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Meet Ken & Lori Chezik of Betcha-Katcha Kennels
2003 Limited North American Champions

Page 2

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[click on any photo on this page to see a larger version]

Dogs

Who are a few of the most important dogs in the kennel right now? What makes them exceptional?

Lori: One of the most important dogs in our kennel right now is Celt. He's an Alaskan, and is either the father or grandfather to every hound cross that we have and every Alaskan we have. I think it's important to remember behind most good hound crosses there are good Alaskans.

Chezik's Celt
Celt

Why have you chosen him as the Alaskan to use in breeding the hound crosses in your yard? What does he bring?
Celt is a very dominant stud. He contributes uniformity and structural soundness to the breedings. He reduces the variability in the out crossings.

Bell would be one of our choices as important for hounds. She produced many of the young dogs we are driving right now. She is also one of Kenny's main leaders. She's out of Red Viking and Blondie.

Chezik's BelleChezik's Belle
Belle

Why do you think that particular cross worked?
Red Viking is known for throwing leaders and toughness. His fault is he's too wide in the chest. Blondie on the other hand is tall, leggy, with good back length and not wide in the chest. She's a very beautiful dog. We were lucky enough to see both dogs at Mari Hoe/Raitto's kennel.

Who else is important? There must be a few more.
Our hound/Alaskan cross breeding program is very young, so when it comes to picking out other key dogs right now it's difficult. The oldest dogs that we've bred will be turning three this summer. Some of those have raced the last two seasons.

We feel that contributions from Jan Svennson's kennel and some crosses that are descendants of Labben and Finn-Henri will be keys in our program for the future.

Who is Finn-Henri?
Finn-Henri is owned and raced by Koroush Partow. He's a full German Shorthair Pointer from a breeding done by Ole Petter Engli and Birgitte Naess.

Tell us about one or two dogs that have significantly influenced your kennel in the past.
As the hounds are relatively new to our kennel, the dogs that have influenced us significantly are Alaskans.

Jack was a dominant stud coming from the Rowdy line going back to Junior. He was bred for leaders and toughness.

Bonnie was a 3/8ths greyhound + 1/8th saluki cross coming from Tim White's lines. She contributed refinement and speed.

These are dogs that are quite far back in pedigrees and have long since been gone?
Yes they are. For the most part, beyond 5 generations back.

Who else?
Cut goes back to Terry Killam's Stewart line. They gave us leaders. Ki, who descends from Doug McRae's yard, then goes back to Billy Barne's kennel.

Training

What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
Our training philosophy comes from reading about the great coaches in various sports, such as Vince Lombardi. He said, "You've got to pay the price." For anyone who has participated in any sport competitively, they know there are no shortcuts. Nothing takes the place of hard work--both mentally and physically. We, like most everyone, would like to race and place first. But beyond that, we want the dogs to prove their abilities. We've had dogs a long time. For us it's mostly about them proving their abilities.

Do you have specific goals for your teams?
In fall training we feel the most important goal is to make sure the dogs know to work. They have to keep driving through loose sand, water, hard pack and hills.

I notice that you use a cart for early fall training and switch to an ATV for later in the season. Why?
We prefer to use the Risdon lite rig in early fall for up to 6 dogs. The temperatures are warmer, usually around 55 degrees, and we like the lighter cart because it isn't as much work to pull that early. It also allows us to work with the yearlings in groups of 2's. This gives us control and the dogs a chance to remember the previous spring training.

Later we switch to the Risdon heavy rig once the yearlings are all going in the right direction. We train 8-10 dog teams on the heavy rig. We switch to the heavy rig to build muscle and endurance, while still maintaining control.

We then switch to the ATV when conditions are too slippery to control the heavy rig, which is usually after the first snow when there is not enough snow for a sled, but enough to make everything very slippery.

What is the most indispensable training tool you use?
Your eyes are the most indispensable tool. We were taught there is always a reason a dog does something right or wrong. It's up to you to be aware if there's a problem. Our other favorite tool is the treat bucket!

Chezik's Dixie
Dixie

Racing

How do you choose which races to enter?
We look at the history of the race, the quality of the organization, and we look at our dog team. We try to determine if they are able to compete in the distance and conditions of that race. We have, for the last few years, tried to set a specific goal for the team, such as competing in the top races in Alaska.

We would like to be able to compete in the World Championship races in 2005 and would like to continue to do well in the Alaskan races. We have been looking forward to racing the Blue Streak series, but weather has not been cooperative for that.

