DOGSLEDDING: Reality wins over Myth

Vol 15, Issue 8, Leduc - Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer

Photo: Musher Hans Appelman stops the sled for a photo op... Pipestone Flyer Photographer Jacques Driessen was at the ready with his camera.

In preparation for the 5th ANNUAL PIGEON LAKE DOGSLED CLASSIC at Mulhurst Bay on March 5 and 6, two Leduc photographers were invited to the Mulhust Bay area on a cool winter day recently, to visit a kennel of Siberian Huskies and to experience the sport of dogsledding. Jacques Driessen, a contributor to the Pipestone Flyer who has shared the images of his journeys to the North and the far Canadian West with our readers, had set up this introduction to a friendly Dutch couple, owners of the kennel.

Nine years ago, Hans and Jolanda Appelman immigrated to Canada with two small children and four Alaskan malamute dogs in tow. For fifteen years prior to their arrival in Alberta, the province they had chosen carefully, they had enjoyed the sport of racing on sleds pulled by dogs all over Europe.  They have the mementos and photos to show for it!  With their dogs reaching retirement age, they accepted the invitation of Dutch friends who had settled in Nova Scotia, and who offered them two Huskies ready for adoption.  They flew back to Alberta with the puppies, and started planning how they would race them someday.  They are now comfortably settled in a beautiful log house they have added to, thanks to Hans’ cabinet making skills and their own sawmill.  Their kennel near Westerose houses thirteen dogs. The original malamutes are now long gone; two of their dogs are retired, while two others are rescue dogs, adopted from owners who couldn’t care for them responsibly. Two of their dogs are of a ‘mixed breed’, and since they probably have greyhound genes, they are very fast!

As they love to race with their dogs and the race date is near, the Appelmans welcome any practice time.  They also welcome visitors as they take pride in their dogs and their well-being! We got to witness this first hand, as we were introduced to all thirteen dogs, which were clean, bouncing with happy excitement, and extremely friendly! They were obviously excited to go running. Their owners had a routine to get them all harnessed with a minimum of fuss, tying the eight dogs to the sled’s main rope. So they invited Dominique to sit on the comfortable sled, and with one single word, we took off in a great rush of excited barking.  This beautiful countryside of rolling hills, mixed farmland and deep valleys was breathtaking in the overcast afternoon. The dogs were fast and surefooted on the packed trails. Amazingly, Hans controlled them with very few words, spoken in a calm voice. ‘Gee’ is right, ‘Haw’ is left, and “Whoa!” is the word for stop, reminiscent of a traditional command used with horses. And when the sled was brought to a stop, the dogs were barking excitedly, obviously wanting to keep going.

This annual dogsled race, a free family event, was hosted for the past four years by Sid and Mary Lou Tizzard. They did an amazing job, but the Appelmans wanted to make this into a bigger event and to do so, Hans hit the road with last year’s dogsled race poster and a lot of ambition.  He recruited several sponsors so that prize purses could be offered to the racing teams. He has created some new classes, including Junior and Purebred, and now there will be monetary prizes for every competing team.  This has now attracted a larger number of ‘mushers’ from BC, Saskatchewan. Between 40 and 50 teams are now registered!  Another interesting new class is of ‘Skijoring’; the sport of a cross-country skier pulled by two dogs.  Interestingly, the first two entrants to the race were in that class.  The travel expenses can be daunting as in many sports, so these purses will be appreciated by the mushers and their families. They race for the love of the dogs, the great outdoors, and because this is a great family activity.  A drop box will also be set up on site to accept cash donations from spectators, to help with race expenses.

The local community is dynamically involved in this. The poster designer is based in the City of Leduc, the attractive banners for the Pigeon Lake Sled Dog Club (.ca is the website) were produced in Wetaskiwin, and the Mulhurst Fire Department has helped with building the start ramps, and will help run the concession on both race days.  Taking place at Mulhust Bay across from the Cedar Crest Hotel, the 5th Annual Dog Sled Classic will welcome all spectators, and promises to offer an exciting week-end of dog-sled racing!  Sounds like a great family event, - free is good -, and the Pipestone Flyer will be there for sure.  

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