Rest matters

A gang of Alaska sled dogs catching some Zs/

A gang of Alaska sled dogs catching some Zs/Julie St. Louis, August Fund

Tired Iditarod dogs could be seen to look ‘exhausted’

Yet again, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has a public relations problem because people have noticed the esoteric little race across the least peopled parts of far-off Alaska.

This is the danger of asking to be noticed. It’s great if people see you the way you want them to see you, but it can be the opposite if they see your imperfections.

At this moment, Iditarod is under fire for pushing the idea that it has been pushing for several years now that the “Last Great Race,” as it bills itself is, “all about the dogs.”

Due to exhausted-looking dogs at this year’s finish, the race is being hoist upon its own petard as the old playwright William Shakespeare put it long ago.

“‘Tis the sport to have the enginer hoist with his own petard,” he wrote in Hamlet, which means, according to Oliver Tearle, an English doctor of English, that it would be “good to see the schemer (i.e. Claudius, Hamlet’s villainous uncle) defeated by his own scheme. Hamlet’s metaphor is military in flavor: an ‘enginer’ (similar to ‘engineer’) is a maker of engines, including bombs, so the sentiment is that a maker of bombs would end up being blown up by his own bomb.”

The Iditarod lit the fuse on its own bomb with the “all about the dogs” claim when really the race, like any other race, is mainly about winning. The people who are “all about the dogs” don’t win the Iditarod.

They enjoy an interesting, 1,000-mile trek across the wilds of Alaska with their best friends. They are doing the Iditarod.

Doing the Iditarod and actually competing in the Iditarod is the difference between a pleasant, summer hike to the top of Seward’s Mount Marathon and hanging it out there in the Mount Marathon Race, which always leaves people dirty and exhausted, regularly leaves some bloody, annually sends some to the hospital, and has resulted in the death of one. 

The only difference – and it’s a big one – is that the 1,000-mile Iditarod is the 3.1-mile Mount Marathon times 322.58. Whether the dogs in the racing teams enjoy going to Nome more or less than the dogs in the trekking teams, however, only the dogs know.

None of which is going to stop any human from passing judgment on what he or she thinks the dogs know.

Sara Oliver, a “content provider” as propagandists are sometimes now called, for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims her organization has “damning footage of the 2023 Iditarod winner, Ryan Redington, dragging his visibly exhausted dogs during the race.”

The dog team in the video is definitely having problems finding the trail. The dogs clearly are tired. And Redington does go to the front of the team and pull them here and there to guide them back on the trail.

Whether they are “exhausted” is something Oliver has no way of knowing, and the veterinarians who looked the team over in the White Mountain checkpoint didn’t think so.

Still, from the outside looking in through the eyes of the average American, about 80 percent of whom are today urban residents, the video might look a little like the Bataan Death March, sans the execution of the stragglers, and you don’t take your best friends on a Bataan Death March.

Just to be clear, before going further, the Iditarod is not at all like the infamous death march. The dogs that fall off the pace are not shot because of their failure to keep up; they are dropped at checkpoints along the trail where they are generally well cared for and, if necessary and in some cases it is, nursed back to good health.

That said, the Iditarod is not the “all about the dogs” fido lovefest it has tried to make of itself in recent years. It is, at the competitive level, a very, very demanding race for man (or woman) and beasts.

Eyes of the world

Any demanding competition involving animals is obviously never going to sit well with the progressives of the animal-rights world who think everyone should treat their dogs as members of the family, vegan members preferably, and not just “companion animals” or, God forbid, “pets.”

But there are some simple, old dog lovers – some of them even mushers or the spouses of mushers – who have long been troubled by the sight of dogs being pulled into and out of checkpoints along the Bering Sea coast about 700 miles into the Iditarod race.

A lot of dogs are tired by that point and sometimes need some help getting going. Someone just now discovering this aspect of Iditarod is akin to someone just now discovering that stock cars regularly crash in NASCAR  races.

Stock cars have been crashing in NASCAR races since the start, and so too with dogs being dragged out of coastal checkpoints.

