Chuckwagon driver banned from future Calgary Stampedes after latest horse death this year
Organizers fine Chad Harden $10K for latest incident, noting 'zero tolerance policy for preventable accidents'
A driver has been fined $10,000 and banned from competing in this Calgary Stampede and future ones after a horse died in Thursday's chuckwagon races.
It was the third horse death in this year's Rangeland Derby.
The fine follows an independent chuckwagon safety commission review of the incident involving driver Chad Harden, in Heat 7 of the race, where Evan Salmond's lead horse hit the guard rail and stumbled to the ground at Stampede Park.
"We don't think that Chad deliberately meant to do this," safety commission member Mike Whittle said at a news conference Friday. "We have determined that there was driver error involved in his decision-making. I guess I'd leave it at that."
Harden, of Mulhurst Bay, south of Edmonton, got his wagon in the way of another driver, Danny Ringuette, causing the third wagon that belonged to Salmond to hit the rail, Stampede management said in a statement late that night. Salmond's hometown is Hudson Bay, Sask.
Video of the incident Thursday appears to show a chuckwagon team colliding with Salmond's team, causing the crash.
Graphic warning: This video of the chuckwagon race crash may be disturbing to some viewers.
A disqualification from the remainder of the Calgary Stampede means Harden won't be invited back to compete. He will, however, be permitted to apply for reinstatement as early as Sept. 1.
As to whether he would apply, Whittle couldn't say.
"He is processing what we have told him," the commissioner said.
Whittle noted this was the first such ban he could remember.
Zero tolerance policy for veteran driver
The Calgary Stampede has a zero tolerance policy for "preventable accidents and injuries," the organization has said, adding the safety of its animals are of the highest priority.
Salmond was not injured. His other three horses sustained minor injuries. He declined CBC's request for an interview.
Ringuette and Salmond were given average times to maintain their standings heading into Friday's races.
Harden is a third-generation, veteran chuckwagon racer and 2009 Rangeland Derby champion. At the 2012 Calgary Stampede, he lost three horses when his wagon tumbled. At the time, he called their deaths devastating, and said the animals were part of his family.
'One of the best drivers out there'
Harden could not be reached Friday, as he had already left the rodeo grounds. His lifelong friend, fellow chuckwagon driver Corey Glenn, said he watched the video multiple times and saw the corner get crowded and the wagons drift in.
That caused what he viewed to be "just a chain reaction of misfortunate positioning," not a deliberate action that warranted a Stampede ban.
"Calgary Stampede is so out there that they're going to these extremes to show that they want the drivers to be safe, they want the animals to be safe," Glenn said.
"I think Chad is one of the best drivers out there on this circuit. It's something he's put his whole life into. His dad did it, his granddad did it, the rest of his family has done it in the pony wagons."
He said Harden spent time promoting the sport to youth, as well, by bringing along a mascot to charity events.
Legendary chuckwagon champion Kelly "The King" Sutherland said Harden's mistake during Thursday night's race is likely a "career-ending move."
After watching tape of the race, Sutherland said he believes Harden thought he was far enough from his competitor when he was coming around the bend.
A $10,000 fine is a big hit for drivers, who already spend a fortune on maintaining livestock, he said.
"A lifetime [ban] is a long time. They give a lot of people that murder life [sentences], so I think there's always room for reprieve for a guy if it's all by record," Sutherland added.
'Isn't easy to see'
Stampede CEO Warren Connell said he was "deeply saddened" by the horse's death.
"I also want to say to the fans who were there last night, I know it isn't easy to see what you saw," he said. "I've been seeing it in the faces of our high-performance athletes, of our committed staff and our dedicated volunteers."
In the other two incidents involving horses that died after competing in this year's Rangeland Derby:
- A horse was put down after suffering a broken leg. The horse on Obrey Motowylo's wagon team was running in the second heat of races on Wednesday.
- Dylan, the horse belonging to 2012 Rangeland Derby winner Troy Dorchester, died after suffering a serious internal medical issue. The Stampede said at the time the death was not racing related. The 14-year-old gelding had passed a medical evaluation before the race.
Connell said the week has been "a difficult time" already due to the death of those two horses. He said avoidable injuries are especially hard to deal with.
A few years ago, the Stampede changed the requirements for how athletes are invited to compete in chuckwagons, spokesperson Kristina Barnes said. Instead of simply going by standings, drivers are now invited also based partly on safety records.
"There's a lot of money at stake here at the Stampede and we want them to be focused on safety over winnings," she said. "And it's very important to note that they are good drivers, and that's why they're here."
The Stampede's roots can be traced to 1886, when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first fair.
The 2019 Stampede began July 5 and runs till Sunday.
With files from Reid Southwick, Mike Symington