Monday, January 11, 2010

The Race Of The Frozen North

We are more used to see beasts like horse, donkey, mule, cattle, buffalo, camels, llama, yak, or elephant being used as working animals. At least in the documentaries. But in the 19th century Europe, dog traction was a popular mini-version of horse traction. Usually, dogs were harnessed to a two wheel (rarely four wheel) cart, rarer in groups of two or four animals, being the "horse of the poor people", like small trade-producers (bakers, milkmen, greengrocers). The preferred breeds were the Great Dane, Saint-Bernard and German Shepherd, but other breeds were used too. But dog traction is an ancient tradition (in northern polar zones) and it is still practiced (both in Arctic and in Antarctica). Dog sleds are used in the tundra areas for over a millenium, mainly for transporting goods. The first written account came from Arab literature. Chukchi people from northeastern Siberia could have been the first human population employing sled dogs. The sleds are "Eskimo type" (with its variants in Alaska, Canada and Greenland) and "Asian type" (Siberia). The employed harness varies also with each area. The "individual" equipage (employed by Eskimos and Ostyak people in Western Siberia) is made of animals bound directly to the sledge. This equipage type presents variants of "frontline fan", "elongated fan" or "extremely elongated fan". In the collective equipage, there is a main belt to which the dogs' individual harnesses are bound. The animals are placed alternatively, by each side, with one dog in front, or in pairs with one or two dogs in front.

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