Versatile Racer - Versatile Kennel
Windy Creek Kennel
Grand Rapids, MN
Tell us about your family:
I am the middle of five children. I grew up in Forest Lake, Minnesota. My
longtime girlfriend and kennel partner, Gwen Holdman, and I just got married April 29th.
What clubs or organizations do you belong to:
Member Kotzebue Dog Mushers, Ma-Mow-We-Tak, and ADMA.
What is your primary sled dog activity or area of
I race everything from sprints to long distance. I also give guided
dogsled tours on a glacier in the summer.
How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
More or less my whole life.
What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
My parents had a few Malamutes that pulled me around the yard. I really loved dog
mushing and it's just grown from there.
If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell
us about it.
My father let me drive the sled on a trip in the Boundary Waters and I smacked it
into a tree and shattered the brushbow.
Who have been your mentors?
I have handled for many different mushers but I would say my mentor was Arleigh
What size kennel do you operate?
We are now up to 75 dogs.
What type of tether/bowl system do you use?
Pipe in the ground with a swivel arm attached. For cans we just screw a coffee
can to their houses.
What are the most important considerations in housing sled dogs?
Dry bedding and a long enough chain where they can run in a complete, full circle around
their house for a little exercise.
Give us an overview of your feeding program.
We feed Redpaw and
supplement with beef or beef race mix in the winter.
What breed(s) do you work with?
What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
I like smaller dogs around 45 pounds with smooth gaits. They seem to hold up best and have
a higher cruising speed, even though you may sacrifice some raw power.
What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
None, I deal with whatever quirks they may have. I have bought a lot of dogs with
"attitude" problems and have always been able to work with them. I focus more on
their physical talent. If they don't have the physical talent to do what you're asking
them to do, then you don't have anything to work with.
Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two.
Izzy is probably my all-time favorite. She is quite a character. She would never quit even
though she was a picky eater and sometimes got a bit run-down in races. At home she comes
in the house and is a clepto-maniac. She steals things and hides them. She rarely chews
things up but just likes to claim them for her own. She was my leader the year I won
Yellowknife and pulled me through a pretty wicked storm in single lead my rookie year in Iditarod.
What criteria do you use for selecting breeding stock?
It's a bit of a guessing game until you breed a line a few times and see what it tends to
throw. Once you see consistent traits being thrown, then you have something to work with.
You can then cross it to other lines to produce the type of dog you want. There's so much
into making a good dog; build, gait, appetite, etc. It also depends on what type of racing
I'm breeding the dog for. I try to breed for an all-around, versatile dog but I know
sometimes if I do a certain breeding, the offspring will most likely be, say strictly
sprint dogs or strictly distance dogs. Of anything though, I try to focus on physical
talent more than anything.
Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
No, and I really caution against this because puppies grow at different rates and run
according to what stage they're in. One month they look smooth and fast, then they hit a
growth spurt and are all disproportionate and awkward. It's easy to judge puppies harshly
but I don't think it's fair to make any firm decisions until they're over a year old.
What method do you use for starting pups?
We just put them in a small team with calm adults and go very slowly and controlled.
What is the most important thing you look for in a young dog?
At what point do you decide a youngster is likely to make it in your team?
Sometimes they don't make until late in their two-year old year.
What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
We try to have dogs that can do it all. I know we will never be really competitive at the
fastest of sprint races but we seem to be able to hang in there in longer--tough sprints
like 25 miles and longer. We also are really starting to focus on Iditarod now. But we
support ourselves through race winnings. We don't have any major sponsors. We try to hit
as many races as possible, but we have learned that it's sometimes best to forego lesser
important races in order to peak for the major ones.
Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
I try to always train for the first major race, which has been
Wyoming or Oregon the last three years. We train
the team for that and then adjust their speed/gait afterward according to which major race
we hit next. Usually we take a group and slow them down for Iditarod and take the other
group and speed them up for sprint races.
What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
Getting them physically prepared for what you're going to ask them to do in the race.
Going into a race under-trained usually turns ugly.
What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
Four-wheeler and the track on our sled.
How do you choose which races to enter?
We try and figure out where we can make the most money, both short-term in race winnings
and long-term for kennel exposure.
What are your strengths as a racer?
Having an eye for choosing the right dogs and preparing them physically and mentally for
what they're about to endure in the race.
What do you consider your weaknesses, if any?
Money, of course. Sometimes our team isn't always ideally trained for each race we enter
because we switch around so much. Like I don't think we've ever really had an
ideally-trained Iditarod team. We have to race hard in preliminary races just to raise the
money to run Iditarod. We're usually patching together a mish-mash of dogs by the time
Iditarod rolls around. There's not enough time after Wyoming to train the dogs perfectly
for Iditarod, but Wyoming has been such a good money-maker for us the last few years.
Another weakness of mine is that I may be too conservative at the start of races. I'm
still not sure about this but I sometimes get beat by more aggressive starters.
Do you having a mushing career goal?
We would like to win the Iditarod but still be competitive at all styles of racing. We
love to travel and race.
What does it take to win?
A good, healthy working relationship with your dogs, physically talented dogs who are
trained and conditioned properly for the type of event they're going to run, and
experience. You learn best about racing by racing.
What is your vision of the future of sled dog sports?
I like the way it's growing. I don't want to see any style predominate the other because
sprinters can learn from distance mushers and vice versa. It keeps our sport strong to
have varied styles of racing. People say stage racing is the future, but I don't think
anything will ever top Iditarod. Iditarod is such a hingepin for our sport. I hate to say
it, but I deal with a lot of the public all summer long. 90% of the folks we give dog
rides to have all heard about the Iditarod, but very few have ever heard of any other
style of racing. Iditarod needs to stay strong and keep gaining exposure. It helps keep
other styles of racing strong too. The children who follow Iditarod today in their
classrooms will be the future CEO's who sponsor a local sprint or stage race in their
town. It does work the other way too. The exposure the ATTA-Boy race and Wyoming have
given to dog mushing in their areas have probably helped get more people to follow the
Iditarod. But for now, Iditarod is the big one.
What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
I think it's important to be professional and a bit image-conscious. I know Gwen and I
have lacked a bit in that category before, but if mushers, even the back-of-the-packers,
look and act like professionals it gives our sport more credence and credibility.
What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
I don't have a great answer for this one. I haven't been as active in clubs and
organizations as I probably should be.
What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Get into it slowly. Try to handle for several different mushers doing different styles of
mushing first. Once you figure out what type of dog you want to get into ,you should shell
out the money and get good stock. It's a big investment that will pay dividends later. I
think success in dog racing starts with having good dogs. That's your foundation.
Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog
The first year I went to Yellowknife I was scared stiff. Lots of Alaskan drivers went over
there and came back with their tails tucked between their legs. They had lots of horror
stories to tell. I studied the race times and figured I had a team that could compete. It
was a long drive, about 2000 miles. I was on spring break from college and had to drive
straight there and straight back, by myself, to get back for school. We did the drive in
two and a half days. The first day of the race I took it easy and was ninth. The next day
I decided to try Izzy up in lead and we won. That was such a memorable experience, passing
Richard Beck, then Raymond Beck and breaking into the lead on the second day. There were
helicopters above filming the race and I felt like a champ. No one knew who I was. The
last day I was second place and wound up fourth overall. I made money on that trip and
that's what started our lifestyle of traveling across the country to races every year.
Visit Ken and Gwen at
Windy Creek Kennel
on the Web
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