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Meet Dori Hollingsworth
2001 IFSS 6 Dog World Champion

Page 2

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

~ More photos ~

Puppies

What criteria do you use for selecting breeding stock?
The parents must be really fine dogs and preferably leaders. I want to choose dogs with good attitudes and good race records. The female is especially important, as the pups seem to pick up on her attitude the most. Our motto is "Breed the best and leave the rest".

Dori with pupsDo you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
I take all my pups for lots of walks, but don't do much pre-training evaluation. I like to give them lots of opportunities to run across lots of obstacles. I expose them to as much stuff as I can. I'll bring them to work with me one at a time. I spend as much time as I can with them and try to get lots of kids to come play with them.

What method do you use for starting pups?
Before I hook them up I like to take them out and attach a log to them and have them pull it while I run next to them. It seems like if they do that even once they are much more ready to be hooked up with a team. When they are about 6 months old I will hook them up in front of the ATV with a couple of good old leaders. It doesn't usually take them long to realize what they are supposed to do. I try to run them about once a week during their puppy year. I find that pups that have gotten quite a few runs on them will be much better as yearlings. While everyone else is complaining about their yearlings, ours don't even seem like yearlings. As we have no kennel help, our pups go everywhere with us. They have seen and done everything our adults have by the time they are a year old.

What is the most important thing you look for in a young dog?
I want a pup that has good work ethics and is always trying. They don't need to be super fast or be able to run far at this point. I want to know that this pup is going to keep going. Males generally take longer than females to mature, so I usually have a lot more leeway with them. Again I'm not so concerned about build or speed at this point as I am work attitude. I also look for pups that eat really well.

At what point do you decide a youngster is likely to make it in your team?
Usually during their yearling year we have a pretty good idea. They may not have speed plus distance, but they should have speed and they should have distance, not necessarily at the same time. If both are lacking we will probably find a slower team for them to run in. One such dog we gave to a friend of ours. She was having trouble running 10 miles fast, but in his slower team she was able to run 25 miles with no problem. If we're not sure, we will keep them until their two-year-old year.

Training

What is the training/racing philosophy of your kennel?
I'd have to say consistency. Once we start training in the fall we get on a schedule and keep to it. If it rains, and it rains a lot here, we put on our raingear. If the trails are unusable here, we do our best to find trails somewhere that we can use. This last winter we were driving 5 hours one way just to run the dogs. The only reason we don't run them on schedule is when the conditions become such that it could injure the dogs, frozen ice with gravel pocking up through it is one such condition.

Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
Of course the goal is always to win races. Our goals may change depending on what we are going to race. For instance this last winter we were working on an open team, but with the snow and training conditions it was difficult. When we were offered a spot on the USA team for 6-dog IFSS, we changed our goals and concentrated on putting together a really good 6-dog team that could do well for the USA.

What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
I want a team to run as a team. All the dogs functioning as a unit. We had borrowed some dogs early this year. They were really nice dogs, but they didn't fit in with the rest of the team. We will start by running smaller teams, but I want to be able to switch dogs back and forth and know they will perform wherever I put them. If a dog likes to run next to another dog I will make every effort to see that he can run next to them. Although I try to keep dogs ambidextrous, if a dog really likes one side I will be sure to race him on that side. I also want dogs that give me a perfect run every time we go out. I keep a journal of all our runs and really the best pages don't have much in them. I want the dogs to pass anything they see on the trail, Moose, loose dogs, skiers, snow machines, other dog teams, etc. without even looking at them. Really I'm looking for a machine in the form of dogs.

What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
It's hard to choose one, as there are many invaluable tools. The ATV has been wonderful. It gives us complete control during fall training. We set the speed with it. We can stop and work with dogs. We have the option of them pulling it in gear or in neutral. A good sled is also a must. The Europeans seem to be way ahead of the USA in sled building and the cost of a nice sled is astronomical, but well worth the expense in the long run. Also for us a good truck is indispensable, as we have to truck them everywhere even to train. Alaska is very large with a lot of unpopulated areas and the last thing you want is to break down in one of those out of the way places. We couldn't do it without our snow machine either. We use it for grooming trails as well as following the team when conditions would make it unsafe to run them by themselves.

Racing

How do you choose which races to enter?
We run everything within 500 miles of us. Our race season starts in mid-November and goes to the end of March. There are usually races every weekend. Generally we run the races closest to us earlier in the season and then head north for the end of the season. Our biggest choice is really what class to run and that is usually not determined until the end of fall training when we start to see what we have. 

What are your strengths as a racer?
I tend to be very focused on the race ahead. I don't really want to be bothered before a race. People think I'm nervous, but really I have a time frame of when I'm going to do things and I stick to it. The more important the race the more focused I become. At IFSS I was hiding out behind the truck, avoiding people and waiting until it was time to drop dogs. This way I don't have to be in a hurry and the dogs seem to do better that way. Along with that comes organization. I put the dogs on a schedule and nothing changes it. Racing for me starts long before we actually get to the starting chute. I spend a lot of time with the dogs. Feeding them. Coaxing them to drink. Keeping their straw clean and fresh. Washing their feed dishes. I want the dogs to be as comfortable as they can be.

What do you consider your weaknesses, if any?
We run a small kennel and don't have a large pool to draw from. If a dog gets sick or pulls up lame we just don't have a replacement and because we don't live in a musher area, we don't even have dogs we can borrow.

