The Calgary Stampede is not the only venue conducting chuckwagon races but it is the one that garners the most attention and publicity because of the number of horses it kills and has killed over the years.
Chuckwagon races are also run south of the Canadian border in the USA such as in Clinton, Arkansas over the Labor Day weekend, where it has been conducted since its inaugural year in 1986.
While the deaths of horses at the Calgary Stampede are reported what we do not know are how many and how often horses are killed in chuckwagon races in the U.S. because they do not keep those kind of records, so we are told by those few who were willing to speak to us about it. Even those folks felt compelled to point out that they were not obligated to tell us anything even if they did keep records.
What we were told regarding the National Championship Chuckwagon Races in Clinton, Arkansas that amazed us is this — they have never had a single equine casualty. Hmmm. Okay.
For the purpose of this post, let’s stick with the Clinton folks since they are the largest and only documented event of this nature we can find in the U.S.
It is important to point out that rodeos, or any other event or sport using horses, do not have to kill them to make the event or sport cruel, abusive and immoral.
Additionally, the spectre of slaughter always haunts horses who are injured, who turn out to be not quite good enough in “their master’s opinion”, or lacks the mental acuity to compete successfully in the types of events or sports they were acquired for.
Insofar as we can discover, there is no retirement plan for rodeo horses.
There are many other events at the annual Clinton gathering that use horses in addition to the chuckwagon races. The video below states that altogether 6,000 horses are used in a variety of events, although a 2015 article puts the number at 5,000. By the way, they use mules too.
Please watch all of it if you can. It’s about 5 minutes long. It is quite eye opening particularly concerning the people involved and the many different ways horses are used.
This year’s National Championship Chuckwagon Race in Clinton, Arkansas and related festivities is set for Aug. 29 — Sep. 6, 2020.
The “sport” of chuckwagon racing remains controversial as horses are frequently injured and killed, prompting animal welfare groups to call for it to be banned. Chuckwagon horses are killed as a matter of routine at the Calgary Stampede.
The movement to ban chuckwagon racing exists almost solely in Canada. No one is taking this issue on in the U.S. that we are aware of or could find. Please contact us if you are. Perhaps we can band together to take this issue on.
Please note. We are not “welfarists”. We are not interested in mitigating abuse, we are interested in liberating horses from abuse.
New to this issue? Here is some background information on both the National Championship Chuckwagon Race and the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races.
National Championship Chuckwagon Race
“The National Championship Chuckwagon Race is held every Labor Day weekend at Dan and Peggy Eoff’s ranch in Clinton, Arkansas.
“The chuckwagon is associated with Charles Goodnight, who designed the first wagon to follow the cattle trails in the 1800s. Stories hold that, at the end of the cattle drive, the cowhands would collect their pay, pack up their supplies, and race into town. Legend has it that the last one there had to buy the first round of drinks for all.
“The races were started in 1986 when Dan and Peggy Eoff decided to host a Labor Day party for a few of their friends, inviting them to bring their horses and wagons and have a race. The Eoffs expected about 100 people to attend, but over 500 came to watch the eight teams that participated.
“Following the weekend’s event, people who were not able to attend persuaded the Eoffs to have another one. The next year, the Eoffs advertised, traveling throughout the state to promote the event. That year, sixteen teams entered, and the crowd grew to about 1,500. Year after year, the number of teams increased, as did the number of spectators. In 2006, the twentieth anniversary of the first chuckwagon race, over 20,000 people attended to watch 135 teams participate. Nearly 5,000 equine (horses and mules) were verified through the gates, making this event the largest equine event in the state.
“Over the years, days were added to the event, now stretching the entire week before Labor Day. Concerts, trail rides, camping, and horse/mule activities occur throughout the week.
“The race has very few rules. Three people make up a team—the driver, the cook, and the outrider. At the start of each race, the cook and the outrider are on the ground.
“At the judge’s instruction, the cook loads the stove and gets into the wagon. When the gun is fired to start the race, the outrider loads the tent into the wagon, gets onto his/her horse, and must pass the wagon before it crosses the finish line. The cook and driver must be in the wagon, along with the tent and the stove, as it crosses the finish line to receive a qualified time.
“Although that may sound simple, with four teams at the starting line at once, the excitement and noise of the crowd, and the unpredictability of animals, it is not as easy as it sounds. Often times, the outriders cannot mount their horses, stoves or tents are not loaded, and occasionally wagons turn over. There are five different divisions of chuckwagon races, depending upon the size of the animals.
“Other events during the race include a mule race, a bronc fanning (a bucking horse event wherein horses are flanked out of a chute, and the rider must not only ride the animal for six seconds, but take his hat off and “fan” the animal to show that he has conquered it), and the Snowy River Race, a thrilling horseback race that includes two downhill runs and a plunge into the South Fork of the Little Red River. Spectators bring lawn chairs or blankets and sit along the bluffs that overlook the track.”
Chuckwagon racing is an equestrian rodeo “sport” in which drivers in a chuckwagon led by a team of Thoroughbred horses race around a track. The sport is most popular in the Prairie Provinces of Canada, where the World Professional Chuckwagon Association and the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association, are the two major racing circuits.
The actual origin of the sport is unknown, but different stories have been offered over the years.
The first time chuckwagon races were held as a spectator sport was at the 1923 Calgary Stampede. Guy Weadick, who had founded the Stampede eleven years earlier, invited ranchers to enter their chuckwagons and crews to compete for a total of $275 in prize money.
Records of horse injuries and deaths were not recorded until the late 80’s.
The most complete records available publicly are from the Vancouver Humane Society, which have added up the tally since 1986 using data from the Calgary Humane Society and media reports.
The Vancouver Humane Society says the total known chuckwagon horse deaths as of 2019 stands at 72 through 2019. The Calgary Stampede was cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus scare.