The dogs in the teams truly racing are tired by the time they get to the coast because they’ve been running hard for days and, in many cases, getting too little rest. This takes a toll on any animal.

The handful of humans known to have abused themselves in human ultra-endurance events (you girls know who you are) will well understand what the author is talking about.

Sometimes it’s hard to get up and get moving again after the stiffness sets in during a rest stop, but you invariably feel better when you do. Still, you might on occasion need a bit of a kick in the pants to get going.

I confess to having had friends literally drag me back onto a trail or two, and I have, please forgive me, been known to drag others. One friend and I once feared we’d killed a dragee on an attempted one-day march across the North Slope of Alaska from the HulaHula River to the village of Kaktovik.

He was lagging all day, and when we stopped for a break to cook some hot soup and drinks he passed out or fell asleep (it was impossible to tell which) in a small creek while we were firing up the stove.

Given how quickly this happened, we thought for a minute he might have died, but we managed to rouse him, thankfully, and death march him to the shores of Kaktovik Lagoon where we gave up for the day and made camp.

A good night’s rest helped our dragee, but not all that much. When pushed too far, recovery becomes hard for both humans and dogs, a subject we’ll get into deeper shortly.

In this particular case, if there’d been a checkpoint, we would happily have dropped our companion. But there was no checkpoint, so we paddled our packrafts across the lagoon, deflated them, packed them up and endured a dreadfully slow hike across Barter Island to Kaktovik because he hadn’t recovered all that much.

It was a little like the 60-percent trudge of Ryan Redington’s dog team from White Mountain to the Iditarod finish line. The 11 mph runners he’d been riding behind at the start were worn down to 6.5 mph joggeres for the final 80 miles.

I can personally attest to the validity of the old mushing observations that “a team is only as fast as the slowest dog,” and I can add that nursing that slow dog along by cutting the pace of travel almost in half can’t be much fun for the faster dogs.

I can’t know for a fact that dogs think the way we humans do, but having witnessed the final miles of a bunch of Iditarods, it has always seemed to me that the dogs still in good shape at that point, especially those which have been to Nome before, sense that the finish line is near and want to get there as fast as possible.

Iditarod critics would, admittedly, never understand this any more than your average Iditarod “fan” who tends to be as disconnected from reality as your average animal-rights activist.

Idiot-rod fans

The fans like to believe every second of Iditarod is nothing but fun for the dogs. That’s delusional. The Iditarod is a difficult endurance event that puts a heavy demand on the canine particpants.

The demands are written in the numbers. The top-10 teams average 10.57 mph on the first leg of the trial Yentna, and they were down to 7.59 mph on the penultimate leg from White Mountain to safety, according to the Iditarod’s data.

The trail crosses the Topkok Hills between the latter two checkpoints. So it is more difficult than the relatively flat river. Plus the legs is a little longer, but those sorts of speed losses as the the team of fifth place finisher Jesse Holmes would attest.

His team did 10.37 mph from Willow to Yentna, and 9.43 mph from White Mountain to Safety. That 9 percent difference can probably be attributed to the terrain. (More on Holmes and his race later).

Terrain doesn’t explain Mille Porsild’s team which went from 10.33 mph at the start to 6.09 mph from White Mountain to Safety.

“Shih Tzus can run at an average dog speed of 6 mph,” according ot the Canine Bible. Shih Tzus are 9- to 16-pound Chinese lap dogs.

Porsild’s 69 percent drop in speed is the sign of a team with the wheels coming off, and things just got worse after Safety. The team’s speed from there up and over Cape Nome to the finish line was 3.61 mph.

Redington’s 5.74 mph average for that last leg is blistering by comparison. The word “exhausted” would be better applied to her team than to Redington’s.

Who knows how the dogs felt about it.

State of mind

Anyone who has done any kind of human endurance racing will tell you, no matter how much they love endurance racing, there are high moments when everything feels great and low moments that you just try to struggle through in the hope things will get better.

Jacques Boutet – an Anchorage cyclist, runner, paddler, climber and more – used to joke about it by describing a runner caught by the French Foreign Legion while crossing a desert and subjected to torture.

