Formerly disqualified chuckwagon driver returning to Calgary Stampede

Chad Harden was fined $10,000 and disqualified from the Calgary Stampede three years ago after a collision on the track led to the death of one horse and injuries to three others.

Chad Harden was disqualified in 2019 after a track collision led to the death of a horse

Chad Harden, 2009 Rangeland Derby champion, was banned from the Calgary Stampede in 2019 after the death of a horse. However, he appealed the ban and will be back to compete this summer. (CBC Sports)

Chuckwagon driver Chad Harden is returning to compete at the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby after being banned from competing in 2019.

The former Rangeland Derby champion was fined $10,000 and disqualified from the stampede three years ago after a collision on the track led to the death of one horse and injuries to three others.

He was also ordered to pay an additional $10,000 to cover the cost of the lost horse.

Officials at the time determined that the incident was caused by driver error, however, they are now welcoming Harden back after he appealed his disqualification.

"A very thorough process was concluded in January of 2020 and determined that Chad had met the required conditions to be eligible for invitation consideration," said Calgary Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes.

Under the guidelines of the Stampede's rule book, Harden had the right to appeal.

Barnes said she couldn't share specifics on what criteria Harden had to meet in order to be allowed to return. However, she said drivers are invited each year based on industry standings, safety records and sportsmanship, among other things.

"We're happy to have him back. We know that he's a very good chuckwagon driver. He has been in the sport for a long time and at the Calgary Stampede for a very long time," said Barnes.

"We wouldn't have invited him back if we didn't have the confidence that he was going to be safe every time he heads out onto that track. Safety will be his number one priority, as it is with all of the drivers."

Harden is a third-generation and veteran chuckwagon racer. He was also the 2009 Rangeland Derby champion.

CBC News reached out to Harden for comment, but he declined.

Barnes said the ban "had a very big impact on [Harden] and his livelihood."

"People make mistakes, they make mistakes when they're driving their cars. Unfortunately, sometimes they make mistakes when they're driving a chuckwagon around the track," she said.

"But again we do trust that he's back and will be as safe as possible."

'Slap in the face,' says PETA

Not everyone is excited to see Harden invited back to the Calgary Stampede this summer.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group, also known as PETA, has long advocated for the end of chuckwagon races. They protested after six horses died at the Calgary Stampede in 2019.

About 20 people protested against chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede after six horses were killed in 2019. (Genevieve Tardif/CBC)

Melanie Johnson with PETA said she was pleased when Harden was initially disqualified.

"He was really the only person who was even remotely held accountable for those tragic and preventable deaths, and welcoming him back is kind of a slap in the face," she said.

"It's disappointing, but it's just another reason why these cruel races need to end." 

Changes to chuckwagon races

After a two-year hiatus, the chuckwagon races are returning this summer, but they will look a bit different.

As a result of a review that took place after the events in 2019, there will now be three wagons per heat instead of four.

"It's just giving them a bit more space to manoeuvre," said Barnes.

She added there will also be enhanced pre-race inspections of the horses, more groundwork to the track itself, along with other measures.

The 2022 Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby runs from July 8 to 17.

With files from Terri Trembath