Westerner Park expects more scrutiny of chuckwagon races at Westerner Days after six horses were euthanized at the recent Calgary Stampede.
“We are the first event after what has happened down south of us. People will be watching and we want to be able to say we have done everything that we can to ensure the safety of all concerned,” said Westerner Park CEO Bradley Williams, who was at the Stampede’s chuckwagon race on Sunday, when three horses were injured and euthanized.
“It’s obviously extremely unfortunate. We’re not brushing this off or taking it lightly. This is very serious for us. Safety is always important. We don’t cut corners.”
He said tarps went up quickly after the horses went down on Sunday in Calgary, but people know full well what’s going on.
“When something like that happens, it’s pretty devastating.”
A total of six horses had to be euthanized at this year’s Stampede. A few of the animals suffered broken legs. One collapsed due to a medical condition.
Williams said there have been no chuckwagon horses injured in Red Deer in recent memory, and this week, an added precaution will be taken by having a third-party equine team inspect the chuckwagon horses.
“If there are any that appear to be sick or injured or lame, or whatever the case may be, they will be noted and taken out of the race. We don’t always do that for the chunkwagon races.
“In light of everything, we want to do more than is required in order to ensure safety. We don’t want an animal running out there and hurting itself or hurting others,” Williams said.
As usual, the track will be inspected regularly by both Westerner Park and the Alberta Professional Chuckwagon & Chariot Association.
Association president Dwayne Dubuc said the pony chuckwagon races run at Westerner Days are statistically safer than those in Calgary, because the Stampede races use larger chuckwagons with larger horses, and other horse riders on the track competing in the race.
Calgary’s races are part of the World Professional Chuckwagon Association.
Dubuc said both Red Deer and Calgary races are run on the same size track, and the only extra horse riders on the Red Deer track are judges. Another judge will be added in Red Deer this week as a precaution.
He said everything is already being done that can be done when it comes to safety. A lot of protesters say horses don’t have a voice, that they didn’t choose to run, and that’s just not true, said Dubuc.
“If they don’t want to run, there’s nothing I can do to make them run. They will stand there. They will balk, and you will just have to lead them off,” Dubuc said.
And horses know when they have performed well, he said.
“These horses are proud. The way they prance, they know they have done a good job. I feel bad that people even want to take that away from these horses,” Dubuc said.
Williams said there are certain risks attached to the sport. Injuries can happen.
“We hope and pray it does not happen here. But it’s an exciting sport. It’s fast. It’s part of our western heritage. I would hope that there would still be people supporting it,” Williams said.
The 2019 Red Deer Motors North American Pony Chuckwagon Championship will be held during Westerner Days with 40 chuckwagons competing over the five days.
Ten heats of chuckwagon races will be presented nightly, along with six heats of chariots on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Agri-Trade Stars of Tomorrow, featuring sons and daughters of competitors, will showcase their skills with their mini chuckwagons and chariots nightly during intermission.
Chuckwagon races start at 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, with a 2 p.m. start on Sunday. Chariots start at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a 1 p.m. start on Sunday.
— with file from The Canadian Press