Tell us a little about yourself and your kennel.
Hi, my name is Tony Turner of Athol, New Zealand. I have been running dogs since 1991. I started with an Alaskan Malamute called Mikya. At the time I didn't really know there was so many different breed types... I just thought everything was a husky (the computer age hadn't really started then, so the only access to information was books... which there were not really a lot to choose from at that time in NZ). At the time there were a few Siberian Huskies around Christchurch but being a male in my thinking... didn't think a little dog like that could pull a huge sled loaded with gear... so a Malamute it was for me. My thinking at the time was... because it was bigger... it must be faster and stronger... I also thought because it was a husky all the pulling and stuff was just going to happen. I must admit, I really had no idea what I was doing. One picture wasn't enough to give that information so to speak. But then 1 Malamute turned to 2 and I had my team to get started. Two Malamutes became 4 and so on... The desire to learn more took me to Alaska where I worked for Heidi Ruh for a few months over the Alaskan winter of 1998. Heidi had a mixed kennel of Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Huskies. I was so blown away by these dogs... so very different to anything I had seen in New Zealand. I fell in love with the Alaskan Husky and decided this was the direction that I would like to head in... I just loved their insatiable desire to go forward. I was also lucky enough to meet so many of the mushers that I had so admired from this side of the world ... both in sprinting and in distance racing...
In 2001 I imported the first team of Alaskan Huskies into New Zealand. Bean and Inca. Their Father was Martin Buser's XL and there Mother was Venus from Axle Gasser .. I then imported two more Alaskan husky puppies, Pebbles and Baldy... and suddenly my team was growing. Ten years ago on the 30/11/07 the first litter of Alaskan huskies was born in NZ, 5 pups from Bean and Pebbles... During this time I had also imported 6 more dogs .... Not a huge kennel but enough for here in NZ. I stopped racing quite a few years ago.. and spend my winters running my dogs recreationally on the snow up at the Snow Farm situated on the Pisa Range between Queenstown and Wanaka.
In 1996 My X wife and I organized the original Wanaka Sled Dog festival (which still runs today) my only involvement with it now, is as the trail boss ... I also in 1998 co organized the Waiorau 50, it was the longest snow race in New Zealand, but it is no longer run. I was also involved with the first commercial sled dog tours operation in NZ and still occasionally guide for Underdog sled dog tours.
What introduced you to dog mushing? What was your first experience like?
My interest in sledding started when I was a kid, I was given a book on Scott's expedition to the South Pole ... which happened to have a photo of a dog team and a sled loaded with gear.... it seemed to me, that it would be a great adventure to do something like this ... but living in New Zealand I figured Antarctica was the place to go if i was to full fill this dream... So as a young lad when I was wanting to leave school I tried to get to Antarctica.. but was told I was too young and needed to get some experience.. Years later when I started with my 2 Malamutes, I found myself on the beach with my bike, 2 harness that were not the best fit and some rope, as i was only working of a picture .. (remember the internet information highway was not available then... and i didn't know anybody that had worked a dog in harness to be able to ask) So I figured my 2 mals were going to be leaders.. so here they were with as I had guessed from the picture about 40 feet of rope out to the 2 mals ...( because that's where the leaders were in relation to the sled in the photo ) back to me on my push bike telling them to go forward ... mean while they are standing there looking at me like I'm a complete idiot.... wondering what I want... so quite quickly the rope was shortened down and we slowly started making progress in a forward direction. I was to learn very quickly that even though they are huskies, they still needed to be trained to do the job I was asking of them. So my first experience with running the dogs was some what interesting...
Describe the dogs on your team. What about them do you enjoy the most?
My team currently is down to 9 dogs, (5 males, 4 females). Pebbles is the oldest at 15 and enjoying retirement. I have four ten year old's, Memphis, Floyd, Charlie and Misty; Two four and half year-old's, Chopper and Wylie; and two two and half year-old's, Taku and Joey. I love their personalities as each dog is very different in character and offers something different to the team... but all love to run. Floyd and Taku are my 2 biggest dogs, Memphis, Chopper and Wylie are all similar for size, Misty and Charlie are a little smaller and Joey is the smallest...
What does your training regimen look like? How long are you on the trail with them?
Since I now only run purely for recreation and for the joy of it , training is very fun orientated, and there is no huge distance to run here. I start pre-season running the dogs along Oreti beach.. just focusing on tight lines and making sure the dogs are happy and having fun, and once the snow starts to fall, every weekend is spent on the mountain , lots of run ,rest, run as this is the nature of tour work here for the dogs that are occasionally used in the tours ..
What do your dogs do in the off season?
My dogs spend a lot of time free running when I'm home. Occasionally on hot summer days, we'll take them to the beach or local lake/river to splash around in, but they tend to sleep a lot on the real hot days.
What has been your most memorable experience as a dog musher?
For me, my most memorable experience was the first time I ran a team of Alaskan huskies in Alaska. I had never felt a constant power and drive like it ...but I also have always felt very fortunate to have been able to run some of the last of the Mawson husky's that came from the Australian Mawson station in Antarctica that were moved to Minnesota.. in Minnesota in 1998.
What’s your advice to other mushers?
Always remember to enjoy your time with your dogs, have fun when working with them, always finish a run on a positive note. It takes time, patience and consistency to train a team.
Keep your lines tight, you don't have to talk to them the entire way around a trail.. and for anyone that says you cant do it, there will nearly always be someone to prove us wrong. I also believe dogs are a reflection of their environment.