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Meet Sprint Musher Nicole Whitlock

Name: Nicole Whitlock
Kennel Name: WinterStar Racing Huskies
Birthplace: Westminster, CO
Home Town:
Bailey, CO
Occupation: Freshman in High School

Introduction:
Hi, I’m Nicole Whitlock, a 14 year old freshman at Platte Canyon High School. I live in the Rocky Mountains with 25 sled dogs, 2 horses, my Mom, my Stepdad, and my little sister. I run in the four dog class for now, but hope to someday work my way up to mid-distance. I love all sports. I belong to the Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club, The Colorado Mountain Mushers, and ISDRA.

Background:

What is your primary sled dog activity or area of interest? How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
I have been racing sled dogs competitively for four years, but ever since I was little I can remember riding in a wagon to school with three Mals hooked up in front.

What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
I really got into the sport when, my Mom and Stepdad met (that is when my Mom started racing). I got bored freezing my butt off in the car so I decided to freeze my butt off while going 20 miles an hour behind a maniac team of Alaskan Huskies.

If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell us about it.
I remember my first time behind a team, it was at a race in Frisco, Colorado. It has to have been the worst racing experience of my life (so far). I think I spent at least half of the race on my stomach, dangling off the tipped over sled behind a team of slow Sibes, wondering how anyone could go out on the trail and come back alive.

Kennel Management:

What size kennel do you operate?
I manage a 25 dog kennel alone 60% of the time, though only five of these dogs are mine.

Give us an overview of your feeding program.
My feeding routine is to let approximately five dogs out at a time to run around for exercise while I pick up their kennels, give them fresh water, do any other kennel maintenance (filling in holes, etc.), then give them all pets and kisses on the nose. Then I let the next five dogs out and so on. After every dog has run, I feed them. We have a table in the middle of our exercise yard, so we dish their food out of large buckets into bowls for each of the dogs.

What advice would you give a beginning musher?
I have a lot of feeding advice that I would give to a beginning musher regarding feeding and stomach torsion. First always let the dogs run before you feed them, or once you've fed them wait for at least a couple hours to let them run. If you don’t, your dogs will be at risk to get stomach torsion, and only 10% or fewer of all dogs that get stomach torsion survive.

Other ways to avoid stomach torsion are to soak, your dogs’ food in water for half an hour before feeding it to them, so the food doesn't expand in their stomachs. Also add more water to the pre-soaked food when you give the food to them (not only will this keep the dogs from eating too fast, but it will help the dogs avoid getting dehydrated). The reason I know about torsion is because I almost lost one of my wheel dogs to it last year. Luckily, we were loading the dogs in the truck and noticed the odd way he was acting and got him to the vet right away.

Summarize your basic kennel management style.
Even though kennel chores are kind of a drag, never go out there with a bad attitude. The dogs can feel your emotions, and if you mistreat them, I feel that they don't perform as well in the kennels or on the race course. They also don’t give you the respect and affection a dog that is treated well will. I feel that there is nothing more rewarding then to have 25 dogs totally adore and cherish you.

The Dogs:

What breed(s) do you work with?
I work with the Alaskan Husky breed (although my Mom and Stepdad race Siberians).

What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
The physical characteristics I look for in this breed are deep chest cavities, long legs, and a narrow, aerodynamic body structure. I prefer not to get de-barked dogs simply because if the de-bark is not completely successful it could cause breathing problems and if your dog can't breathe, it can't run!!

What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
Mental and emotional characteristics I look for in Alaskan Huskies is that they not be too smart so they don't sit on the trail trying to figure out how to ditch you or to get in trouble--they will completely focus on running. Never get a dog that's vicious, even if you think it’s the fastest dog in the world. When you're behind a dog team you want to be able to depend on and trust every dog on that team. If a dog is vicious, that means it trusts no one and if it doesn't trust you, then you can't trust the dog.

Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two:
My all time favorite dog has to be my leader, Sequoia. When she first came to my house from her original owner, Terri Newberg, she didn't know me. She was so frightened, I was convinced if I got close to her she was gonna nab one of my fingers off, but I decided to give her a try. I spent endless hours in the kennels trying to get her to warm up to me. Now we have a bond of trust. She is definitely my dog (as my parents put it) and I'm not the person who needs to worry about her taking my finger off anymore--if anyone ever tried to hurt me, she would put an end to that.

The Future:

What is the future of sled dog sports?
I believe the future of the sled dog racing sport is to become a competitive Olympic sport. This year my goal is to go for an ISDRA medal.

What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
People should promote this sport. They should let people know that this sport is not in any way harmful or cruel to dogs. In fact, I believe it is a lot more decent and beneficial to a dog than letting a dog bred for working, lay on the back porch and do nothing, get no exercise and get fat.

Anecdote:

Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog experiences.
My most memorable race was my first time going out behind my team of Alaskans. I was thinking, oh my gosh, I'm gonna die! Then on the trail every thing went excitingly fast, but smooth. When I came in I thought I did it, I really did it!!!

Comments:

Any final comments about sled dog sports?
Sled dog racing might not be for everyone, but if it's for you, if it hasn't already, it will soon turn into the light of your life!!!!

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