When the torture stopped and the Legionnaires told the runner to speak, his only words were “how far to the next checkpoint?”

Every honest dog driver I’ve ever talked to has admitted watching Iditaord dogs go through much the same ups and downs that humans do. More than one winner has talked about what a miraculous experience it is to watch a team that in the midst of the race, for inexplicable reasons, seems to get stronger and stronge instead of weaker.

The former champions all know that if they could bottle that and serve it as an elixir before every race, they’d win them all. But you can’t bottle it.

Which now directs his discussion back to the Iditarod of 2002.

Big Lake’s Martin Buser, a three-time Iditarod champ, that year set a record time of 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds. Twenty-one years later, it remains a very fast time.

It would have put Buser third this year, about an hour and 40 minutes behind Redington and only 10 minutes behind runner-up Peter Kaiser, the 2019 race winner.

Had the Buser of 2002 been in the race of 2023, it would have made for a damn exciting finish given that Buser’s 2002 team closed on Nome at an average speed of more than 9.3 mph. 

Compare that to the barely over 6.8 mph Redington was doing on the final leg to the finish this year. Kaiser, who was doing just under 8.9 mph, made up almost three hours on the leader in the 80 miles between the penultimate and mandatory rest checkpoint of White Mountain and the Nome finish line.

Think of how much faster Kaiser might have gone if pushed by a team like that of Buser in 2002 or, for that matter, this year’s team of Holmes.

Holmes provides a textbook example of the difference rest makes. He led the race out of the halfway point at Iditarod this year only to sputter on the Yukon River before recognizing he was pushing his team too hard.


He subsequently shut the dogs down for a nearly five-and-a-half-hours in Kaltag – about an hour more than Redington – as the race turned toward the coast, and then decided that wasn’t enough and shut them down for a long time again on the Kaltag Portage to Unalakleet.

His team spent at least another five hours resting somewhere along that 85-mile stretch of trail heading out from Kaltag to the coast, and he fell from among the race leaders to the 10th place musher.

His response was to give his team yet anoter five hour rest – an hour and 20 minutes more than race leader Redington.

In the process of doing all this resting, Holmes also got his team back, and they were again rolling .By the mandatory, 8-hour rest stop in White Mountain, he had moved up to sixth and his team was getting faster rather than slower.

He’d easily wipe out Kelly Maixner’s better-than-two-hour White Mountain advantage on the way to Nome, take a big bite out of the four-hour lead of Matt Hall in front of Maixner, though Holmes couldn’t catch the latter, and finish behind a team smartly trotting down Front Street rather than a team looking very tired if not exhausted.

This a much better look for Iditarod than worn-out dogs wandering into town and then almost falling asleep on the podium. This is also the look the eight-hour mandatory rest requirement at White Mountain was supposed to ensure.

Mandating rest

There are, admittedly, those in the world of endurance sports who would argue that success is measured by pushing to the point where you cross the finish line with a completely empty tank of gas, but even in motorsports, drivers try to leave at least enough fuel in the take for some sort of victory celebration if only a tire burnout.

So what to do to fix this vis-a-vis the Iditarod?

For years, Iditarod has tried to deal with the issue with race-ordered rests. The 24-hour stop came first, then a requirement for a four-hour pause in White Mountain.

When that proved too short for some teams to fully bounce back, the time was extended to eight hours. In 1983, prior to that jump eight hours, front-running, veteran musher Terry Adkins from Montana famously had to have his team flown out of the Topkok Hills after they quit on him, and he couldn’t get them going again.

Along with doubling the rest stop in White Moutain years after that, another rule was written later still requiring a mandatory stop of eight hours at a checkpoint along the Yukon.

How much these mandatory stops benefit the dogs is hard to say. As some mushers, among them five-time champ Rick Swenson, have noted, adding mandatory rest stops sometimes only encourages mushers to cut rest to rush to their mandatories.

What would surely be better for the dogs is more rest distributed evenly over the race. This wouldn’t be hard to do, and almost everyone agrees rest times equal to run times are, at a minimum, much easier on the dogs.

