Press release provided by Ivana Nolke, October 9, 2003
Events that occurred during the 2003 Iditarod resulted in a "rethinking" of what constitutes a well designed sleddog harness for long distance racing. During the race three time Iditarod champion Jeff King and his daughter Cali created quite a stir by using a totally different kind of harness than the standard x-back or h-back harness for their dogs. What they both were testing was the Guard Harness (the European skijor harness).
In the 2003 Iditarod Jeff King arrived in White Mountain with 12 dogs, his highest number ever. Further up the trail, his daughter Cali still had 14 dogs in harness, the largest team left in the race. King credits the low attrition to a lack of injuries to his dogs. He is certain the reduced rate of injury was due to the use of the Guard Harness which pulls from further up by the shoulders, rather than from the rear. Unlike other harnesses, it only reaches half way down the dog's back, and eliminates the pressure a standard harness puts on the dog's hips (a common "sore spot" for distance dogs). Because the harness puts less downward pressure on the dog's hindquarters, it helps to eliminate ankle problems in the rear legs. In addition the harness design also reduces the occurrence of shoulder and wrist injuries.
The Long Distance Harness's point of attachment can rotate freely around the animal's torso. Thus, once the team starts pulling, the harnesses of dogs on the right side of the gangline roll to the left, closer to the gangline, making dogs run straighter. The opposite occurs with dogs on the left side of the gangline. The harness with it's floating tugline connection allows the dog to run without crabbing outward. Crabbing is often a cause for a front leg, wrist and shoulder injury. A wrist injury is the most common injury that takes dogs out of a long distance race. Dogs also tend to trot more with these harnesses on.
The use of this harness during the 2003 Iditarod was a great success. The Long Distance Harness design has great potential in long distance mushing and has attracted a lot of attention from the long distance community.
This past summer a few changes were made to the original Guard Harness to make it more suitable for distance racing and out of these changes the new Long Distance Harness was born. Howling Dog Pet & Mushing Supplies worked closely with Jeff King on making those new improvements. The final product is now available for everyone to try out! The new harness can be purchased at Howling Dog Pet & Mushing Supplies at http://howlingdogalaska.com/ (907-488-5341)
A quote from Jeff King at Eagle Island during the 2003 Iditarod:
I am confident I have some dogs in this team that would not have made it here without them (the harnesses).
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