A Brief Summary of Our History in the Siberian Husky Breed
Our family first imported a pair of Siberians from the USA in 1969 (when we returned to the UK after many years living overseas). These proved to be the third pair of this breed in the country. The two dogs, Ilya of Northwood and Douschka of Northwood, along with further imports, formed the foundation for Forstal Kennels. We were unable to have the kennel name Northwood, as it was disallowed by the KC, so ended up with our second choice, Forstal, which we have always understood to be an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘of the forest’.
As our Siberian Husky pack slowly grew, it was soon clear to us that running them in harness was the best way to exercise them and Sally became the first person to work the breed, indeed any sled dog breed, in the UK. Initially it took a very long time to get anyone else interested in working their dogs in harness.
The owners of the other sled dog breeds, which, while still rare breeds at that time, were already well established in the UK ( these were Alaskan Malamutes and what are now Greenland Dogs or Canadian Eskimo dogs – then all one breed and called ‘Huskies’), all thought we were mad even to attempt to try and work sled dogs in the UK! Nonetheless Sally persevered and had great fun working our small team of Siberians and learning as she went along. Gradually, one or two other Siberian owners got interested and it did start to catch on a little bit. Once the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain (SHCGB) was started, it was easier to promote the idea of working these dogs as the very best way of exercising them. We believe working them is also the very best way of learning about the breed and understanding them from both a psychological and structural point of view. We have always tried to emphasize these points and tend to feel the breed should only ever be judged in the show ring by people who have a real understanding, and preferably direct experience, of working these dogs in harness. We were founder members of the SHCGB and were very active in setting up many of the original systems in the club to do with monitoring hip and eye problems (both of which we started to screen for from the outset); educational material for judges teach-ins and breed seminars; the welfare schemes, which we ran entirely in the early days and, of course, organizing events to encourage owners to work their dogs and also putting on races for many years. We have always aimed to give all our dogs as good and fulfilling a life as possible. We keep all our dogs for their natural life, so once we keep a puppy or take on an adult it stays with us from then on, as all our dogs are important and valued members of the family and the pack. Our pack will therefore include several older pensioners who have retired from working and one or two youngsters. To keep the teams competitive you need to have youngsters coming along all the time, to step into the paws of the older dogs which may no longer be up to the pace; the youthful enthusiasm they can contribute is also very important for a competitive team. We continue working our older dogs as long as they want to work, and are physically capable of working. Sometimes they will still be very keen mentally, but physically can no longer cope, and then they have to be retired of course – but they still love going for regular long walks. While still working, the older veterans are always excellent role models for the youngsters when they are starting out in harness and for this reason we will invariably start our puppies in harness with the older dogs. We only have a litter of puppies if we want to keep something from a particular cross. Our philosophy in our breeding is to try to be completely objective while assessing all aspects of each dog – their working attitude, drive and toughness; their conformation and movement in the team and in a trot; their soundness; their temperament around the home, while out and about and in the pack; their stamina and metabolism; and of course their breed type and pedigree. In breeding we have always, over the years, aimed to bring the best qualities of each individual forward and leave behind the less desirable characteristics. All the original dogs that we have had and have bred from are still in our pedigrees. We value all the best qualities of our earliest lines and also the more recent introductions, and have made an effort to preserve them all in our breeding. This means that now, after over 50 years, we still recognize familiar faces and mannerisms from the early days, which carry on through the generations. This is lovely to see and very rewarding! It is important to remember that, used wisely, many different bloodlines can have qualities that are worth preserving. With such a relatively small gene pool as we have in this breed, especially the pure bred working lines, it is important to keep them all represented in the bloodlines going forward. Our earliest dogs were from old American show lines (which were still very close to the originals, and were nowhere near the exaggerated animals one associates now with some of the show type), Canadian working and early show lines, and some very early Alaskan/Anadyr and Seppala lines from Norway. So we actually had a good mix right from the start and these dogs all had a lot to offer. They were mostly very long lived as well with 3 making it to 17 plus years of age and many to 16 years plus and staying fit and active throughout their lives. We work test our dogs to the best of our ability, although are very aware that our climate will always be a limiting factor on how much we can do. We feel that the occasional and carefully selected introduction of proven working bloodlines, from good kennels in countries where dogs are work tested in the conditions they were originally developed for, helps to offset any limitations. Most recently and since the Dog World article, (which covers our other imports and additions to our bloodlines), in 2012 we imported two, a male and a female from the very well known Vargevass kennel in Sweden/Norway, where they have some outstanding pure bred working Siberians and mainly focus on mid and long distance events. We have found that these two, Rocky (Amarok Av Vargevass of Forstal) and Glee (Ch Galeenaa Av Vargevass of Forstal) have combined really well with our bloodlines and we have been delighted with them in every way. They both have lovely temperaments, have fitted into our pack really well, are very hard working and have consistently made our top teams in the races. Rocky is an excellent driven leader as well and really throws his working attitude and drive to his progeny. In 2010 we used a lovely dog, Zima Hatcher At Bifrost, at stud which introduced some more recent Alaskan/Anadyr bloodlines (via Lara Ke) as well as some different pure Seppala bloodline dogs and the two we kept from this litter are both excellent workers and have gone on to produce some very good additions to our teams as well. In 2015 we acquired another female, Foxy, (Cryanreuch Wild Foxglove of Forstal) and she had her first litter in 2019 to our line bred Xaros boy, now 12 years old, Ch Forstal's Xanook and the two we kept from this litter are beautiful looking boys and showing a great deal of potential in harness. Fox is a very typical girl with a lovely pedigree, bringing in some more recent Alaskan/Anadyr as well as a bit of Vargevass and Kefeus bloodlines. She is also an excellent worker and driven leader with a lovely temperament and is altogether a great addition to our pack. Keeping these beautiful dogs for so many years has taught us many things and, perhaps most importantly, that they are all unique and often eccentric characters. They are also highly intelligent, intuitive and incredibly sensitive. Over the years it has been a source of great interest and pride to develop the full potential of each and every one of our dogs and they all teach us that we still have a great deal to learn!