By Karen Fanning

Al Hardman of Ludington, Michigan, attaches the tug line to his dog Sackett while Willow looks on. The dogs competed in the 2002 Iditarod. (Andy Klevorn/AP Wide World)

He’s just 6 years old and already has three Iditarods under his belt. And Texas isn’t ready to hang up his booties yet. Come March 5, the 55-pound Alaskan husky will be ready to take on the Iditarod one more time.

“ He’s back and ready to go for another,” says musher Jeff King, who hopes Texas will help lead him to his fourth Iditarod victory. “There is no sign he is looking to retire.”

Texas was just 3 years old when he harnessed up for his rookie run. Now, three years later, he has emerged as one of the leaders on King’s team.

Still, the Iditarod, at 1,150 miles, is grueling, even for veteran sled dogs like Texas. To combat fatigue, the dogs rotate positions on the trail—from the lead to the middle to the back of the pack. By doing so, none of the dogs will tire out more than the others.

Each position has its own demands. The job of the lead dogs is more mental than physical, says King.

“ The leaders have to think,” he says. “They’re watching the trail, listening for directions, turning, deciding what speed I’m asking for. The dogs in the middle can go on autopilot. They’re like the bench.”

The pair of dogs in the wheel—the two dogs directly in front of the sled—do much of the pulling. Their job is the most physical of the bunch.

Whether Texas is asked to lead, pull, or run in the middle of the pack, King has every confidence that he will answer the call.

“ He’s an exceptional sled dog,” say King. “He’s an outstanding leader. He’s a fantastic friend, and I love him dearly.”