By Carol Stiles of RNZ

It can get cold, very cold at Broadlands, 20km northeast of Taupō.

And that's why sled dog racer Steve Coxhead has chosen to live there.

It's not that he particularly likes the cold, but his 13 racing Siberian huskies do.

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Once, the temperature at Broadlands dropped to minus 10 degrees and, on some mornings, the dogs will come in covered in ice from the freezing fog in the paddock.

"That's what they enjoy," Steve says.

One of Steve Coxhead's Siberian huskies. Photo / RNZ
One of Steve Coxhead's Siberian huskies. Photo / RNZ

He trains New Zealand's largest kennels of racing Siberian huskies at Broadlands and recently set up a tourism venture, Timberline Racing Siberian Huskies Kennel & Tours, where people can see the dogs in action.

While he has access to the nearby Kaingaroa Forest to run the dogs for part of the year, Steve also has an 800-metre track around the perimeter of his four-hectare property that he uses to train the dogs.


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When they're in the forest, eight dogs pull a dry-land rig that resembles a tricycle.

"It never loses its fascination," Steve says. "You're dealing with animals. You're not dealing with a machine so there's always the element of unpredictability. There's the element of danger I guess and that's what keeps it exciting.

"We've had wild pigs run out in front of us. We've seen deer. We often have hares leap out in front of us and take off up the track which gives you a pretty thrilling ride."

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There's absolutely no doubt Steve loves his dogs but they are not pets, he says.

"Not at all. That's why they are behind the wire and we're on the outside."

He says the dogs are affectionate but have a very strong prey drive. He never lets them out of their run unless they are on a lead and says there's no way they'd come back to a whistle.

"They're not good at the recall because they are runners. They are athletes and we don't train them to sit or anything like that. They're sled dogs."

Steve Coxhead on his husky-racing sled, pulled by eight dogs. Photo / RNZ
Steve Coxhead on his husky-racing sled, pulled by eight dogs. Photo / RNZ

Siberian huskies can sometimes end up in the wrong hands, Steve says. Siberian huskies are beautiful to look at, but they're natural athletes rather than pets.

"People are attracted to them because they have blue eyes and pretty colours and they're beautiful-looking dogs, but the energy requirements of that dog when it becomes mature, people don't even consider that. They're just besotted with this beautiful pup.

"A lot end up dead. They'll end up getting shot by a farmer or run over by a car. There's a list of tragedies as long as your arm."