Many books and films would have us believe differently, but, although drivers of dogsleds are called ‘mushers’, they never use the word ‘mush!’ Not in Norway, anyway.
Even if you don’t speak a word of Norwegian (‘Hej!’ and ‘Tusend tak!’ are my limits) it doesn’t take much skill to translate Hundsenter. It’s a dog farm … and not a rescue centre or a kennels. These are working dogs that pull sleds, and beautiful creatures they are, too. In fact, the husky has taken its place beside the Labrador as my joint favourite dog breed.
I’ve got to admit that I had some misgivings over our visit to the Holmen Hundsenter. Because, although, thanks to organisations like the Brooke Foundation, it’s not general, we have seen animals displayed for visitors to ride on, or just see, that aren’t in the best of condition.
But, that was certainly not the case here. The love and respect the drivers and handlers had for their animals was plain to see on their faces, and the dogs themselves seemed pleased to see us, and eager to be off.
There’s an opportunity to photograph the dogs; friendly creatures all, if somewhat noisy … with the exception of only one, which had the endearing habit of sticking his nose up his backside every time anyone pointed a camera at him. Just like a certain dog I used to own!
Over a cup of hot blueberry juice, served inside a traditional ‘laavu’, the owner, Eirik Nilsen, talked about his dogs, and explained how they prepare for the Finnmarksløpet race, at over 600 miles; Europe’s longest dog race.
The main attraction was a 20 minute ride through the woods on a dogsled. The fact that it was snowing made it an even more enjoyable experience. Visitors can either ride in the sled as passengers or, if feeling really intrepid, drive it themselves. They do stipulate, though, that parties are made up of a driver and passenger (they can, of course, change over halfway) who must be known to each other.
The dogs seemed to have no problem at all pulling the sled with two passengers aboard, although they did check a couple of times because of the sled in front of us.
‘It’s overloaded’ said Anders, our driver ‘Both the passengers are on the heavy side.’
And, when the owner talked to us later, he told us: ‘When we’re racing, we sleep in the outdoors with our dogs’
Which is not surprising; imagine an animal that size trying to get into bed with you!