The Calgary Stampede has announced new safety measures for its annual chuckwagon races, the GMC Rangeland Derby.
The changes are designed to reduce the risk to both the horses and the chuckwagon drivers, and are based – in part – on feedback from a panel of chuckwagon experts.
Among the new safety measures are revisions to barrel placement in the infield, which has been altered to better position wagons as they transition from the Figure 8 start onto the track.
Chuckwagon driver Mark Sutherland said the move will reduce the potential for wagon contact.
“They’ve changed the angle of a couple of the barrels,” Sutherland added. “It will actually probably make it easier because it’s less of a ninety-degree turn back to the racetrack.”
Other changes include the introduction of X-rays for wagon poles to help identify cracks or flaws, and increased training and practice times for drivers.
In addition, the Stampede is introducing a new selection process for drivers invited to compete in the derby, which will look at drivers’ professionalism, safety record and competitiveness.
The new safety measures are being introduced following the deaths of four horses at the Rangeland Derby in 2015. However, one animal rights group says the changes aren’t enough to prevent horse injuries and deaths.
Animal Rights Coalition spokesperson Michael Alvarez-Toye said the chuckwagons should be shut down completely if organizers want to put an end to horse injury and death.
“Do they really want these horse fatalities to end? They’ve tried all sorts of things: they’ve had medical tests, testing them for drugs, they’ve changed the circuit, which they’re doing again this year. I’m actually surprised they haven’t done X-raying of the bars or anything prior to this.
“The bottom line for us is shut down the chuckwagons altogether. It’s been proven time and time again: with every improvement they’ve done, the end result is still horses being killed.”
With files from Gary Bobrovitz