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Canada: The Calgary Stampede celebrates a century

July 06, 2012|By Terry Gardner | Special to the Los Angeles Times
(Photo from Wayne Knight )

The Calgary Stampede, billed as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." celebrates a century-long tradition beginning Friday (today) and continuing through July 15 in Alberta, Canada.

A centerpiece of that greatest show is chuck-wagon racing, which is not merely a token event: There are Canadian chuck-wagon-racing circuits, and the Stampede is a premier event. Much of the horseflesh is thoroughbred material.

In races at the Stampede, a team of horses pulls a chuck wagon around barrels and a racecourse. The cowboy team includes the driver of the chuck wagon and, in this case, two supporting outriders. The sport is not without critics because of animal injuries.

But here's a back-of-corral look at two chuck-wagon competitors who strive to keep their horses happy. "Most chuck-wagon horses are retired thoroughbred racehorses, so they love to run," said Troy Flad of Warburg, Alberta. "They may race as chuck-wagon horses for 18 or 19 years.... If you look after it, a horse usually pays you back for a long time."

When their vet gave Flad's kids a miniature horse named Reggie, his lead horse, Friendly Nipper, fell in love with Reggie. "He was dull without him. Nipper wanted to perform for this little guy," said Flad, who took Reggie along to races for 2 1/2 years to keep Nipper happy. "People thought I was crazy to bring Reggie, but they drank from the same water pail, slept in the same stall."

Wayne Knight of St. Walburg, Saskatchewan, considers his horses his kids. "Every horse has a different personality," he said.  "In chuck-wagon racing, the lead horses are the front two. In a team of four, the lead horses are the brains. The pull horses are really aggressive; they get the wagon to move. Horses usually buddy up. When you can pair them up and drive them that way, they become a powerful team."

But there's a soft side. He has seen horses that wouldn't eat if they pined for a partner.

As for Friendly Nipper, Flad said, his latest crush is a racehorse named Switzerland.

Information: Calgary Stampede, (800) 661-1767

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