Kicksledder Spotlight: Beginner mushing with David Abel and his dogs in Dayton, Minnesota with the ESLA Adventure Kicksled
Want to learn more about mushing with the new Adventure Kicksled? Fellow Minnesotan David Abel, an avid all-seasons outdoorsman, tells us about his experience starting out with his Adventure Kicksled last winter. He lives with his wife in Dayton, Minnesota on a small hobby farm with a few horses, barn cats, chickens, and 2 dogs. He enjoys snowmobiling, upland bird hunting with his dogs, fishing, horseback riding, and most recently, bikejoring and kicksledding.
Where did you first learn about kicksledding?
I have always been intrigued with dogsledding and wanted to try it but never knew where to start. Over the past 20 years I’ve had very energetic labs, especially after a good upland bird hunting season when they were in peak physical condition. It was always hard to keep them from getting bored. After the passing of my last yellow lab, we got our two Griffons who definitely need to be challenged; a tired dog is a happy owner. My wife did some research online and we decided to start with bikejoring and then included kicksledding later that year. In parallel, several of the folks I train dogs with do some form of dog sledding to keep the dogs in peak condition.
What type of dogs do you have?
We have two Wirehair Pointing Griffons —Murphy who is almost 3 and Gordy who is almost 2. Though the same breed, they are very different. Murphy has shorter hair and is much larger than the breed standard and he is generally more wound up than most Griffons. Gordy follows the breed standard in size, look, and personality. Gordy is much more laser focused on tasks and much more laid back. Nothing really bothers him whether it be a bath, cleaning ears, or brushing burrs out of his long coat.
What type of training, if any, did you do to prepare your dog before you started mushing?
I watched some youtube videos initially, then walked some trails with a harness giving the commands with positive reinforcement. I believe my next step was a 2 hour bikejoring training session [with Jack and the Pack] which is what I needed to be confident enough to go from walking to the bike which lead to kicksledding.
Also, a training tip. If you have the ability to use a four wheeler or snowmobile before jumping to a kicksled or bike I would highly recommend it. I got that trick from my dog training group. I still do it as a refresher a few times before kicksledding to help avoid wipe outs and injuries. If Murphy decides to make a quick turn after a rabbit he is quickly corrected by the machine and not me falling.
What do you think was the most challenging part of starting out?
I honestly think knowledge and knowing the right people. It is very important to have the right harness and gear for the right activity and dog. For instance, the bike vs the sled has a different attachment angle. I tried to use the same bike harness but ended up partially choking Murphy on the kicksled. So we bought a dog sled harness which solved the problem. Definitely work on trust and obedience beforehand, it will make your experience so much better.
What were Gordy's and Murphy’s reaction to kicksledding?
I just started walking with Gordy, my youngest because he is just now old enough. I could not believe how fast Murphy caught on. Once he realized pulling was ok and a good thing with the harness on, he was all in. Now when I pick up a harness it’s the same reaction as me getting my hunting gear out, total excitement.
I would say Murphy had the basic commands down within 5-8 walking sessions spread apart over several weeks. The biggest challenge was keeping him focused when we ran across any rabbits or squirrels since he has an extremely high prey drive. I use the “leave it” command simply because that’s what we use around the house and dog training.
What do you like about your kicksled?
We bought the Esla Adventure Kicksled, if I remember correctly. I think the factors for that were weight, market/brand reviews of the company, and I really liked the handle bar along with the rubber shock absorbers that allow you to lean into a turn and take up some of the bumps.
Where are your favorite places to kicksled?
So far I have only gone around our hobby farm trails and the Elm Creek multipurpose trail [in Maple Grove, MN] which is really pretty good. This year, weather permitting, I want to get out on a few lakes and perhaps some different trails up north.
Do you have any tips or recommendations for people who are thinking about getting a kicksled to use with their dog?
Plan ahead a little and lay out a basic plan, it doesn’t really take long but it does take some time. Be patient, keep it fun. And just like dog training, if you're not in a good mood the dogs know it and will respond negatively which doesn’t do either of you any good. Always try to end on a good note and not do too much. I find it works best to give it a few days in between sessions. It sure seems like they prefer to digest the activity and training for a few days and work it out in their heads.
Has kicksledding changed your relationship with winter?
Somewhat. I always loved winter for snowmobiling, ice fishing, and downhill skiing. However, I did always feel guilty about not including the dogs, they are a big part of our family. Though I do love snowmobiling, I have found much enjoyment from the tranquility of dog sledding. The only sound is the slight swooshing of the sled runners and the panting of my dog. I have also found it strengthens the bond between the dog and me which is a great thing. Dogs are incredible in so many ways and bike joring/kicksledding brings out their qualities even more. After a good run they are very happy and relaxed.
Anything more you would like to add for people getting into the sport?
The hardest part is getting started but so worth the effort. There are several benefits to dog powered sports for both you and your K9, you wont regret it. Life is short, wish I would have got into this years ago.
Thanks so much, David!
Take a closer look at the ESLA Adventure Kicksled for dog mushing.