Since Buser’s win 20 years ago, the Iditarod has pretty much been an eight and half to nine-day race unless weather slows it down. Iditarod could simply require a minium of four and a half days of rest on the trail before departure from White Mountain, where teams could be held to mee the minimum if they hadn’t done so.

The easiest way to implement as system like this would be to require mushers take their rests in checkpoints where they already sign in and sign out. This would have the added advantage of allowing veterinarians to get a good look at the dogs in each checkpoint and drug test them, which is something the Iditarod used to do with some regularity but has backed away from.

The downside to such a requirement is that it would encourage mushers to run their teams longer than they might want on the several sections of trail longer than a somewhat standard 6-hour run of 40 to 60 miles.

Since the teams are now all tracked by satellite while on the trail, a better solution might be to log moving times and stopped times in a computer, which would allow mushers to rest between checkpoints, which some prefer.

Then, however, one would have to trust the technology, and not everyone trusts the technology.

Whichever the case, dumping the existing mandatory stops in favor of a rest-time requirement would significally alter how the race is run.

Shaking things up in this way might make it more interesting, too, as mushers started trying to figure out what strategy most likley to achieve victory in an event that has become faster in recent years by going slower.

Tortoises and hares

When Buser first broke nine hours in 2002, he was towed up the Yentna River and into Skwentna by a team doing nearly 14 mph, and he wasn’t alone with such fast dogs.

Many mushers had them. The seven fastest teams in that race were doing over 13 mph on the first leg of the trail. But they were also resting a lot longer.

The rest helped their dogs preserve their speed. On the telltale, nonstop hop from Takotna along an old mining road that goes up and over a big hill to end in the now-deserted Ophir mining camp near halfway into the race, Buser’s team averaged better than 16.5 mph and the teams of Ramey Smyth, Jeff King, Jon Little, Mitch Seavey, Sonny Lindner, Swenson and more were even faster, according to Iditarod records. 

The fastest team to Ophir this year was that of Hunter Keefe; it clocked a 9.86 mph average.

The Iditarod has become a grind-it-out affair. Mushers have learned that they can go faster by slowing the pace at which they travel, but making up for that by taking rest away from the dogs.

No wonder five-time champ Dallas Seavey was so hot on hauling dogs in a tagalong trailer behind his dogsled to allow him to rotate rest for dogs in his team, a practice that ended when dog-hauling trailers were bannned.

As his dad, Mitch, a three-time champ, later described the dog-hauling strategy, it centered “around the run/rest rhythm employed by each team. Run a while, rest a while. Rest too much and you get left behind. Rest too little, your dogs get tired, you go too slow – and get left behind.

“Imagine this from the perspective of a dog near the bottom of the team roster for athleticism. Say her team is running six hours and resting five hours. This less athletic dog needs a little more rest, (or) she gets more tired as the race progresses. But, then I give her a ride in the sled for two hours. That gives her a full seven-hour rest and only a four-hour run. She feels like a new dog, and that may be the difference she needs.

“So, whether it was decisive or not, hauling dogs was a part of the six-year period when Iditarod winners were  (all) named Seavey.”

Doping might also have helped a little. A dog given tramadol, a drug found in Dalla’s dogs in 2018, would likely rest better, especially late in the race when even dogs start to get stiff and sore at times.

Tramadol – a synthetic, opiate-like pain killer – is a drug long favored by professional cyclists in their “finish bottles” of fluid, but is now banned. A  2021 pharmacological review of the drug’s use in that sport concluded it was unclear whether tramadol worked as a performance-enhancing drug but noted that “there is a wealth of literature on the effectiveness of tramadol in the therapy of musculoskeletal pain.”

Tramadol is generally considered to be less effective in dogs than in people, but any drug that relieves discomfort would make it easier for a dog to rest.

Mitch’s description of run six hours, rest five also pretty well defines where the Iditarod is at these days. There is no wonder so many dogs look so sleepy when they get to Nome.

Whether that is a good look is something Iditarod really needs to think about, but change is hard.
















18 replies »

  1. I saw dan kaduce finished – that is how you finish. Ryan Redington pushed his dogs too hard. I have seen both videos and have been a musher 30 years. Disgusting finish and sad.

