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We all know that Father Christmas has a sleigh pulled by magical flying reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). But can real reindeer really pull sleighs over the snow? In some parts of the world reindeer were used for transportation and in some places they still are--for day to day use, recreation, exercise, sport or racing. There are several different types of reindeer sleigh:
In Finland and Lapland is pulk is a flat-bottomed toboggan or sledge. It is sometimes referred to as the akja or ahkio.This may be drawn by a person or a single reindeer. Sleighs of this basic type have been used throughout Scandinavia, Russia and Germany.
The pulk is shaped like a small boat and may have small tracks to help it run straight. Vintage pulks can sometimes still be bought, including versions made by the military. And some people build modern versions, often made from plywood.
A larger sledge raised up on runners can be drawn by a larger team of reindeer, typically three or four, harnessed side by side. (As shown in the example from Russia below).
There are a number of tradition races of reindeer sledges. For example, every March in Murmansk, Russia reindeer sledge are raced to celebrate the imminent arrival of spring.
Single Jockey Racing
A new form of exciting reindeer racing involves a reindeer pulling a single skier. Racing reindeer can reach speeds of almost 40 miles an hour. Races are often run in pair as shown below. Distinct lines of reindeer adapted to racing are now being developed.
But what about 8 reindeer?
The idea of eight reindeer comes from 1823 poem 'A Visit from Saint Nicholas' by Clement C. Moore. In reality a team this large would be impractical.
- Pösö, Anna Reeta, M. Nieminen, J. Raulio, Leena A. Räsänen, and T. Soveri. "Skeletal muscle characteristics of racing reindeer (< i> Rangifer tarandus</i>)." Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology 114, no. 3 (1996): 277-281.