24 February 2015

Winter Horsemanship

It is not easy to keep a warm blood horse in northern Finland in winter. My horse, Vanja, is not the problem: She is a darling.  But there is no place to ride. All the fields and forests are covered with one meter of snow. You can only move in the road, but the horse need good winter shoes with studs, because the road is often icy and slippery. Sleigh ride works better that riding on the road. This old sleigh we have is a real treasure; it comes from my husband's grandfather. I have been repairing and restoring it a little bit. At the moment it looks like this:
Sleight made by grandfather's father

I have an old set of horse harness (for working horse), and when my horse was younger, she used to be able to wear it. Five years ago I was really lucky and found a girl, who studied to be a horse caretaker. She took my horse with her to a big farming and riding school for a few months every winter. So, this is actually the first winter in long time, that my horse is staying at home. And now the old harness seems not to fit her anymore. I have been trying to adjust it, but it always seems to rub at some point. Maybe my horse has become smaller or her skin is more sensitive now because she is older. I got a set of new harness (for carriage) from my friend. Now I try to connect peaces of old and new to make a harness that works both for the old sleigh and for the old horse.
Trying to connect old and new


Because winter is the season for huskies, I don't even try to train the horse much - just to somehow maintain her till spring. Her winter time program is very simple. I put her out every morning with warm rugs and lots of hay and I take her in stable every evening with a little check, brush, feed, hay and water. Once on a weekday, often Wednesday, I take her in a long leash and make her run, stop and turn around me on the yard. This way, I hope I can keep her head and my connection to her, still working. Once every weekend, often Sunday, I take her for a long sleigh ride and let her run as much as she wants. This way, I hope, I can keep her body and condition still working.

Here is a short film about our typical sleigh ride and care taking after it:


When summer arrives it's time to shift focus. Off-season for huskies is high season for horse riding. Maybe it's good to look at this film from last summer to remember why I have a horse:


22 February 2015

Slush Daytrip

Sometimes it is nice to go out on a bad weather. Like today. We spend all morning wondering, if we should go at all. Maybe not, because as always, at least one member of the family is feeling tired, having a bit of a flue, there is something else that needs to be done and the weather is not nice at all. But then, after midday, I realized, once more, that none of these feelings are not getting any better by sitting in the sofa.

"Let's meet in that place we made fire '' I said and went to harness my dog team. My husband said he'd take the skis, and the boys said they will come later by snow scooter.

The weather was really grey. The sky was full of something between snow and rain - wet snow we call slush. It was a good day to test trousers and jackets and shoes.


Thinking about the trip to Sweden, I ended up buying new Marmot trousers for younger boy, and they just arrived this week. I also ran in to a super cheap offer of a Blåkäder -strech-jacket that my older boy wanted for himself, and I was curious to see if that will keep him warm and dry. I worked really well today, which was a  nice surprise for me.

When we all had gathered, we made a fire and grilled some sausages. Sitting there, in the middle of nowhere, the best thing for me is not to look at the time. In everyday life it often seems we have to fill every minute of every hour with necessary things and it is a huge relief to get out of it. Time in the nature is so different from the time in clocks and calendars. It is more about present and less about next week. And at the same time it is more about ancient than instant things.

If you want see more of today's trip, here is  a little film:
Slush Daytrip

15 February 2015

A night in Korouoma

On friday Markku and the boys went to Korouoma to spend a night there. Korouoma is a canyon in Southern Lapland, only 110 km from us. It is a nature reserve with old forests and cliffs.
Korouoma. The wall on the left is the one they climbed up.

They started their trip after school on friday. The road to parking place was in good condition, so they had no problems reaching the destination. But it was offcourse already dark when they started skiing. 

Starting from the parking place

First they skied down the canyon.They needed to be careful in the dark not to hurt themselves. In the bottom of the canyon they had to cross a small river, which was open. They took a little time to find a tree trunk leaning over the river, so they could go over.

When they reached the other wall of the canyon, they left their skis down there and climbed up with hands and legs in the snow. On the top there is a laavu, an open lean-on kind of shelter, where they wanted to spend the night.
Shoveling the snow to make place for the camp fire

Climbing was very hard, as you can imagine. They were really sweating when they got to the top. They had to be quick to make the camp and to put on more warm clothes. The weather was good, only about minus six degrees. 
A nice place to sleep

They cooked dinner on open fire and slept very well in their down-sleeping bags. The boys said it was not cold to sleep. Maybe partly because my husband put an opened wind-sack on top of their sleeping bags as an extra cover. 
Good morning

In the morning they woke up to see the scenery and to start the fire and to cook some breakfast. At the same time  they started planning the route down and up and back to car. 

What if we go that way? 

At home the boys told me what they learned from this trip. 'The main thing', they said, 'is to keep yourself warm and dry.' 'And the best thing', they said, 'was to ski down the sides of the canyon.' This they really liked. 

Going up and down Korouoma can be fun

The boys are now 15 and 17. For them this was not the first night they have spend outdoors in the winter. On this over-night trip they were wearing merino-wool under layer with windproof jackets and trousers. In their back-packs they had fleece middle layers, which they added on when they reached the laavu. They borrowed my husband's and mine down-jackets and wore them in the camp. 

