Meet Libby Riddles:
I have been involved with sled dogs for over twenty years. I grew up in a family that always had a lot of animals around, and I dreamed of someday having a ranch, so I could have even more.
When I moved to Alaska I could see that sled dogs were the best kind of animals to have here, and so I started collecting them, with no intention of racing. After two years of learning mostly by trial and error, a friend talked me into racing a 5 dog race, which I won. Then I started thinking maybe I could run the Iditarod. I raced in 1980 & 1981, and then moved up to the village of Teller and joined forces with musher Joe Garnie.
A few years later, I came back to the Iditarod with a home raised team, half Joe's dogs and half mine, and became the first woman to win the Iditarod. I have raced many different mid-distance races, and also participated in the European Alpirod several times, as well as the International Rocky Mountain Stage Stop Sled Dog Race. I have also raced the World Championship Sprint Race in Anchorage twice, the Woman's World Championship, and most recently, the Ekwok Women's Championship.
I was a board member of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee for seven years as a representative of Alaska., and have written three books about my experiences. Giving lectures for corporations and also school presentations about the Iditarod is another way I support my kennel, and promote the sport.
What is your primary sled dog activity or area of
How long have you been involved with sled dogs?
What sparked your initial interest in sled dogs?
If you remember your very first time behind a team of dogs, tell
us about it.
Who have been your mentors?
What size kennel do you operate?
Give us an overview of your feeding program.
If it's really cold or hard training, we may give them one more watering an hour or two later. We also use corn oil & lard, and sometimes lamb for fat supplements.
Summarize your basic kennel management style
What breed(s) do you work with?
What physical characteristics do you look for in your dogs?
What mental or emotional attributes do you require in your dogs?
I view myself as a coach of the dogs, and they all have different mental and emotional skills. I have to figure out how to make each dog reach it's best potential, one of the most satisfying aspects of the sport.
Most of my dogs tend to be very enthusiastic screamers, and like a lot of affection. With my training methods, I have very few dogs getting sour, or wanting to quit.
Tell us about an all time favorite dog or two.
Her goofy personality is what made her one of my favorite dogs...that and her connection to me. She was the first husky I ever had that would actually stick around when I took her for a walk! I always used her to walk puppies with for that reason, then the pups wouldn't gang up and take off for points unknown.
I liked her enthusiasm! When it was time to hook up dogs, she would tackle me with all four feet off the ground, we'd make a game of it. We were both born on April Fool's Day. In February, 1999, I had to have her put to sleep, she was almost 18 years old. I have many of her pups, grandpups and great grand pups in the yard.
Another favorite dog is Beast. I got her up in Nome. The whole litter was so wild the only way to catch them was to throw dog food in a fence and close the door after them. I liked the looks of her and the challenge, and traded a few bags of dog food for her.
I didn't have other pups to raise her with, so she got to grow up in the house with Axle, another of my favorite dogs. She is merle colored with a split brown/blue eye. Her background is interesting, as she is out of herding dogs brought in to Alaska to work reindeer with, and those dogs were bred to native village dogs. She also has some wild dingo in her.
She is very different in her head from my huskies. She is a one person dog and has strong guarding instincts. She is very fast, a good leader, but also a great pet. I've used her in a number of commercials, and she is the dog that gets to ride in the Dodge with me wherever I go, and gets full house privileges.
What criteria do you use for selecting breeding
When I look for breeding outside of my yard, I am looking for something to add speed to the dogs I have, so that's one of the criteria,
I also breed for a pleasant personality, dogs that don't fight & aren't spooky.
Do you use any pre-training evaluation of puppies?
What method do you use for starting pups?
The next step is to let the pups run free with a small team of old dogs who won't be bothered by them. Then I harness them in small teams, either with a mellow old dog next to a pup, or single, without another dog next to it.
If a pup gets scared, I let it loose immediately. To start a pup that gets scared, I walk it out the trail a half mile, with an old dog, and then hook them both up to a kid's plastic sled to haul me back to the dogyard. It's worked with every slow starter I've had.
I take pups on camping and truck trips before they are a year old.
What is the most important thing you look for in a young pup?
At what point do you decide a pup is likely to make it in your
What is the training/racing philosophy of your
Do you have specific training goals for your team(s)?
What do you consider most important to accomplish in training?
What is the most indispensable training equipment you use?
What are your strengths as a racer?
Do you having a mushing career goal?
What does it take to win?
What is your vision of the future of sled dog
What can individual mushers do to support and promote the sport?
What part do clubs and organizations play in sport development?
What advice would you give a beginning musher?
I recommend that new mushers refrain from breeding any dogs themselves for a few years, until you find out what type of dogs suit you best.
Tell us about one or two of your most memorable sled dog
Kathy Swenson broke her collarbone, Martin Buser and Tim Osmar went over cliffs, another musher broke his hand. The trails switchback through the mountains, sometimes we were even racing on down hill ski slopes. The Iditarod has some rough trail, but it wasn't until I raced in the Alps that I found myself screaming on the back of the sled in a state of sheer animal terror.
I sure learned how to fine tune my sled driving over there. I developed what I call my "Courmeyieur (sp?) turn". There would be a hairpin turn to the right coming up, and I would softly tell my dogs "haw" a few times right before the turn, and then at the last moment, when the sled was near the corner of the turn, I'd sharply yell "gee!" and we'd swing the right way at the last crucial second. Joe Runyan crashed on one of these turns and was dragged behind his sled with his snow hook in his leg.
Once, I was coming up to a turn that was almost a complete 360 degree come around and I was practicing my new-found screaming skill, as we were also tearing down hill at the same time. Sonny Lindner was one of the race judges, and they'd positioned him at this particularly nasty turn to recover any corpses, I suppose. Anyway, it was good to hear him yell after me as I somehow slid around the corner, "It's okay, Libby, all the guys were screaming too!"
After racing the Alpirod, every other trail I've raced has seemed tame in comparison.
Any additional comments about sled dog sports?
Dog mushing is wonderful sport, mainly because the dogs are such wonderful creatures. We owe it to the dogs to treat them as well as possible.
Books by Libby
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