    • Fair enough. But I’ve seen worse looking teams than Redington’s at the finish.

      Iditaord should have a requirement that coats come of the teams before the start of Front Street so people can get a look at the bags of bones, as some vets have described them, a few winners took to the finish line.

      Frankly, I’d be up for banning coats altogether, which might lead to Iditarod dogs with fur and looking more like the Alaska huskies the late Joe Redington said he wanted to help save when the race started. Go to this link – – and look at the photo of Emmitt Peters’s no-coats-required team on the ice outside of Koyuk at the bottom.

      There was a time when Iditarod dogs didn’t need coats becuase they had coats.

      • Ryan’s dogs were not wearing jackets when he finished and they looked great. All of his dogs ate at every checkpoint and at the finish, on camera. People talking about the dogs being pushed too hard when we all know you can’t make a husky do something it doesn’t want to, and judging because the dogs tried to go into the village on arrival at White Mountain instead of the checkpoint (with no scent to follow as the first team in), requiring endless redirection by the exhausted musher and finally a handler.. are being awfully snarky and sore losery.

  2. When I recently crutched up the two mile hill from a popular snorkeling spot, two young lasses came over to me and “prayed” on me-wishing Jesus would make me “whole.” If only the music in that video was playing in the background…

  3. If iditarod wants to fix the problem they would raise the purse by a factor of 10 and allow mushers and alaskans in general a say in the race . Alaskans lost their vote by an Iditarod board takeover.
    The board and ceo no longer allow any significant musher input like they did during buser/king/swingly era .

    Money attracts professionals and quality efforts with people who are aware and intelligent enough to analyze all aspects especially time speed rest efficiency. Dog care aspects.
    This put’s quality mushers into the spotlight as a better example.

    Notice this year mostly attracted problem mushers .
    From new champ ryan redington who for decades struggled with long distance races to jason mackey who struggles with frankly everything.

    Note – brent sass last years champ is known for poor dog survival rates , dragging teams , quitting teams and all manner of musher problems.

    Other champs within past 4 decades were known for fairly professional race efforts .

    The only quality driver among the top this year was pete kaiser . Money has allowed him to create a quality effort. Bethel his home area is a huge financial boon for local mushers . Note – pete and richie =# 2-3

    Top quality drivers have stepped away because Iditarod has consistently exhibited management issues.
    Rational people don’t involve themselves in an event that has such a low benefit ratio that also risks damaging their personal and kennel reputation. Thus you get people like ryan , sass , and other very inexperienced drivers trying to make their mark when they see a vacancy at the top.
    Which equates team over extension.

    Note that only one past champ entered Iditarod day one- sass . Another past champ reluctantly entered on effective last possible day – pete .

    Repeat Champions historically set decent examples regarding effective race strategy.

    Not one repeat champion entered this year. Thats a huge statement.
    The Iditarod lost its wiser front end over last 20 years due mismanagement and purse reductions.
    Intelligent drivers like joar , baker , zerkel , seavey, hans gatt , smyth, buser , king, burmeister ect ect no longer focus on the event because Iditarod has mistreated the mushers both publicly , purse , and foolish private decisions.

    Arguably the most professional driver Dallas seavey( possibly best driver the world has ever seen who completely understands time rest benefit cost efforts and has never been seen dragging a team or having a team quit or even having a dog die) can’t afford the low benefit ratio so he leased his team to hungry and low knowledge driver kelle maixner.
    This equates recipe for messy finishes .

    It’s worth noting many many drivers have raced far harder up the coast with teams that looked far better than ryans .

    Ryans unsuccessful quest to break the record on a perfect weather year was not successful because he doesn’t have team management skill of past top drivers.

    I suspect Ryan skipped elim rest when he had no competitive pressure because he wanted a record.
    He foolishly gambled and put himself reaching white mountain after noon in full sun . A guarantee of a struggling team.

    Its not just about rest . It’s about creating a quality team and strategy. That takes an event that shows enough of a future and purse that it attracts quality dog mushers who build strong teams over a long period . Not just success hungry mushers.
    Which is what the top 10 was this year.
    Inexperienced hungry mushers racing for minimal tightened rewards.

