REINVENTING THE WHEEL: AN INTERVIEW WITH EQUIPMENT INNOVATOR RUSTY HAGAN

An interview with musher and sled dog equipment innovator, Rusty Hagan.GS: Hi Rusty, I’d like to talk with you about some of the ideas and inventions you have come up with over the years as far as mushing equipment is concerned. Let’s start with your involvement with sled dogs.RH: I moved to Fairbanks from New Mexico in January of 1989 and I ended up getting involved with a friend’s dogs. I found someone who was getting ready to get rid of a Yukon Quest team and I ended up with that. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing, but that is how I got started. I started as a musher before I started developing products for mushers. I actually ran the Quest in 1998 & 2000, and a few other races like the Copper Basin, The Percy de Wolf, and others. For some reason I always look for easier ways to do things, and when I got involved in mushing I found so many different things that needed attention. At the time I couldn’t find a snow hook that I was comfortable holding my team with. So I ended making up a couple of them and started selling them. By the time I finished selling them I made and sold about 4,000. I made 5 or 6 different types of hooks, each with different features one was a big giant hook that weighs about 20 pounds. Ray Redington uses one for training. One of them, the first one I came up with, was the roll over, self-righting type. It was one of the first ones I made. GS: What were some of the other things you came up with?RH: The bootie horn, which makes it easier to put on booties, and the popular dish savers are some of my original products. They bolt to the dog house, and allow you to tip over the bowl. The re-bar swivel wasn’t my idea, but I made several thousand of those over the years. And of course the Canine Carousels. There were several other things I made but didn’t really market, like special brakes for sleds and carbide tipped brakes. GS: Let’s talk about the Canine Carousel you make. Explain to me the impetus you had to make it and why you thought there was a need for it. (The Canine Carousel – see photos opposite page – is a series of dog platforms and houses each out on the end of a 15′ metal pipe arm. Each arm is attached on one end to a central shaft. Think of a playground merry-go-round with dog houses out on the edge. All of the arms are braced with more metal back to the center axle. The dogs are chained with slightly shorter chains than on a normal post type set up, because the “free range” area is now communal when they exercise and the carousel is turning. There is a hydraulic brake that is always on, prohibiting turning until the brake is released. When it is released the dogs are free to trot or run around the circle, turning their houses and platforms with them. Some dogs are a little too smart for this game, and jump up on the platform and get a free ride. The entire platform can be raised or lowered within a certain range to accommodate uneven ground or snow levels. GS)RH: Well there are a couple of reasons I made it. To start with I was looking for a way to put more dogs in less space. The other thing was a thought I had that it would be nice to have the dogs exercise on their own in the yard so I didn’t have to rely on trail conditions to get the miles on the dogs. It also makes it a lot easier to clean the dog yard. I found if they got the daily exercise, they didn’t have the tendency to dig holes as much either. I put some ideas on paper, and I made the first one with 9 houses. I spent a lot of time just observing them, because I wanted to make it fool proof and safe for the dogs. That was the biggest concern, the dogs’ safety. I had to evolve it so everything worked just right, so they wouldn’t get tangled, but were still able to get in and out of their houses, had space to stay on the carousel outside of their house, and had access to their food and water. One of the unexpected things I had to add is a strip of wood out on the end of each platform in front of each house. The dogs use it as a brace, so if they are riding instead of running on the ground, they can put their feet against it and hold themselves against the centrifugal force. I currently use two carousels for my dogs right now. GS: How much time is spent with the carousel being allowed to turn versus the locked down mode? I’m assuming it isn’t like, “Ok here’s your carousel boys, train when you feel like it,” or is it? Most people I know who use an exercise wheel, the powered kind, use it under tightly supervised circumstances only. When I got mine, I was warned by several veterans to keep a close eye on the dogs while they were on it.RH: It’s the same way with these dog powered carousels. I never release the brake and just leave. I’m always around sometimes just within earshot, but always close by. The dogs let you know audibly if there is a problem. GS: Let’s discuss the difference between the Carousel type exercise trainer and the more common powered trainer. Do you think there are any major advantages to either design? It would seem to me it is a lot easier, and thus less costly to build the dog powered version.RH: It is a lot easier to build. Assuming they both have brake modulation, there isn’t much of a difference. They don’t have to put much pulling pressure at all on their collars once it is spinning. As far as them turning it faster than you want, the motorized versions can pose a limiting speed, but I just make sure they go slow enough so that every dog in the group is comfortable. They start out fast, then slow to a steady pace on their own.GS: Do they ever slow down and stop?RH: Yes, sometimes. Then they go in the other direction.GS: I guess that is the big difference between the motorized and dog-powered versions – the motorized version allows you to keep the pace up if you want and replicate the speed as well as duration each time.RH: I don’t monitor the speed of each workout, but I have a counter that tells me how many revolutions they have run. I also keep a daily log to keep track of the total revolutions and thus, miles. Typically, on any given day, they would do about 20 miles without any trouble. I mixed up the training between the carousel and regular sled runs. Some days they would do both. GS: In addition to the way you have described using it, did you also use it in the off-season to build aerobic functions, the way Arleigh Reynolds talked about in the May/June issue?RH: Yes, I did. We would start on August 1st each year, and set the counter back to zero. Typically they had run 130,000 revolutions the past year. I always hoped and shot for close to 1,000 miles by the time we got on a sled. The first sled run is typically a 10 mile run, and it is all you can do to hold the dogs back. On my first Quest in 1998, I had qualified the previous year, so I only had to do a 200 mile that year. Before I started that year’s Quest I only had that 200 mile race and another 140 miles on the sled. The rest of the training had been done on the carousel, about 1,200-1,300 miles worth! It definitely helped condition the dogs. GS: Are you still making the Canine Carousels?RH: Yes, I have one in progress right now. I made 27 of them total.GS: Well thanks for your time Rusty.RH: Anytime.

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