Mushing Around the World: Australia

Despite what we sometimes think, one do not need to live in a cold climate to race and train sled dogs. Hundekjoring.no is launching a new series on mushing around the world. Michael Herbst started running and training siberian huskies in Australia 30 years ago and is our the first musher in our Mushing Around the World series. 

Author: Barry Siragusa Photo: Michael Herbst

Michael Herbst is a competitive dryland racer from Australia who raises and trains his racing siberian huskies. He was one of the founders of the first mushing club in Australia and competes and organizes races all over Australia. 
Michael Herbst has travelled the world with his family learning about mushing and applying what he has learned to sled dogs in Australia.

How long have you been running dogs yourself?

I’ve been running dogs for about 24 years now.

What is you kennel like?

I have a small kennel by most standards called Arctistarr. We currently have 11 dogs ranging from retired dogs to young dogs just ready to experience the fun of competition. We have had a total of 17 dogs in the 24 years. All my dogs are Siberian huskys and we have bred all the current dogs in our kennel.

Can you tell us about yourself and your dogs?

As a child I always had a fascination with all things arctic and my parents bought me a Samoyed, when I moved out of home I went looking for a husky. Along with a few other people we made our own harnesses and tied our dogs to the front of our bikes and used this to exercise them, I suppose we were very early bikejoring. We soon decided that we could make a sport out of this and started a club and a set of rules for competition .

All of the dogs in our kennel now are descendants of a very successful planned breeding program. We purchased a female with Finnish Polarspeed pedigree and then imported frozen semen from Swedish Unisak kennels, the 2 dogs were Rookie’s Sadam and Unisaks Lord both from Nils and Sickan Heljm. The lineage back to IglooPaks Snow Bandit was a major attraction to these dogs. This combination has served us well with many wins and national titles over the past 13 years even against Alaskan husky and Pointer teams. Several other kennels in Australia have now built themselves a sound breeding base from our kennels.

What kind of dogs are being run in Australia?

The majority of dogs have always been Siberian Huskys and Alaskan Malamutes. Several years ago some Alaskan huskys were imported and fairly recently Euro hounds have made an appearance on Australian trails. Many other breeds also run such as Samoyeds, German Shepards, German Shorthaired and English pointers plus several cross breeds.

Are there many who run?

Most states have around 50 competitors.

Are there a lot of races?

We are fairly fortunate with a great variety of events across the country. Races are held in 5 states by a variety of breed clubs and open racing clubs. We have a national body, Australian Sleddog Sports Association (ASSA) that’s helps give the sport a standard set of guidelines to run under. ASSA have a set of races that are affiliated with them across all the states to form a National circuit for competitors to compete in and and gain points to become national champion. Classes offered are 1,2,3,4,6 and 8 dog plus various others such as junior and veteran dog classes.

As Australia is a big country a lot of travel is done to attend races across the country with some competitors travelling around 6000 Kms in a race season.

What are some considerations that you have as a musher in Australia that mushers other places would not need to consider (weather, other animals, trail access etc)?

Probably our biggest problem is temperature we follow a cut of temperature of 15 degrees Celsius but sometimes the humidity plays much more on the dogs performance. This does make our race season pretty short running from late May to late August. Most of our races are dryland ranging from private property trails to national forest trails. Most events in national forest are heavily governed by government body’s and strict guidelines must be followed. We have 2 snow races in Australia that are limited to a few due to the large financial cost of staying in a ski resort with dogs.

We don’t really have any dangerous animals in Australia to contend with during the race season, common trail sharers are kangaroos and wallabies that do offer an exciting chase for a tied team. During the summer off season most mushers have to deal with snakes visiting their kennel houses sometimes resulting in disastrous outcomes, but it is a fact of life when living in Australia.

Is mushing in Australia mainly a closed community or is there some back and forth of ideas and genetics with other places?

Australia has a very diverse community, Australians in general are very competitive and will search out the info and support they need to succeed.

We have had several people travel abroad as i did in 2007 and gain knowledge, import either dogs or frozen semen to help advance our sport and the chosen breed they may be racing.

Can you describe the culture of dog mushing there (How it started. how it is today etc.)?

As I mentioned earlier mushing started with a few people just exercising their dogs in a harness and a bike approx 24 years ago. The first race was held in Victoria and then South Australia shortly after. Races are currently run in Western Australia, South Australia , Victoria , New South Wales, Canberra and Queensland. Most states have their own race seasons ranging from 4 to 8 races, then each state has its nominated event that makes up the national point score events. Most states started with approx 50 competitors with some states growing up to approximately 100 competitors in the early 2000s things have slowed down today with most local races attracting approx 50 competitors and the national point score events attracting 110 competitors with some mushers driving the distance for the quality of competition and national championship points.

Mushing in Australia has always been as much about the socialising as it has been about the competition with a drink and a story or two shared around the campfire after an early morning start to a race day.

 

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