    Anyone with a brain cell could expect problems when you create this situational mix regardless of rest rules.

    Pete kaiser was the only exception and he almost didn’t race because the cost benefit ratio is so poor in iditarod . Fewer and fewer decent drivers want to risk it .
    Even pete and Richie- arguably two of better current diminished drivers are on the edge regarding running Iditarod as a career.
    Both are close to stepping away .
    Due low benefit ratio. Despite their extremely young age.

    Low purses attract a different class of driver

    That said the fight between rest and marching has gone since time immemorial during hard efforts
    Note lenord seppala a rest advocate versus iron man jhonson during nome sweepstakes’s races that had significant winnings at place as well as world wide gambling pressures.

    Stu Nelson is documented as having forced iditarod mushers to start with limited dog numbers/ 14 which causes each dog to do more work on a percentage basis and when things don’t go perfectly it puts undue stress on remaining team members. Its all about energy expenditure and timing.
    Ryan and multiple drivers were pushed to low dog numbers. 6 dogs to finish.

    Any guess on how hard it would be for 6 dogs to pull you over the topkocks with current cold glideless coastal snow of 2023
    versus flat warm snow of the willow to finger lake run ?
    Similar speeds will not happen period for most teams
    Ryan had 14 dogs at start only 6 at finish
    = about 18# per dog at start on a flat trail
    = about 40# per dog on a hilly glideless trail.
    Aka sandpaper snow
    It would take extreme strong dogs to have equal run times with variables like that .
    It would take dogs with minds of steel to happily toil with that weight snow resistance ratio.
    Some dogs do . Apparently Ryans didn’t.
    Allowing larger start teams would help suggest larger finish teams . Larger start teams are a positive to make team efforts reduced.
    If anyone wants to make iditarod dogs job easier they will write a petition letter to Iditarod board to get larger start team numbers allowed. Plus kick dishonest tyrant stew Nelson out of his position.
    This gives mushers larger leeway to make better dog care decisions as it inherently makes a lighter load from the start and allows more dogs to be sent home yet still have significant team numbers.
    Two more dogs in ryans team would have made a huge impact on the energy demands of the team as a whole.
    It also would have made him feel safe to drop any dog at any time yet not risk his ability to finish.
    He wasn’t the only musher with low dog numbers.
    Which isn’t inherently bad if everything going perfectly.
    It wasn’t for Ryan or multiple top finishers imo
    I heard stu Nelson kicked his most experienced race vet out of Iditarod/ kim
    So of course inexperienced vets are going to think Ryans team looked fine

    • This Pirate Dread Roberts guy may or may not have valid points, but I wonder why with all that knowledge and insight why he doesn’t use his real name or enter as a musher himself?

      • Wayne – #1 ask the same of benjamin franklin – repercussions.
        #2 names tend to reduce the logical analysis of the information itself.
        #3 cost benefit ratio
        #4 we cant all race at an elite level but we can all think.

        I like your first sentence segment.
        May or maynot have valid points.

        Without a name involved some times it’s easier to be emotionally distant from the information or thought so a person can be a little more pragmatic.

        Pen names serve many odd purposes

        Have a great day wayne .

    • Hard to disagree with a lot of that. Cold, slow snow does significantly change things as does warm, fast snow. Speeds up the Yukon River this year, it should be noted, were significantly faster than what I would have expected.

      The fastest average speed into Eagle Islands was 10.33 mph. Nobody topped 10 in 2019, the last time the southern route was run. And the differences from Eagle to Kaltag were even bigger: Top average speed this year, 7.93 mph; Top average speed in 2019, 6.51 mph.

      And the latter, it must be added, was way back in the field when the trail clearly got better. The 6 mph speeds started showing up there. The race leaders, on the other hand, generally posted 4.5 to 5.5 mph.

      Now with all of that said, let’s consider the 2023 case of Iditarod veteran Ramey Smyth, a pretty conservative driver who signed on for Iditarod late this year and hit the trail with a team that was reported to be less than his best. That showed early. His average speed to Yentna was 9.88 mph.