There is a river in the bottom of the canyon

Skiing back to car with back-packs

10 February 2015

A Daytrip on Skis

To spend a day skiing in North-East Finland 
If there is a better way to spend a sunny February day, please tell me. I feel really lucky, because today was very good weather and I did not need to go to work.

Me and my husband packed backbags, took skis and dogs and off we went. We took some sausage, sandwich, tea and chocolate, but no maps or compass, because we were going to stay all day in the area we know bt hearth. I'd say for me it means something like 10 x 20 kilometers, but for my husband it's probably more like 20 x 20 - Big enough.

I started skiing with one dog, and Markku with two, but I also took an other dog for me. I just let her run free in the beginning to wait for the speed to go down before connecting her. I chose Miilu and Piitu. I want Piitu to learn to be sure about turning and stopping and Miilu is a good teacher. For my husband we chose Mora and Tete, because that way we could take my whole sprint team on this daytrip and give good excercise for them.

First part of the trip was very fast on good track. It took about half an hour to ski 10 km.
Going fast is easy

After that we turned to swap-area, where it got a lot slower. We had to open the trails in the snow or go with no trail at all. Luckily only about 15 cm from surface, there is a hard layer of snow, which can carry both dogs and skis. There is 100 cm (1 meter) snow in Taivalkoski now. It would be impossible to move, if it all was soft powder.
Going slow can be harder

When we had skied one and half hours, we had done almost 20 km and it was time for lunch. We looked for a sunny place with some forest to give shelter from wind. We found a perfect spot on the foot of a small hill. There was even a stump of a tree there, just waiting for us.

Old stumps of evergreen trees are wonderful, because they make tar inside them, which makes them very good firewood. It would be a horrible waste to burn the whole stump on a warm and sunny day like this, but there is a clever way to make a small fire so that you can use the same stump also next time:
First take pieces of wood from the side of the stump with an axe.
Then make a small fire on the top of the stump.

Enjoying the lunch, sitting by the fire and letting the sun shine to my face, I was me enough to count every calorie I ate. The whole lunch was 700 kcal, which is OK for me, but it made me think how can we make sure our boys will get enough calories on our trip to Sweden? They surely burn two or three times the amount I do. Maybe we have to add some olive oil to their meals and give them extra chocolate :)
After lunch break just cover the stump with snow to stop the fire. 

I didn't look at the time, which is a luxury itself, but we probably spend more than an hour by the fire. It was so nice the weather and all. All the four dogs get good points for resting relaxed - not even Piitu tried to bite any rope or harness. I did give them some dog-food (Hau hau sausage) when we stopped, not a lot, but even a small snack can help them to feel they've had something and keep both their spirits and vitality up all day.

Taking a break

From our lunch place there was maybe 7 kilometers to home. We decided to follow a nearby track. Because of the warm day the skies slided even better than in the morning, if possible. I found it surprisingly easy to ski with two dogs and I didn't need to let them off, not even downhill.

Near home we met a neighbour and stopped for a chat

At home I realized we did a 25 km daytrip. That would be enough also on any trekking day. But then, with one dog each, it would maybe take six to eight hours. Now it only took four. One of the best things today was to see, how good all these four dogs are both in condition and behavior. I think it's safe to say also boys can trek with any of these four aces.

On Friday Markku is going to take the boys for an overnight trip. I promise to tell you how their rehearsal goes.

03 February 2015

Dog wear

Winter-time trekking can be hard for the dogs.

Our dogs are not siberian cartoon type furry fellows. They are more short-haired and fast modern sleddogs. They need good training, nutrition and care to be able to make it. 

When trekking, the dogs need same things as humans: lot of water in the morning, snacks on the pauses, strong food in the evening. A warm place to sleep is ideal for their muscles and recovery. But often, after many hours of trekking,  they have to sleep outside in the snow. That is when good jackets or rugs are really needed. 

We have noticed, that different layers of jackets work best also for dogs. Here is what we use: 
SHOWMASTER dog coats

1. First one is a sport jacket, size S. It can be used also on top of the harness on very cold or windy days. Very easy to put on and off and very light to carry. Excellent reflective part. Alright in the night, but not very warm.

2. Teddy-jacket, size XL. Very good for the night. The bigger, the better. We have added self-made pockets for back legs; with them almost like sleeping-bag for a dog. Only female dogs can use the belly-part. Outside material is waterproof, but teddy inside is hard to dry, if it gets wet.

SELF MADE dog coats

3. Black jacket, size M, is a hi-tech one. Stretching windstopp material, Zipper in the neck. Loose pockets for back legs to allow movement. Can be used on the move and in the night, works as first or second layer. Breathable and warm. Easy to carry and dry. Made and invented by my husband Markku. 

4.Very simple fleece undercoat.  Can be used as a first layer under any jacket. Good for cold nights. Easy to make, only one seam. Cheap when made from baby blankets, so it is not a big problem if the dog bites it. 

Piitu showing the simple cut in the self-made fleece coat.

Piitu wearing an undercoat and a sport jacket.