'It's in their roots': UK's first champion musher's sled dogs happier racing than playing fetch

ITV Meridian reporter Andrew Pate puts his dog-sledding to the test.

You won't find Britain's first dog-sledding world champion tearing through the snow this winter.

Matt Hodgson has swapped a sled for wheels as he puts his furry teammates through their paces in the depths of England's forest.

The Infury Sled Dogs musher and his racers have already made history as Britain's first World Sleddog Association adult world champion.

He and his team of six Greenland dogs were due to showcase their speeds at the WSA Dryland World Championship 2021 in Belgium this weekend.

But the omicron variant travel disruption has resulted in the event's cancellation for a second year in a row for Matt, who has competed both on snow and on dry land.

ITV Meridian hopped on board with Matt and his furry teammates as they train for future races, deep in the South Downs forest, Sussex.

ITV Meridian's Andrew Pate gets a lesson in dog-sledding from Matt Hodgson in the South Downs. Credit: ITV Meridian

Matt's passion for the sport began young, he explains: "It all started for me when I was a young boy and I read books by Jack London like 'Call of the Wild' and 'White Fang.' "I started this love affair in my mind with the Arctic breeds and the sled dogs."

Matt got his first dog - an Alaskan Malamut - about 17 years ago.

Matt Hodgson and his dogs in full racing form. Credit: Matt Hodgson
Matt Hodgson says he is never happier than when hanging out with his sled dogs. Credit: ITV Meridian

Many of us think of huskies as traditional dog-sledding breeds - but many more types are common in the sport.

Today, Matt runs Greenland dogs, including Ava, who delivered a litter of purebred puppies just this February.

Four were re-homed, and two of Ava's pups are in training to join their mum's racing team.

Matt says his dogs love to race - describing their focus on running as "in their roots".

"They absolutely love it. With something like the Greenland dog - an active, working dog, it's really important to get breed-appropriate exercise for them.

"They are not a dog you can just go to the park and throw a ball for them - they wouldn't be satisfied with that."

He explains: "You need to give them the sort of exercise that they love. They've been conditioned for for a millennia."

Not just anyone can go dog-sledding in England's forests.

As a professional, Matt has a special permit - which allows his team to practise on specific Forestry England land in East Sussex.

The world championships cancellation is the second in a row, after the coronavirus pandemic halted last year's competition too.

But Matt and his teammates are keeping busy, he says.

"I just love being with the dogs. Even when it's dark and wet and miserable, there's something exciting about getting out and running the dogs in the forest and seeing them so happy."

  • Meet Ava and the rest of Matt Hodgson's dog-sledding team here.