      All the top dogs were posting speeds over 10 mph with eventual race winner Ryan Redington, Jessie Royer, Eddie Burke Jr., and Dan Kaduce over 11mph, and defending champ Brent Sass at 12 mph. Eventual runner-up Pete Kaiser went out pretty conservatively at 10.24 mph. Number three Richie Diehl was at 10.96.

      Smyth was near the back half of the field for much of the race, but managed to finish 19th, only a couple of positions behind Nic Pettit, who led the race out of Ophir. Petit went hard early, overcooked ’em, had to back off, but did get the team back toward the end.

      Smyth, on the other hand ran a pretty consistent race, and posted a 7.91 mph average from White Mountain to Safety. That’s a loss of about 20 percent of team speed – about half of the loss in speed Redington experienced.

      To put this into terms the average runner can understand, Smyth’s dogs were still running at a seven-and-a-half minute per mile pace at the end while Redington’s were down to a nine-minute per mile jog.

      Rest matters.

      Whether more dogs would have helped Redington or any of the other front runners or just made them push harder and end up with the same slow down on the coast is hard to say, but as someone who covered the Iditarod when it was still a 20-dog race, I can remember the wheels coming off a lot of dogs on the coast back in the 20-dog days.

      And there were, and are, always trade offs. A fair number of mushers back in the day couldn’t control a 20-dog team; tending 20 dogs took a much bigger toll on the musher than booting, feeding, watering and bedding 70 percent as many; and the more dogs that get dropped along the trail the higher Iditarod costs climb for tending the dropped dogs in checkpoints and flying them out.

      Given the cost of dogfood these days, I’ve sometimes wondered if Iditarod shouldn’t go down to 12 dogs to make the race more accessible to more poeople rather than increasing the number of dogs.

      • Mr Medred –
        Very accurate fair points on your post here and other areas.
        I even mostly agree with your analysis of smyth.
        It looked like he struggled with multiple issues but it was clear he didn’t enter for competition sake .

        I don’t agree with pushing for fewer dog start numbers on the concept of a lower number helps a lower budget. Its a massive misconception.

        Martin buser would have been a 1-2 time champ under such conditions. Due to his weight. Many of his wins were with 20 dogs if the limit was 12 dogs hes then edged out . Same with swensen . Both top dog care people.

        The weird catch -22
        Lower start numbers require a more perfect (each dog must be a super hero as each member is exponentially more important regarding an engine as you reduce dog numbers ) team as there is only 14/12 ect . As well as the team must be far fitter because the energy effort ratio becomes a problem after dropping to 12 dogs . This means every dog must be near super dog . ( 12 dogs must be far tougher as they are doing 10-20% more work than 16.
        Which pushes for doping pre race and during race. =$
        Which means the team must be trained harder pre race which requires a larger kennel pool. Which mean dog farms and handlers =$
        When each dog must be a super hero it means dog farming searching for those perfect genetics= $
        Each dog must be a prime age which requires a dog farm =$
        This eliminates any chance for small/ underfunded kennels and large people.
        The seaveys said this themselves and it prooved true .
        Look up danny a great analyist perspective from years ago when he predicted the issues.
        Seaveys despite their foibles are generally frank pragmatic and often honest. Like all humans self serving.

        A 16-20 dog team can take a bunch of athleticly or age questionable dogs and send home whoever isn’t having a lucky day down to the 12-14 dog traveling perfection point based on musher weight.
        This takes the load off that mushers very best dogs so they are under minimal work load until the finnish . That small core can perform at elite level for a short period.

        Also those age question or athletic/ fitness question dogs gain experience with out needing a handler or second team in race so they can be super dogs the next year without having cost the team much of anything financially or competitive.

        A 12 dog team start limit would double the cost to field a similar caliber team each year versus a 16 dog limit team

        14 dogs adds over 30% cost maybe almost double.
        Those two dogs take away the functionality buffer.
        To get a team full of perfect dogs it would be necessary to breed raise more than double as the more dogs you raise the more good ones slip through the cracks and inexperienced help must be relied on . Land of diminishing returns.
        Not saying it cant be done but the odds become stacked against when multiple other teams are doing what it takes to win.

