It’s not a race and not quite training — Karen Yeargain describes La Pine Mushing Weekend at La Pine State Park, which happened earlier this month, as a fun weekend for people to play with their pups. Yeargain, owner of the Siberian husky sled dog kennel Tumnatki Siberians in Prineville, organized this year’s annual event, the 15th of its kind. She ran 12-dog teams harnessed to carts and ATVs, though others brought as few as one or two dogs and harnessed them to mountain bikes.
“Just because a dog is a husky doesn’t mean that they’re cut out to be a sled dog,” Karen Yeargain says. “The dog has to want to do it. You can’t push a rope.”
The first sled dog races in Central Oregon take place in Chemult on the third weekend in January. Yeargain said she competes in the mid-distance class, which consists of teams of six to eight dogs running between 15 and 35 miles a day.
Joe Kline / The Bulletin
And they're off! The 12-dog team pulls a four-wheeled cart with mushers Karen Yeargain and Spencer Egbert on a dirt road through La Pine State Park. Yeargain usually starts training for the racing season in mid-October, or when the weather is consistently cold. Running on dirt trails helps the dogs get conditioned for the snow, as well as letting them work on passing, train as lead dogs and learn other behaviors that turn these dogs into competitive racers.
Karen Yeargain's harnessed sled dogs are eager to get started running through dirt roads and trails at La Pine State Park earlier this month. Yeargain ran 12-dog teams harnessed to carts and ATVs, which she's been doing for years as part of La Pine Mushing Weekend, in part to prepare for January's sled dog races in Chemult.
Karen Yeargain gives one of her dogs a treat while preparing a flavored water drink at a campground in La Pine State Park. This drink "Gatorade for dogs," Yeargain says provides calories prior to a run.
Karen Yeargain's dogs are ready to get started during La Pine Mushing Weekend's last day, Nov. 11. Yeargain's main line of sled dogs is a combination of dogs she's bred or bought from other racing kennels. She also fosters dogs from local shelters, training them to run while she looks for the right home. "A dog who has a job is often very content and less likely to be a problem for the owners," Yeargain said.
Karen Yeargain and Spencer Egbert chat as Egbert controls the 12-dog team from the back of the cart. Egbert, of Bend, started as a student of Yeargain's, doing chores around the kennel and learning how to mush.
The sled dogs relax after finishing a 6.5-mile loop through the trails. Yeargain recommends anyone interested in sled dog running, or skijoring, come out to watch the races or sign up for classes, which she offers in the spring. For more information, visit Yeargain's website, www.tumnatkisiberians.com.