Sleddog championships underway near Thetford
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
The dogs howl and jump with excitement as their handlers draw them up to the starting line. And then, as the signal is given, they burst forward in silent concentration, each team of canines entirely focused on pulling their chariot-like rig around the course.
This is sleddog racing, and this weekend the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) European Championships has drawn more than 300 competitors and 1,000 dogs to King's Forest near Thetford.
Sleddig enthusiasts have come from as far away as Finland, Norway and Andorra to take part in races with teams of up to eight dogs, skilfully navigating their way around a course at North Stow Farm.
Matt Hammersley, chief race organiser and the British Sleddog Federation's vice president of sport, said he had been thrilled with the standard of racing at the championships, which is the first time the event has been held in the UK.
He said: 'It's been fantastic to see so many athletes coming together, forming friendships and sharing a great sense of camaraderie.
'So many people have commented that this is one of the best courses in Europe as well - it's really putting Thetford on the sleddog map.'
While larger teams of dogs pull rigs carrying their athletes, there are also classes called canicross and Bikejor, where one or two canines run ahead of an athlete on a bicycle, scooter or on foot.
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Nordic breeds and Siberian huskies are popular in sleddog racing, but Mr Hammersley said the Eurohound, a special crossbreed, was considered the 'Formula One' of the sport.
He said: 'This is very much a growing sport in Britain today. There are probably around 400 to 600 athletes in the county and anything up to 1,000 taking in canicross.'
After starting on Thursday, the championship finishes today.