CALGARY — Officials at the Calgary Stampede have made changes to improve chuckwagon safety this year.
The changes include a rebuild of the inside rail, which has been reinforced for better footing for the horses.
The second is a repositioning of the barrels on the infield, which means when the wagons transition from the figure eight to the track, riders will be better positioned, reducing the chance of wagon contact.
Chuckwagon committee chair Mike Piper says fans aren't likely to notice the difference, but drivers will.
Former drivers made up the advisory group that recommended the changes.
Four horses died last year during the chuckwagon races at the Stampede.
Piper says safety revisions have been ongoing since 2009, and have changed rules around qualifying.
"We actually now look obviously at their sportsmanship, their safety record is the number 1 factor. How they conduct themselves on and off the track is also a major factor in those invites.''
Piper can't say if the changes will satisfy animal rights protesters.
"People are entitle to their opinion. We believe we're doing everything we can to make this sport as safe as possible for our equine athletes and our drivers as well. It's important to us as an iconic event.''
"We look after them. It's not just an animal and a number."
Every wagon is being weighed and the pulling poles are undergoing inspections for flaws and cracks.
These changes have been brought thanks to a committee, which includes chuckwagon legend Buddy Bensmiller, who said the animals are special part of each rider's family.
"They say, `Oh yeah, everyone says that because they are in the sport,'' he said.
"We look after them. It's not just an animal and a number.''
Bensmiller says the new barrel placement, which gives teams more space to hit the track.
The veterinarians on hand are also pleased with the new measures.
"The level of commitment it takes to manage a group of 16 to 20 horses travelling on the road and competing is impressive,'' Dr. Greg Evans said. "If you wander around the barns, you'll see very fit, very healthy horses. That for me, as a vet, is what I want to see.''
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