Chuckwagon racing

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Chuckwagons racing toward the finish line at the 2009 Calgary Stampede Stampede chuckwagon race.JPG
Chuckwagons racing toward the finish line at the 2009 Calgary Stampede

Chuckwagon racing is an equestrian rodeo sport in which drivers in a chuckwagon led by a team of Thoroughbred horses race around a track. The sport is most popular in the Prairie Provinces of Canada, where the World Professional Chuckwagon Association and the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association are the two major racing circuits. The most famous chuckwagon race in the world is held annually at the Calgary Stampede, where the total prize money for the ten-day event tops C$2 million. The WPCA submits 25 drivers to the Calgary, while the CPCA submits 11 drivers. The sport is controversial, as horses and drivers have been injured or died, prompting animal welfare groups to call for it to be banned.


Race format

Each chuckwagon racing team is led by a driver, who commands a team of horses pulling the chuckwagon. The driver is supported by two or four outriders, each racing individual thoroughbred horses that follow the chuckwagon. Each race typically involves three or four teams, and begins with the outriders "breaking camp", by tossing two tent poles (with four outriders only) and a barrel representing a camp stove into the back of their wagon before mounting their horses and following the wagons as they complete a figure eight around two barrels before circling a race track. The first wagon to cross the finish line typically wins, although various time penalties are handed out for infractions such as a barrel being knocked over, a tent pole or stove not loaded, wagon interference, or an outrider crossing the finish line too far behind his wagon driver. [1]


The first time chuckwagon races were held as a spectator sport was at the 1923 Calgary Stampede. [2] [3] Guy Weadick, who had founded the Stampede eleven years previously, invited ranchers to enter their chuckwagons and crews to compete for a total of $275 in prize money. [4] In 2009, the total purse available to racers was $1.15 million. Drivers can earn additional awards: [5]

The actual origin of the sport is unknown, with many different stories offered. Among them are the suggestions that Weadick first saw a similar event at the 1922 Gleichen Stampede, that he saw impromptu races between chuckwagon drivers as a kid growing up, or that cooks from two chuckwagons who had completed serving a barbecue at the 1919 Victory Stampede in Calgary then raced to the grandstand's exit, inspiring the event. [6]

Wagons lined up before the start of a race Stampede chuckwagon race start.JPG
Wagons lined up before the start of a race

The first professional racing circuit was sanctioned in 1949 by the Cowboys Protective Association (today the World Professional Chuckwagon Association), [4] which sanctioned all professional rodeo and chuckwagon races in Canada, including the Calgary Stampede. It operates the GMC Pro Tour, a 10-event season with events held throughout Alberta and northeastern British Columbia. A smaller governing body, the Northern Chuckwagon Association, was formed in the late 1970s, evolving into the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association in 1995. [7] The CPCA's Pro Tour hosts events in Saskatchewan and northern Alberta. [8] In 2001 the Western Chuckwagon Association was formed in Northern Alberta. They currently race in venues across the Peace River Country with major shows in Grande Prairie, AB and Dawson Creek, BC. The WCA has grown to have around 20-25 drivers.

While the sport's popularity is greatest on the Canadian prairies, chuckwagon racing has been held in conjunction with many rodeos across North America.

The sport can be very dangerous for wagon drivers and outriders. There have been five human deaths related to the Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede. Three occurred between 1948 and 1971, one of which was a spectator struck by an outrider's horse, and two occurred in the 1990s; an outrider in 1996 and a driver in 1999. [9]

Horse welfare and deaths

The sport has faced opposition from animal welfare groups, who contend that it is unnecessarily cruel to the horses (which occasionally suffer injuries requiring them to be euthanized), and want the sport banned. [10] For instance, four horses died following chuckwagon races at the 2009 Calgary Stampede, [11] and a wagon crash during the 2007 Stampede in which three horses died and a driver hospitalized led officials in Calgary to review the safety of the sport. [12] Six horses died in 2010, two from heart attacks. [13] Approximately 65 horses have died in chuckwagon races at that event between 1986 and 2015. [14] In 2013, a 12-year-old thoroughbred ridden by an outrider collapsed with a burst lung artery and died shortly afterwards, a death attributed to exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. [15] Four horses were euthanized after suffering leg injuries in races at the 2015 Stampede. [14]

