Changes to chuckwagon races at Calgary Stampede may reduce tragedy on the track

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WATCH: The adrenaline-fuelled chuckwagon races are a huge draw for countless Calgarians and tourists. But before they hit the track Friday night, drivers tested out new protocols to make sure their teams and their horses are as safe as possible. Jill Croteau reports – Jul 7, 2022

It’s considered one of the most riveting parts of the Calgary Stampede. The chuckwagon races are a must-see tradition for countless Calgarians and tourists.

But the legacy of how these heats used to run has evolved. New protocols are in place this year. Chuckwagon driver Vern Nolin says safety is paramount.

“We’ve got a lot invested in horses and our crew, and some of these horses have been in the family for generations. They are like kids to us,” Nolin said. “I have a son outriding behind me. These things are the world to us.

“Are we going to go out and act in a dangerous manner and jeopardize them? No, definitely not.”

Vern Nolin and his daughters give his wagon a fresh coat of paint before Friday’s first race. Jill Croteau/Global News

For the first time, this year there will be three chucks instead of four during the races. Chuckwagon driver Codey McCurrach said he’s not convinced that will make a big difference.

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“The statistics are, less horses on the track, less chance of injury? But we race four all year and have very little incidents,” he said.

But McCurrach does applaud the installation of a series of permanent foam bars that will extend in one lane of the track. It will give drivers a cushion if things get tight.

“We tried it this morning and the horses didn’t notice a difference. When you’re running on the track, it looks like an extended rail,” McCurrach said.

“As a result of some previous incidents, maybe some of the drivers and horses would have had a bit more of an out if this system was used.”

It’s also a welcome precaution for those who care for the animals down at the grounds. Dr. Renaud Leguillette is a University of Calgary researcher in equine medicine.

Foam bars will extend into the outside lane of the track. Tim Lee/Global News

“These foam bars provide a space for wagons — it’s like an emergency lane,” Leguillette said.

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“If drivers need more room because another horse is coming, they have that extra safety room. They are not stuck against the fence.”

He said there are new safety measures every year.

“We must give credit to the Calgary Stampede,” Leguillette said. “They are open and willing to improve and make changes. We try and control risks with the health checks every morning on the horses.

“We are looking this year at testing with blood tests for the cardiac function or damage to muscles.”

With updated checks as well as less horses and more room, it’s hoped the measures will reduce the chances of tragedy on the track.

“I think it will make a difference. Time will tell,” Leguillette said.

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