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Mush Me! Dogsledding in Haliburton

by Ilona Kauremszky

There could be a dog whisperer in our midst.

Hank DeBruin, ace veteran musher, is hunched over, having a moment with one of his tail-wagging Siberian Huskies. He motions for me to move beside him so I can get close to Lily, one of his dogs.

“She took me to the Yukon Quest finish line, ” he says with a wide grin wrapped in a freshly frosty beard he gets after finishing a training run. (Hank’s preparing for the upcoming Hudson Bay Quest in March).

Me, I’ve never gone dog sledding and don’t profess to know much about it—but that’s all about to change.

Winterdance

Last month, during a mid-week morning, I drove north from Toronto to Ontario’s cottage country. Off a non-descript road on the doorstep of Algonquin Provincial Park in Haliburton, I spotted a simple road sign bearing the answer: Winterdance Dogsled Tours.

Co-owners Hank and his wife Tanya McCready-DeBruin were ready to take this musher newbie on the dog sled tour of her life, alongside their guides and a team of dogs.

I figured if I were to learn the tricks of the trade I might as well learn from Canada’s only Siberian Husky kennel to ever compete in the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.

Dogsledding-Haliburton

Location and Tips

For city dwellers, who don’t have the time to head to the North Pole like Hank has done for the past three years, this dog sled excursion makes a great urban getaway.

Blanketed in fresh powder snow with not a soul in sight, just the standing pines and paper birch that fringe the landscape, the scene resembles a Group of Seven painting, mired in white mounds with deep conifer tones and a heavenly blue sky.

Just as I was absorbing this sweet solitude, doggie mayhem took over with dogs barking in unison—a bunch of them were saddled up and boy, were these noisy pooches raring to go.

Guide Mike Rieger gave a quick drill on dog handling. Basically “hike” to move and “whoa” to stop.

“Be sure to show them a lot of affection, ” he said as I headed to acquaint myself with my lead dogs Strider and Loretto.

Another tip: Be sure to pet and whisper cuddly sounds. As soon as this happens, you’ll see happy-looking dogs instantly ready for the next step.

Dogsledding-Haliburton

The moment of awesome

As fast as you can mutter “hike, ” my team was off sledding into the winter wonderland, tails wagging all the way.

“Hey Mike, you didn’t even have to say it, you just sort of whispered, ” I said, totally surprised by the phenomenon I had witnessed.

“It doesn’t take much to get them moving, ” said Mike, at the reins.

I was happy to be a passenger in this animal party with raring-to-go four-legged powerhouses ready to show me what a real Canadian winter is like.

And to think it all started with a dog whisper.