With hopes of my career as a jockey fading, I think I may have found a new opportunity to satisfy my lifelong passion to race horses.
Not only have I crossed the age threshold (and am in fact now setting a good stride across the chronological yard), but physical size has been a lifelong issue, too. Great jockeys such as George Woolf, a Cardston, Alta., native who at age 28 rode Seabiscuit to win the Pimlico Special in 1938 and Willie Shoemaker who had 8,833 career wins including four Kentucky Derbies before he retired at age 54 were both in that 110-pound range. Even after a bad case of the flu, I still fight with that 110-kilogram barrier. That’s a tad higher than the Preakness regulations allow. And it definitely puts me out of the running, figuratively and literally — that is of course, unless they one day open these million-dollar thoroughbred races to Percherons.
But just when all seemed hopeless, on a quiet camping week in mid-August I discovered the fascinating world of miniature horse chuckwagon racing. There we were camping at the Lee Valley Campground in Cardston with friends the Gibbards of Kimberley, B.C., and the Cookes of Lethbridge, Alta., and right next door at the Remington Carriage Museum
grounds they were preparing for the World Miniature Horse Chuckwagon Championship. Who knew?
And this wasn’t just the Alberta event, it was the world championship although, to be honest, I didn’t see any rigs there from Uruguay, Ghana or Portugal. But you can appreciate the time delay trying to get through airport security with four little horses and a wagon in your carry-on luggage. They may have missed their flights.
What is a miniature horse? After limited research it appears these small horses were first bred in the 17th century and are either a combination of small pony breeds, or full-size breeds, but they retain horse characteristics. They stand about 34 inches tall and weigh around 250 pounds — much like myself in Grade 1.
This was the sixth annual event sponsored by the Alberta Miniature Chuckwagon Horse Racing Association. The mini chuck races started in 1998, and they now have up to 16 wagons racing in nearly two dozen events each year. We were there for the world championship.
The little wagons themselves, complete with canvas canopies, aren’t much bigger than a 45-gallon barrel on four wheels and each wagon is pulled by four miniature horses. The nice feature for me is that age and size of driver isn’t a big issue — not that all or any drivers were old and fat, but if a person happened to be afflicted by both the calendar and the scale that apparently wasn’t a limiting factor in the rule book. And you don’t even have to be a guy. There were several girls among the drivers who were screaming their guts out to get these little horses to run. And I thought my wife had volume.
But, to be honest, among the drivers there were some more full-figured mature builds, and quite an age range. I wouldn’t say Lloyd Meger of Seba Beach, Alta., was old, but I’m thinking he might be able to make a pretty good guess at the price of gas at the end of the Second Word War. And this was Lloyd’s first year of racing.
The track wasn’t the Half Mile of Hell like where the full-size chucks race at the Calgary Stampede, but I’m calling the Cardston facility the Quarter Mile of Grief. These little 250- pound horses blew smoke when the horn sounded, they rounded the barrels in a figure eight and headed into the oval. I know I would be dealing with some grief if I had to run that distance full tilt.
There were several common names among the drivers. The Bier family of Lethbridge and Vulcan had four mini chucks, there were three Quinns from Lethbridge with rigs; father and son Tibor and Jay Kovacs of Vulcan raced against each other; Carl Earl, of Vulcan and daughter Alicia Dowie raced; Lloyd Clark of Westlock; Ron Cosgrave of Westaskiwin, Ryan Goddard of Balzac; Layne Ment and Lloyd Meger all drove chucks.
Racing two chucks at a time, there were nearly 50 heats over the two days, and when all points were tallied, Ron Cosgrave of Wetaskwin was the winner, with Cyrena Quinn being voted most improved and brother Nathaniel Quinn earned the people’s choice award.
It was great fun to watch, and obviously a sport that requires some skill. Apparently Lloyd Clark, who was a novice in 2009, demonstrated last year that these little chucks will tip over. That’s where I think a few extra pounds will come in handy for keeping that chuckwagon anchored to the ground on corners.
I will continue training on that weight theory and if my wife or friends read this maybe I will find four little bulky packages under the Christmas tree this year.
At least a guy can dream.
LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary,Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]
The track wasn’t the Half Mile of Hell like where the full size chucks race at the Calgary Stampede, but I’m calling the Cardston facility the Quarter Mile of Grief