Ponoka Stampede is just around the corner and as the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) drivers pile into town, they’re bringing special members of their family with them: their horses.
“Our horses, they’re really part of the chuckwagon family,” said WPCA president Arnold McKernon.
Last year the WPCA implemented a new Code of Care for the animals. “That covered everything from transportation to general care,” said John Lee, chairman with codes of care and volunteer officer on the WPCA board.
With technological advances the code of care continues to improve the health and wellbeing of the animals. All competing WPCA horses and any of their horses at a venue are in the process of being micro-chipped for monitoring.
With the microchips, WPCA competitors and other officials can tell when a horse last raced and how many runs were recently made. “Horses are regulated that they can only run so many days in a row,” said Lee.
“There’s so many mandatory hours of rest a horse must have before they can compete,” he added.
The microchips also track an animal’s transportation route, which again leads into an allotted rest period before they even see the track.
If there is something physically wrong with a horse, the microchip will pick it up and the animal must be treated and cleared before being able to race again.
The code of care also states what is required of a venue the WPCA horses enter. “For safety reasons,” said Lee.
Although it is common practice for rodeo and chuckwagon competitors to subject their animals to the best care available, the code of care reiterates what is compulsory. “By having the Code of Care it really deals with specifics . . . we have it all spelled out there,” said Lee.
Ponoka Stampede parade marshals
This year the Ponoka Stampede Parade Marshals are the drivers and outriders of the WPCA. The public will also have a chance to meet the drivers at the parade.
The first official chuckwagon races took place at the 1923 Calgary Stampede with only six outfits competing and no rules to speak of.
Before that, the idea of the races had to be dreamed up and this is where the stories get a little fuzzy.
One tale suggests that it was Calgary Stampede founder, Guy Weadick, who implemented the races after witnessing impromptu wagon races in the Wild West, with the last one into town buying a round of drinks.
Other accounts suggest it was the 1919 Victory Stampede that gave birth to modern day chuckwagon races. In 1919 two camp cooks were in a race to serve a barbeque in front of the Victory Stampede grandstand. They loaded up their wagons and took off down the track to see who would reach the spectators first.
While the facts are not clear, it is these legends — and many more— that make up the colorful history of the WPCA races.