'I am not just a musher with dogs. I am part of a team'

LA PINE, Ore. - Karen Yeargain took a night run with her dogs the day after her father passed away.

The dogs were running lightly and the full moon was up in the sky.

She felt like her dad was watching out for her, Yeargan said, sitting on her shoulder.

"Everything was just right," she said.

The founder of Tumnatki Siberians organized a sled dog run - on dirt - last fall at La Pine State Park.

The event gave mushers from the West Coast to practice and have fun together before the season starts in January.

There were around 30 participants, with dogs towing trainers on ATVs, scooters and bikes.

Baseball has spring training. For sled dog racers, training starts before there's snow on the ground.

"I am not just a musher with dogs," Yeargain explained. "I am part of a team."

Yeargain has raced sled dogs since 1988. Now Yeargain has about 40 dogs including active dogs, puppies and retired dogs.

Yeargain began sledding with one dog, Nika.

One of her friends, who was an obedience instructor, asked Yeargain to run with her four-dog team.

"Nika was proud of herself for being a good sled dog," Yeargain said.

Nika worked as a good leader instructor for other dogs until she passed away from old age.

The mushers share among them a connection with the animals.

"I have trained and worked with dogs," musher Kelly Barton said. "Some of them I've seen born, learned their little habits and I managed to get them to work to together as a collaborative team to accomplish something."

Barton began dog sledding eight years ago. Her connection with her dogs is the reason why she continues dog sledding.

"That connection with your dogs is pretty much something that you can't get anywhere else," Barton said.

People usually get involved with dog sledding with their one or two pet dogs, mushers said.

Once people realize they enjoy running, they become eager to run faster and farther, so they borrow dogs from friends and end up adopting more dogs.

Yeargain recommended that beginners check out dog sled clubs in the community to run together and get more information.

Currently, Yeargain is a member of Pacific Sled Dog and Skijoring Association, located throughout Central Oregon, Southern California, Idaho and Washington.
"Where you live does not matter to join clubs," Yeargain said.

"It is just going outdoors in fall and winter enjoying being with your dogs and friends," Yeargain said, "It's a win-win situation for everyone."