire – a perfect Christmas present for someone who loves an adventure and the great outdoors!

When I arrived at the centre to meet the dogs, I soon forgot the pouring rain as Dashka, McKinley and Willow bowled me over with a warm welcome – wet noses and even wetter tongues! The dogs were yelping with excitement as Vickie gave me full instructions as to how to control the rig. ‘Hike’ means go; ‘woah’ is stop; ‘haw’ is left; ‘gee’ is right and ‘on by’ is useful when getting them to ignore waddling ducks crossing the path!

After some practice I was soon off on my own and amazed at how fast I was zipping along the edge of the lake, although they were keen to explain that nervous novices and children stick to just one ‘dog’ power and scooters at all times.

Dashka is clearly the brains of the pack and listens to commands while McKinley pulls fast besides her with Willow, the power of the pack, charging forward.

The three were surprisingly easy to control and worries that I might end up in the water were soon banished as the adrenaline buzz kicked in. Vickie was right. There IS nothing quite like it. Lots of fun, friendly humans and four-legged canines eager to please. And the packages are all very good value for money and affordable – a unique treat.

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Husky Facts

• Huskies can run between 60-80 miles each day when working.

• They are all born with blue eyes.

• They have webbed feet.

• They secrete an oil from their eyelashes to prevent their eyes from freezing.

• Huskies rarely bark but communicate by howling.

• The breed was created by the Chukchi tribe of Siberia.