Supporters of the event argue that the horses are well cared for, before and after the race itself. At the Calgary Stampede, officials work closely with local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Calgary Humane Society staff to ensure that the horses are fit enough to endure the race. [10] Wagon drivers express sadness over the periodic deaths of horses at the Stampede, explaining that, while unfortunate, animal injury and death are a normal element of any ranch or farming operation. Critics counter that chuckwagon racing is simply an adrenaline sport and produces no food. Thus the practice is an unnecessary and cruel risk to force horses to take. [10]

Related Research Articles

Rodeo Competitive sport

Rodeo is a competitive equestrian sport that arose out of the working practices of cattle herding in Spain and Mexico, expanding throughout the Americas and to other nations. Originally based on the skills required of the working vaqueros and later, cowboys, in what today is the western United States, western Canada, and northern Mexico. Today, it is a sporting event that involves horses and other livestock, designed to test the skill and speed of the cowboys and cowgirls. American-style professional rodeos generally comprise the following events: tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull riding and barrel racing. The events are divided into two basic categories: the rough stock events and the timed events. Depending on sanctioning organization and region, other events such as breakaway roping, goat tying, and pole bending may also be a part of some rodeos. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the "world's first public cowboy contest" was held on July 4, 1883 in Pecos, Texas, between cattle driver Trav Windham and roper Morg Livingston.

Calgary Stampede Annual rodeo, exhibition, and festival in Calgary, Canada

The Calgary Stampede is an annual rodeo, exhibition, and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The ten-day event, which bills itself as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth", attracts over one million visitors per year and features one of the world's largest rodeos, a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, chuckwagon racing, and First Nations exhibitions. In 2008, the Calgary Stampede was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Culture of Alberta

The culture of Alberta refers to the art, customs, and traditions of the people of Alberta. Alberta entered into Confederation in 1905, placing her in a tie with Saskatchewan as the country's second youngest province. Despite her short history, the province possesses a rich culture. The vastness of the land and variation of geography – which includes mountains, foothills, grassland, parkland, forest, and rockland – have served as important sources of creative inspiration across all art forms. Alberta's primary industries of farming, ranching, and petroleum also play a major part in the province's culture and identity.

Wagon Four wheeled vehicle (mostly pulled by draught animals)

A wagon or waggon is a heavy four-wheeled vehicle pulled by draught animals or on occasion by humans, used for transporting goods, commodities, agricultural materials, supplies and sometimes people.

Chuckwagon American field kitchen covered wagon

A chuckwagon is a type of field kitchen covered wagon historically used for the storage and transportation of food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the United States and Canada. Such wagons formed part of a wagon train of settlers or fed traveling workers such as cowboys or loggers.

Guy Weadick Canadian cowboy

George Guy Weadick was an American-Canadian cowboy, performer and promoter. Today, he is best known as the founder of the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada. He was married to famed cowgirl, Florence LaDue. Weadick was the first to be inducted in the Builder category in the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Stampede Grandstand

The Stampede Grandstand is a 17,000-seat, plus 8,000 more with standing room, stadium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It annually hosts the rodeo, the chuckwagon races and the evening Grandstand Show portions of the Calgary Stampede.

History of tracks the lineage of modern Western rodeo.

Joseph Carbury was a rodeo announcer in Calgary, Alberta, and one of the most familiar voices of the Calgary area.

World Professional Chuckwagon Association

The World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) is an association made up of professional cowboys and business people with an interest in preserving western heritage and providing family entertainment. The WPCA promotes and presents chuckwagon racing as a professional sport throughout North America and the world. The WPCA is a close-knit community that mentors its new drivers in safety and professionalism to preserve the integrity of the WPCA and chuckwagon racing in general.

