Out in the wilderness with Finland’s husky trainers as winter arrives in Lapland

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My husband Alexander and I live off-grid in the Muotkatunturi wilderness area of Lapland, Finland. It’s one of the most remote places in Europe, with nothing but natural landscapes as far as the eye can see. 

People who visit us here always comment on how quiet it is: the crisp, cold silence is very powerful and peaceful. And that’s even with our pack of 60 Alaskan huskies who live with us…

I’ve always shared a strong bond with nature and animals. I’m actually not that good with humans, but husky language is very clear; they say everything they mean and are innately good-natured.

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I’ve always had good chemistry with animals

From an early age, I’ve wanted to understand and care for animals on a deeper level – and to be able to help other people do the same. 

When I was a child, there was a funny reindeer lady living in our neighbourhood who spotted immediately that I had a good chemistry with animals. She had a reindeer that refused to be vaccinated, even by the local vet. So, she got me in to help. The reindeer was much calmer with me, although no one knew why.

We are a family here in Muotkatunturi – me, Alex, our huskies and our Arctic horses – and we spend a lot of time together. 

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Huskies instinctively trust their pack leaders

Alaskan huskies, in particular, love to run. They’re born to do it. So, we’re outdoors a lot of the day doing sled races, known as mushing. We start with a distance of around 30 kilometres and keep going longer from there. We teach visitors about the magic of mushing, too – although not everyone will end up driving a sled.

Huskies are quick to learn, and as pack animals, it’s easy to work with them. They’re great company and are loyal. They instinctively trust that their owners are doing the right thing, at the right moment. 

But physically, mushing is quite tough and we’re responsible for making sure that our dog teams stay safe and happy. Some people slowly build up to taking the reins, or they might simply ride in the sled, or hang out and learn how to care for our dogs. 

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We spend hours giving them love and attention

The logistics are not easy, either, because we’re in the middle of nowhere. A lot of visitors get lost, although they love it when they arrive. Even tasks like fetching fresh water from the river don’t feel like work in an environment as spectacular as this. 

Huskies are very sociable and pack-orientated creatures. As well as cheering them on when we’re running with them, we also spend many hours massaging them, cuddling them and generally giving them love and attention. 

There are seven dogs in a kennel, so we rotate around – which makes it a bit easier in terms of making sure each husky gets enough TLC.

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We focus on deepening the bond between humans and animals

Once our dogs get older, we cut back the distance of their runs and they stay with us as part of the family. Often it’s quite useful to have an elder around, because they can set a good example to the new litters that we breed. They’re like stand-in teachers when the mums return to sledding and are too tired to do everything themselves.

A lot of what we focus on here at Muotkatunturi is about forging a greater sense of communication between humans and the animals we share the world with. Animals speak to us a lot and being able to listen is a skill in itself. 

We can learn their body language from the tiniest details, such as the way that a husky’s ears move, or the swish of a horse’s tail. To be able to open our minds to this kind of listening is a beautiful thing indeed. 

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At the end of a race, it’s important to acknowledge each husky

That’s why mushing makes you feel so alive and connected. You get to dial back to nature in these incredibly peaceful, healing snowscapes. 

But more than that, you can bond with the huskies. The whole time, you’re building trust together and caring for the dogs so that you can work as a team. At the end of a race, it’s important that you go round each husky in your pack – hugging them, scratching them and thanking them one by one. It’s a gorgeous moment. 

Huskies have been friends with humans for a long time, so if you manage to ride through nature with a dog team, it can feel profound. It changes how people see their lives. That’s why those that do it fall in love with the sport. 

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Taking time with animals in the wilderness is therapeutic

Our guests often remark that they’ve learnt something important from staying with us, even if it’s only for a few days. Somehow, being able to take time with animals in this vast wilderness on our doorstep is therapeutic. Visitors find something within they didn’t know they had. It’s like mending a missing link. 

We have Northern Lights here, of course, and cosy off-grid cabins. But most of all, it’s the huskies that make this place so special. They just want to be around you and they give so much love and happiness, every day. 

My mum brought me to this area when I was eight years old, and – although I went away to study for a while – there’s nowhere I’d rather be. I feel very lucky to have this simple, beautiful lifestyle. It’s like a dream come true. 

Tinja Myllykangas and her husband Alexander Schwarz live off-grid on a husky farm in the Muotkatunturi wilderness area of Lapland, Finland. 

To launch your own Arctic adventure, join Flash Pack for husky sledding, winter snowshoeing and Northern Lights trails on a private island in Finland

Images: Courtesy of Tinja Myllykangas & Unsplash 

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