Formerly disqualified chuckwagon driver Chad Harden will be competing in this year’s Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby event, officials have confirmed.
The veteran driver was reprimanded for “driver error” after a collision on the track on July 12, 2019, that led to the death of one horse and injuries to three others. He was the first driver to ever be disqualified in Stampede history and the first to face a potential lifetime ban.
He was also fined $10,000 and was ordered to pay an additional $10,000 to cover the cost of the horse that died. At the time, the Stampede determined that Harden’s wagon interfered with another driver in the first turn, which then caused another wagon to collide with a third wagon on the track.
Calgary Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes confirmed that Harden was invited to and will be competing in this year’s event.
Under the guidelines of the Stampede’s rulebook, Harden had the right to appeal his 2019 disqualification from racing at the Stampede. In January of 2020, it was determined that Harden had met the required conditions to again be considered for an invitation.
While Barnes couldn’t speak to the specific details of the process itself, she did say drivers are invited to the event based on a number of factors.
“This year, Chad was considered under the same process that evaluates all drivers, which would be industry standings, their safety record, and a variety of other attributes like sportsmanship, how they conduct themselves in public, and the media,” she says.
“Chad has been a very good chuckwagon driver for a very long time in the sport and at the Stampede, and we wouldn’t have invited him if we didn’t have the confidence that he was looking to head out on the track and drive as safely as possible every single time.”
Barnes says Harden has a reputable status in the industry. He’s been driving chucks since 2000.
“It had a big impact on him and his livelihood. In having him come back this year, it’s important for us to recognize that he’s a good driver and we trust that he will be safe on our track,” she adds.
While Harden declined to speak about the reinstatement, many in the industry felt the punishment was harsh. Others including Neil Salmond — the father of Evan Salmond, who lost four horses during the 2019 Stampede including the horse who died during the Harden incident — defended chuckwagon races.
Since the 2019 incidents sparked a safety review within the organization, the biggest change that will take place this year is bringing the number of chuckwagons competing per heat from four to three, Barnes says.
“The chuckwagons will look a little bit different but it will still have that same thrill and excitement while giving the wagon drivers a little bit more room for ability out on the track with a focus on safety,” she says.
There will also be enhanced pre-race inspections of the horse, which the Stampede is already doing under its fitness program.
Not everyone is happy with the news
The Calgary Stampede has often been the target of animal rights groups who take aim at the chuckwagons and 2019 in particular saw six horses die, the most in almost a decade.
The incidents prompted protests and calls to end the sport, which was already heavily criticized by certain groups. The Stampede chuckwagon races have been an annual event since 1923.
Canada’s Animal Justice executive director Camille Labchuk was disappointed to hear the news about Harden’s reinstatement.
“Chuckwagon races are particularly deadly, and they’ve been responsible for the vast majority of deaths at the Calgary Stampede,” she says, pointing to 2019’s tragic tally.
“Chad Harden was the only person who was held even remotely accountable for those tragic and preventable deaths. The fact that now he is allowed to participate again fully in the Stampede makes a complete and utter mockery of this entire event.”
Labchuk says it shows that the “Stampede’s priorities are not the protection of animals.”
“Their priority is selling rodeo tickets,” she adds.
Following a two-year absence, the chuckwagon races are returning to Stampede Park this summer. This year’s Calgary Stampede runs from July 8 to 17, with sneak-a-peek taking place on July 7.
Know more about Calgary, every morning in just 5 minutes.
Get stories you won’t find anywhere else about the people, places, and businesses at the heart of our city.
By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Calgary Citizen.