Do you have a mushing career goal?
Early in my racing career I came up with a goal and I haven't changed it. I want to finish each season with dogs as happy to go out at that last race as they were at the first of the season. I like mushing and although I'm serious about it, I also want to have fun.

What does it take to win?
Fast dogs, fast sleds, and a lot of really perfect runs. If you don't have really nice training runs, you can't expect to go out and have really nice races. The best team I ever had I could have gone to sleep on the back of the runners and they still would have run a perfect race. I think it's important to have a good rapport with your dogs also. You have to know them and what makes them tick. A borrowed team will seldom run as well for someone else as it will for the owners. It's important to spend a lot of time with your dogs. Good leaders are also really important. You need a pacesetter and a leader that will instill confidence in the rest of the team and make them feel that they can really do it. I have seen the change of one dog take a mediocre team and turn it in to a winning team. Mitzie was such a dog, and my German Shorthaired Pointer, Chip, is also such a dog.

The Future

What is your vision of the future of sled dog sports?
I would like to see it grow. I'd like to see speed mushing really take on new meaning with larger sponsors, bigger purses, and better trails.

What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
Take time to talk to people. When we're fall training on the road people are always stopping to ask questions. Take time to answer in a pleasant way. Many are amazed at how the dogs like what they are doing. If you get a chance, talk to school classes and inform them on the sport of dog mushing. Always have your yard in such shape that you can invite people over to see it at any time. Also I think it's really important to thank sponsors of races. I'd like to see more clubs print address, e-mails, phone numbers, etc. on the back of the time sheets so it is easier to send them a thank you. A little thanks can go a long way especially coming from a racer.

What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
Clubs can do well with advertising and also making the sport as viewer friendly and interesting as they possibly can. Good announcing is really a help. Businessmen's races are also a big plus as people get to actually experience the thrill of riding behind a dog team.

What advice would you give a beginning musher?
Find a mentor. Someone that can help you get a good start. They will often have dogs that can help you and lots of advice. Listen to everything they say. It’s up to you whether or not you do it, but remember these mentors have been doing this for a long time and have already learned things the hard way. There is no reason for you to make the same mistake that someone else has already made.

Anecdote

Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog experiences.
One time I had just gotten a new sled and hadn't had a chance to try it out yet. We went to a local race at Chugiak. Now I had never run on the Chugiak trails before and I had never used this sled before. That is not a good combination. I looked at the dogs at the starting line and they were literally breathing fire. 6 BIG, FAST DOGS. As soon as we took off I knew I was in trouble. That sled was fast and the trail was wild. At the first road crossing I put my foot down to slow us down. It didn't help at all and when we hit the road we were going sideways. That was okay until we hit the bank on the other side. Totally out of control we fishtailed down the trail until finally we wrapped the sled around a tree. I pulled the sled off the tree and took off again, but now I had the snow hook in my hand and couldn't take my eyes off the trail long enough to put the hook away. The trail went up and down, around corners, and through moguls all at the same time. I finally thought I had the hook put away and went to concentrating on the trail. My feet were never on both runners at the same time. A mile from home I passed 2 teams at the bottom of a very steep hill. Those 6 dogs charged up the hill. While the mushers behind me were pedaling for all they were worth I was slung over the handlebars in a state of exhaustion. It was the only time in the whole race that I had felt I was somewhat in control. At the top of the hill the hook which had never gotten properly into the holder, slid out of the holster down the sled bag and between the runners. The last part of the trail I ran while holding up my hook so it wouldn't drag. I was sure no one else could have run the trail that fast and I was right for I set a new track record.

Dori Accepting the 6 Dog Gold Medal, 2001 IFSS Championships
Dori accepting the 6 Dog Gold Medal, 2001 IFSS World Championships
Photo by Dave Partee

That was the most exciting run I've ever had, but the most memorable would have to be winning the 2001 IFSS World Championship. I really had no intention of even running it, but once offered a spot I knew it was something I had to do. I don't think anyone was more surprised than I to find myself in the top spot. A month before the race I didn't think I even had a team. Enter Chip, one of those leaders that just spark the entire team. Only a year old, and a real speedster with lots of attitude. In the weeks prior to the race I switched dogs around until I had them just where I wanted and it paid off. I also practically moved to Fairbanks so I could be assured of good training trails. There is nothing more thrilling than standing on the winning block while The Star Spangled Banner is being played. It brings out the patriotism in a person and makes one proud to be an American. There were tears in more than one persons eyes. It is one thing to win for yourself, but to win for your country is a thrill untold.

Comments

I would like to say that our success would be impossible without my husband, Daryl. He's the backbone of this operation. Because we don't live where there are any dog trails to train on we must groom our own trails. This means going out after work and often not getting in until after midnight. I load the dogs and pick him up from work so we can run the dogs on his lunch break. If it has snowed or rained during the night, he will go out in front of me and re-groom the trails.

He also takes care of the sleds and our sled is always one of the slickest at the racetrack. He takes great care in waxing and is always asking questions of skiers and others involved in waxing. While others are worrying about the wax on their sled I just use whatever Daryl gives me and am confident it is the right one. We work together really well as a team and things move smoothly as a unit. Without Daryl, putting together a winning team would be impossible. Thank you Daryl!


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