The free online encyclopedia Wikipedia includes a lengthy article on the term “mushing.” After a few introductory lines about alternative meanings of the word comes this definition:

“Mushing is a general term for a sport or transport method powered by dogs, and includes carting, pulka, scootering, sled dog racing, skijoring, freighting, and weight pulling. More specifically, it implies the use of one or more dogs to pull a sled on snow. The term is thought to come from the French word marche, or go, run, the command to the team to commence pulling. ‘Mush!’ is rarely used in modern parlance, however; ‘Hike!’ is more common in English. Mushing can be utilitarian, recreational, or competitive.”

The article explains the equipment used in mushing, the different hitching systems, the types of dogs preferred, and the various positions within the team, such as leader, wheel, swing, etc. Also interesting:

“Mushing as a sport is practiced worldwide, but primarily in North America and northern Europe. Racing associations such as the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) and the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA) are working toward organizing the sport and in gaining Olympic recognition for mushing. It is the state sport of Alaska.”

There is a collection of related pages at the Wikipedia entry under dogsled racing, which notes the more accurate term is sled dog racing. An easy way to remember which is proper? It’s the sled dogs who do the racing, not the dogsled.

Wikipedia also has an extensive entry on sled dogs, with links detailing the specific breeds associated with the sport:

“Purebred sled dog breeds range from the well-known Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute to rarer breeds such as the Mackenzie River Husky or the Canadian Eskimo Dog (Canadian Inuit Dog). Dog drivers, however, have a long history of using other breeds or crossbreds as sled dogs. In the days of the Gold Rush in The Yukon, mongrel teams were the rule, but there were also teams of Foxhounds and Staghounds. Today the unregistered hybridized Alaskan husky is preferred for dogsled racing, along with a variety of crossbreds, the German Shorthaired Pointer often being chosen as the basis for crossbreeding.”

The references and external links in the listings at Wikipedia, always found at the bottom of entries, provide an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating world of mushing, dogsleds, and sled dog racing.

Hero image by Albert Marquez