Sled Dogs launch Phoenix Winter Games 2016 - Tedworth House, Hants - UK

Alaskan Malamutes Chantay and Conchise, and their fellow four-legged friends from Sled Dogs As Therapy, have been providing excitement and fun to sick and injured service personnel and veterans taking part in a competitive Dog Sled Scurry, as part of the Phoenix Winter Games at Tedworth House, Hants this week.

The theme of the games is fun with a competitive edge, and plays an important role of the recovery programme for the veterans and soldiers, who formed teams from the Help for Heroes recovery centres across the country including Colchester, Plymouth and Tidworth.

Alaskan Malamutes are freight dogs, weighting about 40 kilos. By nature they travel long distances across a variety of terrains, travelling at an average of 10 miles per hour, making them ideal animals to pull dog sleds. It’s a lifestyle, according to the day’s organiser and Alaskan Malamute owner John Binding, of Shepton Mallett.

“It’s a way of life,” he said. “I’ve always loved the breed. They are a very family orientated dog and they can give a lot back; it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a really bad day, they can bring a smile to anyone’s face.”

John, 51, who served for 23 years in the Army, said: “We are here to give something back to the veterans, and give them a taster of what life is like with the Alaskan Malamutes,” He said. “To give them the opportunity of doing something they wouldn’t otherwise get to do.

“Riding the rig is exhilarating, but it’s also having trust in the dogs; having the utmost faith in them.”

Corporal Callum Nugent, of the King’s Royal Hussars, took part as a member of the serving soldiers’ team from Tedworth House. Before the first trials Tidworth-based Callum, 30, said: I’m excited and nervous because of the power they can pull, regardless of how big I am.

“I’ve been attending Tedworth House for a while now, on various courses and I heard about the Winter Games from one of the instructors. I’m nervous because of my injury but they always adapt different things.” Callum dislocated his right shoulder in a rugby accident and has had 12 different operations. He also has a spinal injury.

“Help 4 Heroes has been amazing really,” he said. “One of the instructors here has helped me quite a lot with different sports. Finding new hobbies has massively helped me, and helped sort my mind out as well as my body and strength. It’s brilliant.”

Following the safety briefs and demonstrations, and the opportunity to get to know the dogs, the soldiers and veterans got to try out the rigs with an Alaskan Malamute of their choice to pull them down the 30m chute.

The other team members form a F1-style pit lane team, with each one playing a vital role holding the excitable dog at the ready, and keeping the sled steady before the off. The excitement on the start line is palpable.

“It was scary,” said Callum at the end of his run. “I was nervous because I had my injury in the back of my mind. But it was really exciting, especially the initial burst, and then when you’re in it you’re happy, and then at the end you’re relieved. You can’t really tell how fast you’re going because you’re concentrating on the dogs.”

Tedworth House is hosting a full week of sports as part of the Phoenix Winter Games including curling, skiing, sledge hockey, biathlon and clay pigeon shooting. The recovery centres take turns to host the games each year during the summer and winter. It’s a friendly competition enabling the soldiers to do sports together and build camaraderie, lifting the spirits and morale.

Phoenix Centre manager at Tedworth House Tristan Cooper said: “These events bring guys together, whether serving or not, with likeminded individuals and develops camaraderie and socialises them if they’ve become a bit isolated in their lives. Putting that against the backdrop of sport, which is something they’re all very familiar with, gives them a massive boost, and sometimes that’s enough to get them started again in their lives.

“We can see the benefits derived from these events, and each year we strive to make it that little bit better, to make the experience better.”

For Callum’s team, it was a hard-fought win at the end of the day. For Chantay and Cochise it was just another walk in the park.

The Phoenix Winter Games finishes on Friday 19 February.

Suibmitted to Sled Dog Central by;
Shane Wilkinson
Freelance Cameraman & Photographer