Chuckwagon racing is an exciting sport that plays tribute the cross-country wagon rides of early North American settlers. In chuckwagon racing, a team of participants race across the track. Since the first Calgary Stampede, chuckwagon teams of drivers and outriders have been working to compete in the fast-paced and action-filled race.

Chuckwagon Competition

Each chuckwagon race is made up two to four teams competing against each other. Four horses pull the wagon while each team has an additional two to four outriders. At the outset of the race, the wagons are arranged with a starting barrel to the right of the wagon.

A horn or gun signifies the beginning of the race. The outriders must first break camp. In breaking camp, the outriders plus the tent poles and the stove into the back of the wagon. Each team must then perform a figure eight motion around two barrels. Both the wagon and the outriders perform this motion. After the figure eights, all wagons and outriders circle the race track and the first to cross the finish line wins, pending penalties.


There are a number of penalties for errors in chuckwagon racing. The penalties are added on to the finishing time, so if a team makes an error but crosses the finish line first, that team will not necessarily claim victory. During the first section of the race, the outrider throws the rubber barrel called “the stove” into the chuckwagon. If the outrider lifts the stove off the ground before the horn signifying the race, a penalty of two seconds is given for the stove off the ground penalty. If the team fails to load the stove altogether, four seconds are added.

While the lead team finishes first, the outriders must be within 150 feet (45. meters) of the wagon. If a rider finished farther behind than that, a one second penalty is added. Additionally, a two second penalty is added for an outrider that finishes ahead of the lead team. If the outrider fails to finish for any reason, two seconds are added.

The figure eight pattern is run around two barrels by both outriders and the wagon. If the outrider misses the barrel in the figure eight, two seconds are added. Two seconds are also added if the outrider knocks over the barrel. If the wagon knocks over the barrel, five seconds are added. If the wagon misses the barrel altogether, ten seconds are added.

To prevent interference between teams, which can be dangerous, penalties are assigned for outriders or wagons that bump other teams or impedes their progress. If the outrider or wagon cause an interference, two seconds are added. If the wagon is ahead of the starting barrel at the outset of the race, the penalty is two seconds. Each wagon must stay in the same lane for the home stretch portion of the track. Failure to stay in the lane results in a two second penalty.


The origins of chuckwagon racing are evidently from the families that journey across the prairies in North America, particularly in the United States and Canada. The chuckwagons used in chuckwagon racing are modified versions of the originals but the original spirit and style is retained.

Chuckwagon racing as a competition began in Canada at the Calgary Stampede. The Calgary Stampede was founded by Guy Weadlick in 1923. Weadlick organized the first true chuckwagon race and founded the sport as it is now known. The original sport was a pure race with few rules and as the participants raced, the rules were created. The sport then spread from Canada to other countries, creating chuckwagon as a form of rodeo or independent equestrian event.


Chuckwagons are round-up wagons made of wood. The wooden box of the wagon measures 97cm wide, 61cm high and 345cm long. The wagons must weigh at least 1325 pounds. Each wagon is fitted with a canvas cover. The canvas flap extends 244cm on two poles measuring 183cm.

Chuckwagon Racing Horses

The most important team members in chuckwagon racing are, of course, the horses. The horses used in chuckwagon racing are Thoroughbreds. Thoroughbred horses are the fastest in the world, crossbred from Arabians. Thoroughbred horses are used in the fastest of horse racing, including flat racing and the steeplechase. Many of the Thoroughbred horses in chuckwagon racing are retired flat racers. Chuckwagon horses are generally older than flat racing horses and have more longevity in their sport as it can be less straining on the body.

Thoroughbred horses are incredibly lean, which gives them their speed. A good racing horse is spirited and has high energy. Thoroughbred horses are able to race for relatively short to long distances while maintaining speed and explosive energy. With long necks and high withers (the area between shoulder blades) and long legs, Thoroughbreds give a lean and regal appearance. Thoroughbred breeding is closely monitored, with registries for new colts in each country.

The Thoroughbreds used in chuckwagon racing are energetic and excited to race, even though many are upwards of twenty years old. Thoroughbred chuckwagon racing horses are different from the flat or steeplechase Thoroughbreds in that they must work well together as a team. The team of four horses pulling the wagon must be in sync in both speed and through the turns.

Typically, chuckwagon riders seek Thoroughbred horses with great start-up speed. The 6 and a half furlong races are good indicators of which horses will make good chuckwagon horses. The temperament of the horse is, as always, very important for this equestrian discipline. A horse with high-spirits and bursts of speed are ideal for the race portion, but the ability to work with other horses and an open attitude towards learning are equally important.

Chuckwagon racing is an exciting portrayal of life for families out on the trail of the wagon train. The race portrays the importance of breaking camp quickly, maneuvering in tight spaces and all out ability to run the fastest. The sport was officially born in Canada, and has since spread to other countries. Spectators watch with delight as 32 horses sprint down the track hauling the heavy wagon. This sport is just one of many that portrays the athleticism and discipline of horses, as well as the amazing relationship riders and horses can have in order to accomplish incredible feats together.