Siberian huskies strain at the the forest

HOWLS echo through the pine woods, as they strain at their traces. Then the brakes are released with a shout of "hike, hike, h-i-k-e" and they're off like a rocket.

HOWLS echo through the pine woods, as they strain at their traces. Then the brakes are released with a shout of "hike, hike, h-i-k-e" and they're off like a rocket.

If you've ever felt like the dog's taking you for a walk, spare a thought for Gemma Riley and Stuart Parker.

For when it's time to exercise their charges, they hitch them up to a custom-built racing trike and hurtle through the woods at up to 30mph.

High speed walkies began four years ago, when they adopted a Siberian husky from an animal shelter in Norwich. Digger's previous owners had given him up because he was too energetic.

"He was a nightmare when we first got him," said Miss Riley, 25. "He was running round the living room, ripping down the curtains, bouncing off the walls.

"We couldn't find a way to channel his energy. We were walking him and walking him but we were just making him fitter."

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Fellow owners on doggy forums suggested trying Digger out in harness. So they bought a specially-adapted scooter for him to tow and headed for Thetford Forest.

Digger took to his new toy like a duck to water. Miss Riley and Mr Parker caught the racing bug. Digger was joined by kennel-mates Maverick, Isi, Bella, Gypsy and Amber.

Mr Parker traded his much-loved Golf GTi in for a van, with room for the couple's growing pack and a stainless steel racing rig with tricycle undercarriage, hydraulic brakes and GPS.

A quiet commuter village on the outskirts of King's Lynn became home to Ragapawz racing stables.

"They exist to run, that's their ethos in life - they're not your typical dog," said Miss Riley as the team took a breather on a crisp December morning.

"They can't ever be let off the lead as they're highly-predatory. They'll chase after other dogs, cats, rabbits - any small furry thing."

On a canter through forest tracks, the dogs can average 15-20mph towing the rig. Digger can clock up 30mph or more at full pelt, pulling the scooter on his own.

"The rig was custom-built by a friend, it's got hydraulic brakes for more stopping power," said Mr Parker, who works at RAF Marham. "Everything in the sport's getting lighter and lighter, it's all geared towards going faster and faster."

Miss Riley and Mr Parker race for fun, taking part in time trials against other owners. But they have already won silver and gold in British Siberian Husky Racing events.

Siberian huskies were first imported in the late 1960s, by American air force personnel serving at East Anglian bases.

The breed was recognised by the Kennel Club in the 1970s.

Miss Riley, who works as a computer technician, said huskies did not make good guard dogs despite their incredible stamina. "If anyone broke into our house, they'd probably lick them to death," she said.

Mr Parker checked the brakes and adjusted his crash helmet before another dash through the forest. A fellow dog owner looked on bemused, as his elderly boxer padded past.

"I've only fallen off once so far, when they changed a turn on a course and the dogs went left when they should have gone right," he said. "And yes, it did hurt."