Virus forces break in 25-year racing tradition

Tracey Stott has been competing at Westerner Days for nearly 25 years.

Even before that, she remembers as a kid, the big crowds downtown and watching her dad Jack compete in the pony chuckwagon races.

Stott, who lives in Olds these days, but spends plenty of time on the family farm in Lacombe, was sad to hear the news about the cancellation of the 128th edition of Westerner Days, but was understanding.

“It’s huge, it’s local for us. We have friends and family and we usually have our local sponsors, being close, so they can come to watch easily. We’ve been going to Westerner – Dad was going before I was even born.

“We’ve been going for many, many years,” said Stott, who competes in the pony chuckwagon races along with her brother John, sister Lori and nephew Karsen.

“Be that as it may, we totally understand where the Westerner is and we stand by their decision. It’s a tough decision to make.”

With Alberta Health recommending that no events with more than 15 people take place over the summer, it caused a domino effect for many warm-weather activities.

It means a no go for the North American Pony Chuckwagon Championships, the flagship race of the Alberta Pony Chuckwagon and Chariot Association event, which has been a part of Westerner Days the past several years.

“It is our premier event, so we all look forward to that. That basically will set the tone for the rest of summer,” said association president Dwayne Dubuc.

“It’s going to be a huge disappointment. The bills still have to be paid and the horses have to be fed. They still are going to need some attention, too.

“They can’t just be ignored in a pasture all summer long, they’re just not that kind of horse. The work will still be done… that’s the only way we’re going to be able to come back a year from now.”

Dubuc said the horses will need lots of love this summer, and he plans on keeping them running, like he would any other year, minus the gruelling weekend competitions.

He said it’s a good opportunity to maybe try some different combinations with his team, or try out a younger horse.

“There is a lot of training in the yard. Many of the drivers in the yard will have some area… that they use for exercising and so on. It’s an orderly, disciplined form of exercise, rather them out running, bucking and kicking on their own.

“The horses are all used to the routine, and when spring training starts, they jump right into it and enjoy it… with the lack of races, will have to give a little more attention to the routine and training at home.”

Stott noted that while they’re usually in full spring training mode at this point in the year, they’ve mostly just been trying to wait and see with all their horses.

While the Stott family won’t get the thrill of lining up with plenty of support in what’s essentially a hometown race, Stott said it’s important to keep perspective.

“We usually get started in Grande Prairie at the Stompede, and since that’s been cancelled, we’ve been crossing our fingers that somewhere down the line, we’d be able to start having our season,” Stott said.

“But everybody is in the same boat, whether you’re racing or rodeo, or family get-togethers, everybody is in the same boat. It’s one of those things that you have to deal with day by day and go with the flow.

Hopefully, it will all get worked out in the end.”

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