What are your strengths as a racer?
We feel our strengths come from recognizing dogs that will work for us and trying to stay focused on that development.

What do you consider your weaknesses, if any?
One of our weaknesses as a kennel is it's harder for us to stay competitive because we don't have a large kennel. It makes us much more susceptible to dogs that get sick or hurt. We also have a disadvantage because we come from Michigan and have to try to acclimate our dogs to Alaskan trails and weather conditions.

What does it take to win?
You must look at yourself, your dogs, and your training objectively. It takes team work and attention to detail. It also takes some degree of luck.

The Future

What is your vision of the future of sled dog sports? Any ideas about where the sport is going, or should go?
In the last few years there seems to be more people in the lower 48 who are trying to improve the quality of the individual races. There are numerous races getting larger purses and more concerned with developing quality events. There are new, innovative ideas like the Blue Streak series and I know there are some individuals that are trying to work together to form a circuit of competitive races which will allow drivers to go outside their areas and compete at new sites with new people. If this happens, the sport can't help but grow and flourish.

Ideally, I would like the sport have a permanent track, or tracks, maintained in the lower 48, such as are in Alaska. If they were developed in different regions it would give the drivers a place where they could know the trails, and give the clubs a place to bring big sponsors and showcase the sport. They could also use these sites for training sites both fall and winter. There are small and large clubs in Alaska with sites, it doesn't have to be as large as the Jeff Studdert track.

To promote our sport we as drivers need to show ourselves as responsible adults. Show the public that we take good care of our dogs, that our equipment is well maintained, and that we respect one another, and others outside the sport. We need to show support for the communities that host and sponsor our events.

What advice would you give to a beginning musher?
A beginning musher should take the time to talk with as many drivers as he or she can. From speed to distance mushers, and from drivers that have been in the sport for 1 year and 20 years. If possible, handle dogs for many teams so you can see the difference in dogs and driver styles.

When you decide to get dogs, ask around about the drivers and where most of the dogs are coming from and why.

Invest in a couple of good leaders, often older, experienced dogs. They will teach you more than any person can.

If you decide you want pups, buy the best bitch you can afford. Above all, remember this sport is expensive! You should be realistic with yourself and look at what you can afford to give, both in time and money. Don't be afraid to ask questions; we've all been there and done that. At one time any of us asked the same questions you have.

Anecdote

Tell us about one or two of you most memorable sled dog experiences.
One of the most memorable races that we've raced was the Winnipeg race in 2000. It was our first mass start race. It was on the river, dog teams lined up to the left and to the right. As I looked down the river I could see a snow fence under a bridge which was set up to funnel the teams onto the trail. Five minutes before the race started a man came out and dropped a flag. The noise of dogs barking drowned out the loudspeaker. At the one minute mark, he dropped another flag. Finally he came out with a checkered flag and dropped it.

A mass of dog teams took off. We raced every step of the way looking at the competitors face to face.

My most memorable race would have to be the LNAC. It's not only the race trail or the fact you are racing against the best. It's racing three days on the trail widely noted as the fastest in the world. It's looking at the timing tower that stands above the clubhouse. It's walking into that clubhouse and seeing the pictures of past champions. It's seeing the trophy case with memorabilia of those people responsible for having the race. Being there leaves you with a sense of awe. It's knowing this is the proving ground for what you hoped to accomplish.

Comments

Any final comments about sled dog sports?
We've had the honor of seeing some of the finest drivers in the world over the years. We were racing when the circuit in the Midwest was big enough to bring down drivers like George Attla and Peter Norberg. We saw races where Doc Lombard, Eddie Sullivan, Harris Dunlap, and Dick Moulton attended.

Later we got to see competition heat up with the Saunderson family, Lenny Robb, Doug McRae, and Terry and Eddy Streeper. We heard of the great Alaskan races where Roxy Wright, Harvey Drake, Gareth Wright, and Charlie Champaine were setting goals and markers for all of the up and coming drivers. Linda Leonard and Kathy Frost were setting track records in the limited races. They gave us the history.

For a while it seemed our sport was loosing its focus. But, some newcomers came along and gave everyone that poke in the ribs to get the sport going again. I'd like to thank Egil Ellis and Helen Lundberg for coming here and giving the sport the challenge it needed. They gave us as drivers something to strive for. I think if we are all honest, we will realize that they have set another mark for us all to be measured by.


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