Reg Kesler began his rodeo career at the age of 14 at the Raymond Stampede, competing in the boys steer riding. At the time, it was common for cowboys to compete in many or even all the rodeo events, and Kesler was no exception as he grew into his rodeo career. He participated in all five major rodeo events of the time: saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping and steer decorating, a precursor to steer wrestling. Kesler especially excelled in the roughstock events, namely saddle bronc riding and bareback riding, appearing in the top four in the Canadian standings in those events six times. He was also a successful competitor in the wild cow milking and wild horse racing, an outrider in the chuckwagon racing, and a well-known pick-up man. Kesler was a ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee.

Animal treatment in rodeo

The welfare of animals in rodeo has been a topic of discussion for the industry, the public, and the law for decades. Protests were first raised in the 1870s, and, in the middle twentieth century, laws were enacted to curb events using animals. The American Humane Association (AHA) has worked with the rodeo industry to establish rules improving animal welfare in rodeo and the treatment of rodeo animals.

Rick Fraser (chuckwagon racer) Canadian professional chuckwagon racer

Rick Fraser is a Canadian professional chuckwagon racer. He is a two-time World Champion Chuckwagon Driver, a six-time Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Champion Outrider, and has won 20 show titles in 21 years of competing on the WPCA Pro Tour.

The Grande Prairie Stompede is an agricultural event held typically at the end of May every year at Evergreen Park in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Recent years have seen as many as 50,000 people attending during the 5 days of Stompede. Events held at Stompede include: Rodeo, Pony Chuckwagon Racing, thoroughbred Chuckwagon Racing and usually a midway.

Chad Harden Canadian professional chuckwagon racer (born 1970)

Chad Harden is a Canadian professional chuckwagon racer. He has won the three richest shows in chuckwagon racing: the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby, Edmonton's Chuckwagon Derby, and the Ponoka Stampede.

Troy Dorchester Canadian professional chuckwagon racer

Troy Dorchester is a Canadian professional chuckwagon racer. He is the only chuckwagon driver to have won chuckwagon racing's "Triple Crown" consisting of the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby, the Calgary Stampede Aggregate Title and the Ponoka Stampede in a single year. He accomplished the feat in 2012.

Jerry Bremner Canadian professional chuckwagon racer

Jerry Bremner is a Canadian professional chuckwagon racer. He is a three-time World Champion Chuckwagon Driver and was the 1986 World Champion Outrider.

Kelly Sutherland, nicknamed "The King", is a professional rodeo competitor in chuckwagon racing. He is a 12-time world champion of the World Professional Chuckwagon Association and 12-time winner at the Calgary Stampede.

Canadian Professional Rodeo Association

The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) is the governing body of professional rodeo in Canada. Its championship event is the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) held every November.

Isabella Miller (barrel racer) Canadian barrel racer

Isabella Miller was a Canadian rodeo performer, rancher and horse trainer. She was the Canadian Barrel Racing Champion in 1960 and 1969 and was a 5-time winner of the Canadian All-Around women's title. She was inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2005.


  1. 2009 Calgary Stampede Evening Show Program. Calgary Stampede Board. p. 11.
  2. 2009 Calgary Stampede Evening Show Program. Calgary Stampede Board. p. 8.
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  10. 1 2 3 "Two sides emerging to share strong views over animal deaths at Calgary Stampede". Metro News. 13 July 2009. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  11. "4th animal dies at Stampede". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 11 July 2009. Archived from the original on 5 November 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  12. "Calgary Stampede to review chuckwagon safety". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 September 2007. Archived from the original on 5 November 2021. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  13. "3 Calgary Stampede horses die in chuckwagon crash". 12 July 2012. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  14. 1 2 Luxen, Micah (14 July 2015). "Calgary Stampede: Why horses die on the 'half-mile of hell'". BBC. Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  15. Ho, Clara (13 July 2013). "Chuckwagon horse died from burst lung artery, say Stampede officials". Calgary Herald. Archived from the original on 17 June 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2019.

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