Ponying the Horses
My story is about my first trip to the Calgary Stampede in 1960.
You see, my dad WI (Buster) Newman drove a chuckwagon in the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby from 1949 until 1961 after trying his luck at bronc riding and finding out that he was better suited to chuckwagon racing. He was runner-up at Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby in 1953 and runner-up for World Champion in 1952 to Ronnie Glass and in 1954 to Hank Willard. Too many penalties kept him from winning the championship.
Dad broke the Calgary running time track record 4 times in 1960 but again, penalties prevented official recognition. He was considered a great horseman and one of the best chuckwagon drivers of his day by most of his peers. I started going to Calgary Stampede in 1960 when I was 14. Two of my buddies at the time were Ronnie Stranquist (Orville’s son) and Dallas Dorchester (Tommy’s son). Their fathers were chuckwagon drivers at that time as well. Dallas followed in his fathers footsteps and had a very successful career including at the Calgary Stampede.
From the age of 8 to 13 I was left at home to do chores on the farm when the Calgary Stampede came up. Back in those days, at least at our house, you had to have a good reason for going to the Calgary Stampede before you got to go. Finally my reason for going to Calgary was recognized as I got a brake from farm duties. I got to take care of the horses. Some of my duties were feeding, brushing, combing, watering, walking horses, cleaning barn stalls, trimming & shoeing horses hooves as well as helping hook up and unhook the horses from the chuckwagon. Duties also included loading up the horses, wagon, harness, and other items at home and unloading it all once we got to Calgary Stampede. At night I slept in a tack room or empty stall in the barn with the horses.
The highlight was running from the barns to the back of the rodeo arena to watch the wagons turning the barrels, outriders throwing in the stove and tent pegs and then thundering down the track. Most of all it was exciting to watch the wagons cross the finish line, especially if dad’s rig was first. Then it was run back to the barns to help unhook the horses from the wagon, unharness and start walking the horses to cool them down. Sweating horses can be hard to keep calm so this could be quite a testy chore. Next it was into the barn and tying the horses up in their proper stall after watering them and then feeding them.
Early in the morning (6am) I would ride one horse and lead as many as 4 more to exercise them. This was called ponying the horses. This work cycle just kept going on day after day until Calgary Stampede’s last day when we packed up everything and headed down the road. Sometimes we got to take in a bit of the rodeo performances in the afternoon but taking care of the horses was always number one.
Dad retired from chuckwagon racing after the Calgary Stampede in 1961 and as it turned out, so did I at the ripe old age of 15 even though Dale Flett offered to take me under his wing to get me started in the chuckwagon business. By this time I had been practice turning the chuckwagon in the infield but that’s as close as I got to the real thing.
My family and I have been back to the Calgary Stampede several times over the past 50 years and we are especially looking forward to attending this years 100th anniversary special event.
Dad was presented with the 2001 WPCA Special Tribute Award at a WPCA awards presentation night in Calgary. He is a WPCA Life Member and always will be. He passed away in 2005.