        Its a weird misconception where someone thinks something will be better but it only causes more problems.

        It’s clearly even more exponentially problematic for rookies and low knowledge mushers.
        Who are not certain who to start with or even that knowledgeable about who to drop when.
        It puts them under duress right from the word go .

        This frankly puts more stress on each team dog and limits getting the right dogs onto the start line .
        It makes odds of all kinds of mistakes become raised.
        Where’s having lots of dogs to drop dilutes the pressure and odds of a mistake.

        Unless we reduce the team size to 1-3 dogs this catch -22 will stay as a significant variable

        ( im for taking team numbers to 1-3 )
        May the toughest man win !

    • You make valid and astute pints, others are way off base.

      Yes, the economics for sure are a factor in why so many names that would easily have been far ahead of Redington in this race, and most likely with far far better looking teams, but don`t over look the fact that the Iditarod has lost so much integrity over the past years, that there is equally less and less value beyond the dollar values in participating in this event.

      Not sure naming a Seavey in your list of accomplished participants is fair on the others. One specializes in abuse to extent he even authored a book about it, the other bringing disrepute to the same event with a major doping scandal…one still unresolved. Either way, at least they and some others like them seem gone from the race for the time being. Bottom line is that being first is far from “being the best” and droves of people, media & sponsors figured that out years ago.

      ITC have lost all sense of what the real values of dog mushing are, as have people like Ryan Redington and others who run dogs like he does. Re-evaluate those qualities, apply them in an event and Iditarod may survive in some form with some dignity & credibility. Maintain the current path and its dead, probably for the best as far as dog welfare goes and the integrity of mushing as a whole goes.

      The ITC is directly complicit in its own demise in allowing teams like Redigton`s to yet again creep to the coast after inhumane periods of movement. Had there been a single race judge or individual with any decency or compassion for the dogs, or respect for what such a spectacle would do for an already under fire event, they would have intervened and put a stop to it. No-one had the balls or the authority to do that.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you that the current Head Vet should be fired. He has proven consistently to fail in his task to adequately apply ethics that his position demand. Stu Nelson sits on the board of the ISDVMA an organization that pronounces in its mission statement:

      “ISDVMA is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3). Our mission is to enhance the well-being, welfare and safety of sled dogs through education, research, and the collaborative relationship with mushers, veterinary professionals, and race organizers.”

      How can Nelsons conduct be considered to meet any of those standards ? How can Nelson oversee impartial and objective veterinary care in this race, when he is a full time employee of ITC ? There is increasing testimony of this head vet bullying other vets who have tried to intervene or pull dogs from various teams and he has even done nothing when one prominent vet was actively abused on the trail by a musher (who just happened to be a participating musher who had also made significant financial contributions to the ITC )

      The ITC is corrupt through and through and this corruption has brought the event to its knees and done damage to dog mushing overall that may never be repaired.

      There are solutions to all the issues that get discussed around and around every year. Its not lack of solutions to problems that is the plague here, rather the lack of people willing to apply solutions…even discuss them in most cases..that, along with the dirty infection of dog drivers (not mushers) willing to trash everything just to satisfy an ego.

      In over 40 years around dog racing, I`ve been lucky to see the flip sides of it all, from the shit show performances such as we`ve seen this year to teams finishing 1000 mile races in first position looking like they could be turned and run another 1000 and still look fresh. Some can do it, most can`t and those “some” need to be separated from those who “can” …right now its seems, the “can`s” are staying home, and who can blame them.

  4. I’ve seen several of the Reddington videos. They are very cruel and borderline sadistic. I couldn’t even watch them in their entirety. He does not care about the dogs, just the win and the money. And remember, how they treat the dogs on the trail is how they treat the dogs 365 days a year 24/7. They are treated worse than livestock. I encourage people to look at the videos but be warned, it is heartbreaking.

    • Rene: There are a lot of dogs in this country treated like livestock, sometimes worse by fighting rings. I’d challenge your assertion that there are Iditarod dogs treated “worse” than livestock. That’s a very low bar.

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