19 November 2013

Meet the Musher: Susie

Susie Stracken is a journalist and makes her home in Winnipeg, with her husband, two sons and her two border collies.  Susie is the "Queen of Skijoring" in Manitoba, and through her club "Snow Motion" has promoted dog powered sports for many years.

    How did you first get started in the sport?

I started skijoring in 1991, when I interviewed musher Glenys Morgan for the Winnipeg Free Press' Weeklies. She mushed with a team of beautiful Siberian huskies, and I wanted to know how I could get involved. But I only had one dog, my border collie Sona. Glenys sold me a Wendigo harness, and showed me how to do gee/haw training.

What have you seen change since that time?

I started skijoring with fish-scale skis and short poles, holding a leash in my left hand. That was pretty slow and awkward. It wasn't until I discovered Canvasback that I obtained one of the first skijoring belt and gangline rigs in Manitoba. The gangline had a nasty clip on the dog end of the line; it once got caught on my dog's Achilles tendon, and I had to carry her several kilometres back to the car, to make the trip to the vet. I'm very happy the equipment has changed so much since then!    

When did you know you were hooked on the sport?

I knew I was hooked by then. I pestered the Festival du Voyageur sled dog race organizers until they included a skijoring and kick sledding class with all the big-team races. Karen Armstrong was the only skijoring competitor that first year. I did my fare share of racing in the Festival races, entering skijoring, kick sledding and 3- and 4-dog sled classes, handling for other mushers.

The Snow Motion Classic is my favourite race every year. Tell me how it came about.

When the Festival race ended, I convinced Karen to start the Snow Motion Classic, and the first race was seven years ago. This is something I'm very proud of. I put a lot of effort into making the Classic as Manitoban as I can make it. We don't follow other skijoring races' rules; we run it the way that makes sense for our competitors, with classes according to handler and dog ability. And I confess: I set up the "Recreation" class just for me and my aging dogs.

Snow Motion, is a very successful club.  Tell us how it got started.

In 1986, I started talking with the Canvasback staff about the idea of holding a beginners workshop. We held our first one, and out of that came a group of about a dozen skijorers and kick sledders and a lone dog sledder, who formed Snow Motion in the fall of 1987. This was prior to email and our website, so we had to notify the club members about events via the phone.
In 1996, I wanted a club which gave me companionship on the trails. Today, I want to make sure that everyone, no matter their speed or ability, finds a place in Snow Motion. I was once in a long-distance ski event, where I fell behind the pack of skiers, and spent a very lonely 10 km on a frozen lake before I came to a check stop. That's why Snow Motion coordinators make sure that no one is on the trails at the end of a group run; and that we go back in and retrieve or rescue the club member who is having trouble.

What is the local scene like in your neck of the woods?

Snow Motion has around 80 active members these days. We work hard to maintain our relationship with the local parks and trail owners, dog equipment stores and ski equipment stores. Since Karen retired, Lorne Volk and Kevin Roberts became my co-coordinators, although Kevin lost his mind and retired two years ago. 

Tell us about your dogs. 

My current dogs are both registered Border Collies. My red male is Botyne Rojo Rauxa, known as Razzie. He's 10 and his favourite sport is Flyball, with herding a close second. My female is Can-Do's Dina-Soar, known as Dina. She's Razzie's daughter, and at age 5, canine disc is her favourite sport, with skijoring in second, and flyball a distant third. With previous border collies, Sona and Banshee, I've participated in competitive obedience, dock dog, agility, scent hurdling, tracking and even tried lure coursing.

When you look for a new dog, what are the qualities you have in mind?

I look for brains, temperament and all-round stability in my border collies. I want a well-bred dog which can do anything, and be a wonderful companion. That includes a good physical frame for lots of stamina, the ability to turn on a dime. And since we go to the lake in the summer, the ability to swim and fetch stick for hours.

What is your favourite piece of gear?

My favourite piece of skijoring gear is my pair of youth-size skate skis that can take a battering, compared to my race skis. My favourite piece of kick sledding gear is the Esla itself, to which I dearly love adding accessories. Like the handle bar bag, the sled bag, the lights for night runs, the 2-inch wide runners, the drag mat brake.... I'm not sure what will come next, but I'm sure it will be something.

You started skijoring before people were really active on the Internet.  How has technology changed this sport? 

My favourite website is Snow Motion's. But Sled Dog Central is my go-to for all things mushing. The Internet has been wonderful for mushing sports, bringing a world of equipment to Manitobans. We have great harness makers in our province, but who can resist ordering something new and trying it just once? I don't collect shoes; I spend it all on new dog sport gear. And the Internet allows me to talk with other club coordinators and race organizers around the world about how they run things. It's been great "meeting" people this way and talking all things mushing. My latest conversation is going on with folks in New Zealand about how they train and race.

What is the best advice you have been given as a musher?

The best piece of advice for mushing is: never let go of the sled. The second best is: it's never the dog's fault. It's yours. But the question I always get asked is: Can my dog do it? Yes, I say, if your dog can pull you on leash, your dog can pull you on skis. It's up to you to be the best partner to your pulling dog. And that's why I've had 4 of my own dogs and many dogs belonging to friends on my team over the past 22 years:

Why do you do run your dogs?

There's something freeing about heading out on the snowy trail, dog in harness, skiing or kicking hard to keep up. The world drops away, and it's just you and your dog connected by a line that's more than just a piece of rope.

Here are a few of Susie's videos.

A Blast From The Past

Wheel Dogs in Action: Earth Day 2012

Snow Motion: Goes to Shannondale

Happy New Year 2013


No comments:

Post a Comment