Continuums and Musical Tugs

When I first started mushing, I had this picture in my head of how it would go: We would start training and then at some point POOF my dogs, along with every single moment of every run, would be utter flawless perfection.

I think I’ve posted enough bloopers to drive home the point of how romanticized and unrealistic that was. One of many things I am learning is that while overall we are making forward progress along a continuum (with No Idea What I’m Doing on one end and We Could Not Be Any More Perfect on the other), our position at any given time is really more like a region of space-time than a precise You Are Here GPS coordinate. On any given run we might be anywhere within that mini-continuum. You are here… ish.

Part of the reason I post those bloopers is that as a novice it’s all too easy to feel like everyone else is charging off towards perfection, artfully dodging ON BY the snags you get tangled in along the way. Since I am far too old for self-consciousness anymore I sincerely hope some other budding mushbabies can see our gaffes and take heart: You’re not the only one who’s not perfect. Sometimes we all just have to muddle through the best we can, and we’re not always going to do it gracefully, but you’ll get there. Even if it feels like your here-ish is inching along painfully slowly, it IS moving. I promise you. And here is how I know:

Recently we’ve been getting a lot of scootering in despite our rainy May. Aside from the rain, the weather has been relatively nice and staying cool. And a couple of things have happened consistently over the last few weeks that have made me realize that this spring our here-ish has packed up its bags and moved up the road a tiny bit.

The first is this scenario: Somewhere ahead of us, one or more deer cross the trail. Too far away to immediately zig-zag after, but close enough to mentally mark the exact place they appeared from and disappeared back into the woods. This lights a fire under Squash; he gallops along enthusiastically until we get to that spot and then… keeps galloping right ON BY. Without even a pause. Which is what he is supposed to do, but in a previous here-ish he would have tried to veer off into the woods after them (and in fact did, many times). The first time this scenario played out, I let out the breath I’d been holding and thought to myself “well, that could have been worse.” The second time I choked back the kernel of pride trying to blossom in my bosom and thought to myself, “is it… is it possible that this wasn’t a fluke?” Then when it happened again today, I thought to myself, “Whoa. They really just did that. Again. Again!

The second is this scenario: We spend most of our time on packed dirt trails, but they don’t all connect and aren’t that long and to get between them we have to cut across some of the side roads. We are on one of these side roads (usually on Picnic Island for those of you who know Ft. Snelling State Park) when I see a car approaching. As I always do, I tell the dogs “Gee (or Haw, depending) Over!” to pull off to the side, then “Whoa!” and “Wait!” until the car passes, then we start up again. Several times in a row, now, this sequence of events has taken place seamlessly with verbal commands only. I haven’t had to step off the scooter, I haven’t had to grab onto any lines or harnesses. They pull over, they stop, they wait, they go. It’s like some kind of beautiful ballet. And it makes me so proud of them.

On a completely unrelated topic, some of you may remember that last year I switched up my tugs a little so that Maisy was positioned just a hair behind Squash to help compensate for their size difference. It works beautifully when Squash is working hard, but when he’s not we end up with a lot of this:

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Maisy doing all the work, and slack in Slacky McSlackerton’s line. This spring it’s been frustratingly consistent, which makes me pause and think about whether there is some physical issue going on. The way he gallops after deer and around the backyard, as well as the fact that this has been an issue of varying degree since… well, forever… makes me think probably not, but just in case the dogs both have an evaluation scheduled with a veterinary physical therapist in a week or so just to make sure everything is ship-shape with them.

In the meantime, I decided to swap their tugs around so Maisy has the longer one and Squash the shorter one so he just doesn’t have the option of slack. I just thought of it today, so only one run, but it actually worked quite well.

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There’s even a little Maisy slack here.

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So I’m excited to continue this set up and see how things shake out with the distribution of work. I’m also excited to see what the physical therapist has to say about them (aside from the fact that they each still have a few winter pounds to shed) and will try to retain enough information from that visit to make a coherent report.

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