A few weekends ago, I went to the National Finals Pony Chuckwagon races in Vegreville, AB. It was the best!!! I had not seen chuckwagon races in person in quite a while. Watching rodeo tapes is a bit of a family habit (thanks to my dad), and I had seen them on tape a few months ago, but live, in person is so much better!!! I heard on the radio that the finals were September 17th, and Vegreville is only about an hour and a half away, so I called my friend Dave in Edmonton. I knew he’d like them, so we carpooled and made the short drive out!
So, let me clarify. These ponies are not small. There were some minature chuck teams there as well, and those horses are tiny! But you must realize that ponies are just a bit smaller than ‘full-size’ horses. And boy, can they ever run!!! For those who aren’t familiar with chuckwagon races, let me give you the low-down.
There are 3 or 4 teams that race at once. Each team is made up of 4 horses teamed together (attached through harnesses, yokes, chains, etc.) to pull the wagon. The wagon is pretty small, maybe 5 feet wide by 8 feet long, with regular size I’ve-seen-them-on-Little-House-On-The-Prairie wooden wheels. There is one driver for all these horses, and he or she does it with reins attached to the horses’ bits. (A bit is a part in the horse’s mouth that it bites down on, part of the harness system.) Anyhow, the teams line up near their barrels. When the horn sounds to start the race, they have to run around the first barrel on the right side, and then go around the left side of the second barrel. They do a 360 degree turn around that second barrel. Now the horses are usually pretty pumped, so sometimes they spook and won’t listen to their driver, or they listen, but he makes a mistake and they run over the barrels, or they run so fast, the driver has a hard time controlling them. In chuckwagon races with full-size horses, there are also outriders, but I don’t have time to explain those now… Once they navigate their barrels, with the wagon often skidding across the dirt and narrowly missing other wagons or horses, they have to straighten out and run around a track (similar in size to other horse racing tracks, I guess). These ponies can really go, and once they are out in the open they will ‘stretch-out,’ galloping full-out, pulling their wagons, not slowing down one bit, sometimes coming back from far behind to pass all the other teams!
It is so exciting!! To see those ponies run, and of course, there’s always the element of danger, that two rigs might collide. They get pretty close (and if they get too close and interfere with someone else’s rig, they get a 5 second penalty). No rigs collided that day, though there were plenty of close calls, and one team of horses that go so confused, they turned full around and did the barrels twice!! Overall, it was a beautiful, warm day, with a crowd of spectators and those great western announcers… a day I won’t soon forget.
I couldn’t find any pics from that day in Vegreville, but for some other great community rodeo pictures, try www.hardisty.ca/recreation/rodeo_photos.php Go to the bottom of the page for the chuckwagon pics! 🙂