AUGUSTA — Dogs attached to the front of three-wheeled metal rigs pulled against their ropes, barking and jumping forward as their owners took turns lining up at the starting line at Viles Arboretum.

At the end of each countdown and after being released by their two-footed companions, the dogs lurched forward.

Dragging their owners atop chariot-like rigs or mountain bikes or scooters, teams of two to six dogs sprinted the 1.5-mile, bumpy, dusty path Sunday morning at Maine Highlands Sled Dog Club rig race.

Amy de Wolski, 29, took part in her first rig race Sunday with a team of dogs she used to win the 30-mile Can-Am Crown sled dog race in Fort Kent earlier this year.

De Wolski lives in Millbury, Mass., with her husband, but said she frequently travels up to her parents’ home in Troy during the winter to train with their dogs. Her family has owned sled dogs for about 12 years, she said.

Her mother, Heidi Delano, 50, said the family first started running a couple of huskies with their coon dogs and got hooked. Now they have about 20 dogs they train for sled races.

“It made for a real good family sport,” Delano said.

De Wolski, covered in specks of mud after racing the course Sunday, said besides the shorter distance, the rig race was a bit scarier than the sled races on snow.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s an adrenaline rush, especially out there right now,” she said. “The ground is a lot harder. I don’t worry about flipping the sled. I worry about flipping this (the rig).”

The Maine Highlands Sled Dog Club is largely for recreational mushers or people wanting to learn more about dog-powered sports, said Jill Carter, president of the club. Most of the roughly 75 members just race for fun, she said. Some members own their own kennels of sled-racing dogs, but others just have a couple of dogs they use to run with bikes or cross-country skis, Carter said.

This was the first time the club raced at Viles Arboretum, but they had planned a race last winter there that was canceled because of a lack of snow, Carter said. She said most of clubs events take place around Greenville and the Maine highlands. The club hosts a handful of races each year and puts on an instructional event covering the basics of mushing and training, Carter said.

She said the club encourages beginners to learn more about the sport and about proper training and caring for the dogs.

“This gives them an opportunity to try things out and learn from people who have been doing it for years,” Carter said.

De Wolski said she thinks more people are getting into dryland racing because there isn’t always enough snow, and the smaller rigs and bikes allow people with only a couple of dogs to compete. Dryland sled-dog racing can be done with a variety of rigs or even just with an owner running with a leashed dog.

In the 30-mile sled races her family’s dogs train for, de Wolski said their dogs usually average around 12 miles an hour over the whole race.

She didn’t know how fast she rode on the dry rig Sunday, but the course was significantly shorter.

“The sleds are my favorite,” de Wolski said. “This is fun. This is scary. I really thought I was gonna get bumped off.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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