Chuckwagon racing at the Calgary Stampede

Chuckwagon racing at the Calgary Stampede (Wayne Knight)

The Calgary Stampede celebrates a century-long run July 6-15 in Alberta, Canada, for what is billed as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." A centerpiece of that show is chuck wagon racing, which is not merely a token event.

There are Canadian chuck-wagon-racing circuits, with the Stampede being a premier event. And much of the horseflesh is thoroughbred material.

In races at the Stampede, a team of horses pulls a chuck wagon around barrels and a racecourse. The cowboy team includes the driver of the chuck wagon and, in this case, two supporting outriders. The sport is not without critics because of animal injuries. But here's a back-of-corral look at two chuck wagon competitors who strive to keep their horses happy.

"Most chuck wagon horses are retired thoroughbred racehorses, so they love to run," said Troy Flad of Warburg, Alberta. "They may race as chuck wagon horses for 18 or 19 years. ... If you look after it, a horse usually pays you back for a long time."

When their vet gave Flad's kids a miniature horse named Reggie, his lead horse, Friendly Nipper, fell in love with Reggie. "He was dull without him. Nipper wanted to perform for this little guy," said Flad, who took Reggie along to races for 21/2 years to keep Nipper happy. "People thought I was crazy to bring Reggie, but they drank from the same water pail, slept in the same stall."

"Every horse has a different personality," said Wayne Knight of St. Walburg, Saskatchewan, who considers his horses his kids. "In chuck wagon racing, the lead horses are the front two. In a team of four, the lead horses are the brains. The pull horses are really aggressive; they get the wagon to move. Horses usually buddy up. When you can pair them up and drive them that way, they become a powerful team," Knight said. But there's a soft side. He has seen horses that wouldn't eat if they pined for a partner.

As for Friendly Nipper, Flad said, his latest crush is a racehorse named Switzerland.

Information: 800-661-1767, calgarystampede.com