Fun in the snow led to competitive hobby

On the run . . . Sam Hughes and dog Maddi compete in a canicross event in Naseby. PHOTO: GARRICK CAMERON

What started as a bit of fun on a snowy day has turned into an exciting hobby for one Dunedin youngster.

When it was snowing at his mother’s house in Chain Hills two years ago, Sam Hughes grabbed his toboggan and dog Maddi and headed for a nearby hill.

After his mother, Bronwyn, filmed him racing down the hill with Maddi and posted it online, a friend saw it and suggested they give sled-dog racing a go.

The pair went to the Southern Regions Sled Dog Club open day and decided to join.

Due to the lack of snow in Dunedin, Sam does dry-land racing in forestry and has travelled to Christchurch, Invercargill and Naseby this season to compete.

While most people associated sled-dog racing with snow and huskies, the sport could be suitable for most dogs, Sam said.

The 12-year-old started competing in the junior class and has now moved to the open class. The only differences were the distance and the fact he was competing against adults, he said.

The open class courses are 3km-4km whereas the junior courses are 1km-2km.

During the two-day competition in Christchurch, Sam finished second and third in the two-dog race (the dogs pull him on a bike or scooter) and first and second in the canicross (the dog’s lead is attached to a belt around his waist and they both run the course).

Sam said he enjoyed canicross because even though there was a set trail, he could decide where on the trail he wanted to run, especially if it was to avoid puddles.

When he was on a bike or scooter, the dogs tended to run straight through a puddle, which could often reach up to Sam’s knee.

Depending on the event, the competitors and dogs leave at different time intervals, usually 30 seconds or one minute apart.

To prevent the dogs from getting too hot, sled dog racing is a winter sport and the races often have to be held early in the morning or late afternoon.

“If it gets too hot for [the dogs] then they have the potential of over-heating,” Sam said.

Maddi, a collie-cross, enjoyed competing and she knew what she was doing as soon as the countdown started.

“She loves to run, so that’s probably the main bonus that we had with her.”

He trains with her every second day at Wingatui Racecourse or elsewhere on the Taieri.