Former local woman ready to mush in West Yellowstone
April Cox and Hugo Antonucci are mushers. They raise, rescue, re-home and race Huskies.
Cox is the daughter of Gayle and Luane Cox. She grew up in the Blackfoot area.
Antonucci was a senior configuration analyst for Rockwell Collins. He worked in the engineering core before he retired. Now he works with Huskies.
Cox and Antonucci each have brought eight-dog teams to compete in the West Yellowstone Sledding Race that begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with the "Parade of Lights."
Cox and Antonucci and their teams will each cover 100 miles over two days—50 miles on Friday and another 50 miles on Saturday.
Technically, they do not race their teams against each because all mushers race against the clock.
"This is my third year competing in the West Yellowstone race," said Cox. "In the previous two years, I've received a red lantern."
The red lantern is given to the competitor who comes in last.
"This year my goal is not finish last," she said.
Cox received her first Husky from her father in 1985. She started racing in 2005.
"I got a taste of mushing when I had gone to Ashton to watch the American Day Derby in 1994," Cox said. "It looked like fun."
Antonucci has been mushing since the mid-90s.
"This is a way of life," he said. "We don't do anything without considering the dogs.
"The truck was purchased with the dogs in mind," said Antonucci.
The pair take care of 40 dogs. Cox breeds dogs. Antonucci rescues shelter Huskies and re-homes them.
To train the dogs, they work the teams every other day or, at least, three to four times each week.
The racing season lasts from only December through March. This year, Cox and Antonucci hope to race in Montana, Oregon, Washington and California.
Dog sled racers are divided into classes. Mushers choose the number of dogs they are running and the number of miles in the race they want to cover.
Mushers watch their dogs to determine where they are going to run in the team.
"To determine the leader of the team, you watch to see if the dog wants to be in front," said Antonucci. "They have to want to lead."
"Some dogs also prefer to be on the right or left side of the team," said Cox. "It works pretty well until you need the dog to run on a specific side.
Dog teams are trained to follow voice commands. "Gee" turns the team to the right; "haw" to the left. To get the team to go faster, mushers whistle.
"It's called, 'whistling them up," said Antonucci. "It's similar to a horse team without the reins.
To slow down the team, there are brakes on the sled and mushers use the command, "Whoa."