Siberian Huskies in the Lake District
PUBLISHED: 00:05 29 April 2013
A Lakeland woman has used her love of dogs to set up one of the region’s most unusual businesses. Emily Rothery reports
It’s been a busy 18 months for Sonia Gager-Tomkinson. She has been training ten sled dogs, all rescued, to work as a team pulling a rig. It has been as labour of love but now her business, Horse and Husky, is up and running. Quite literally.
I meet Sonia and her team on a blustery day at their home in Bootle on the Western edge of the Lake District National Park.
After being charmed by Storm, her beautiful ‘meet and greet, gentle giant’ dog and a polar bear of a hound called Star, we harness up two of her more high energy dogs.
Ice and Luna are sibling pedigree Siberian huskies and have a strong bond that stands them in good stead whether playing or working. Ice, the bigger of two, is darker with mesmerising blue eyes and he is very protective of his sister. Luna, a spry brown-eyed girl, is the power house and the boss.
Sonia stands astride the rig behind me and on the traditional command of ‘Hike, hike’ Ice and Lunar surge forward. I am sitting just behind the dogs and watch as Ice takes his lead from Luna. She powers onwards and they run with easy strides, their plumed tails arching in the air. The dogs seem to run for pure joy and it is infectious.
Today’s exhilarating ride is just a taster but Sonia informs me that Siberian huskies, believed to be one of the oldest breeds, can comfortably cover 50 miles a day and can reach speeds of up to 30mph. They have great stamina and are hard-wired to work but are also affectionate and loyal.
Sonia has spent her life working with people and animals. ‘I was a very shy child who wouldn’t even go to the shops but I would knock on neighbours’ doors asking if I could take their dogs for a walk. I could tell you the names of all the dogs but I haven’t a clue what the owners were called!’
Today, Sonia’s rapport with both people and animals is clear for all to see. At the age of 22 she set up and operated Tattondale Stables and Carriages in Cheshire and ran the business for 22 years. She later taught psychology at Millom School. ‘Redundancies were looming and I decided that it was time for me to fulfil my ambition of combining a love of dogs with business.’
In the summer months, when it is too hot for the huskies to run, Sonia teaches horsemanship and leads guided rides through the Cumbrian countryside. Over the years she has also been developing the use of complementary and healing therapies for horses, dogs and people.
Recently, Sonia and the sled team have been delighting people at local events. Muncaster Castle is a favourite where families get a chance to try taster rides.
For more adventurous souls, Sonia offers dry land mushing expeditions on nearby forest tracks such as the Eskdale trail where up to six dogs, usually led by Ice and Luna, will happily run with the rig for up to 15 miles. Sonia also teaches dog owners to drive a rig with their own dogs. ‘But not if they are Jack Russells,’ she laughs.