Did you know that running or cycling alongside your dog is actually an official sport? Last Sunday the sixth annual mushing competition took place in Manilva, with 120 humans taking part and over 130 dogs. It is the only official event of its kind in Malaga province for a sport that is gaining more and more followers around the world every day.
Mushing originates in Lapland, Alaska and Canada and is a winter sport that is mainly done with sled dogs with sleds and skis, but can also be practised without snow.
On Sunday the contrast to those northernmost outposts was stark with the Tábanos pine forest playing host to the sport, with a spectacular circuit awaiting participants.
They competed in a number of different modes, including 'canicross' (running joined to your dog), 'bikejoring' (riding a mountain bike being pulled by your dog) and 'scooter' (riding a special 'skate' bike without pedals, pulled by one or two dogs).
The professional mushers, leaving at 20 second intervals to be timed, raced over a distance of five kilometres, between pine trees, round bends and up and down hills. For those wanting to try out the sport there were one- and two-kilometre courses, depending on the age of the participants.
Juan Alberto Sánchez from Triatcan, the club that organised the event, says that the sport is focused on "the enjoyment of the animal". Mushing is a great way to exercise and create a connection with your dog, he says. "It is also very important that humans get enough exercise, and this sport allows us to train together with our pets. It is not only a physically healthy activity, but also helps to create bonds with our dogs," emphasises Sánchez, who denies suggestions that the animal suffers during the sport.
Before each race, each dog has to pass a veterinary test to check that it is healthy and ready to race.
One of the most important rules of mushing is that the dog and owner must travel at a similar speed, regardless of the chosen sport. While the dog must always be in front, "at no time can you give up and let the dog do all the pulling, nor should you pull the dog", says the head of the race.
In the past five years, proceeds from sign-up fees for the Mushing Manilva Race have gone to animal protection charities. This year, in collaboration with the town hall, the funds will be given to Mirada Libre, an animal protection association that lost its facilities in the heavy rains of October.
In Andalucía, mushing already has a dozen federated clubs, following the success of the sport in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Madrid.
The next step for organisers is to take their event to the snow in Sierra Nevada. They have requested the help of the organisers at the ski resort, and hope to have an event planned in the future.
In order to bring a greater audience to the sport an event has been organised for 23 and 24 March in Manilva. It will be the first Andalusian mushing symposium and it will be attended by world and Spanish champions. But of course, all eyes will be on the true stars of the show, the dogs.