Troy Dorchester competing in 2019. Photo by Shelly Scott Photography, photo submitted by Troy Dorchester.

Troy Dorchester competing in 2019. Photo by Shelly Scott Photography, photo submitted by Troy Dorchester.

Canadian professional chuckwagon racer reflects on cancelled season

This year would have marked Troy Dorchester’s 28th year of racing.

For the first time in over 100 years the Calgary Stampede was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its cancellation follows announcements of other major stampedes including the Ponoka Stampede.

While many mourn the loss of Stampede events and the economic hit that Alberta feels with their cancellation, the competitors are feeling the loss of their season acutely.

Troy Dorchester has been involved in the chuckwagon circuit his whole life. He has dedicated 34 years to the wagon circuit and has driven thoroughbred wagons for the past 27 years. This would have been his 28th year of competing.

In 2012 Dorchester became the first and only chuckwagon driver to have won chuckwagon racing’s “Triple Crown.” He earned this by winning the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby, the Calgary Stampede Aggregate Title and the Ponoka Stampede in a single year.

Dorchester says following the declaration of the pandemic in March he was anxiously awaiting word on what would happen to the 2020 stampede season.

“You’re sick to your stomach and you’re wondering how the hell are we going to do this,” Dorchester says.

“You’ve worked your whole life and you think well we’re in pretty good shape and even half a season we can make ends meet, but then when that final nail in the coffin is in and goes and there’s nothing; you know, a guy goes in shock for probably a month.”

In a regular stampede season Dorchester makes an average of $175,000 to $200,000 racing. Dorchester explains that this money doesn’t just go towards providing for his family, but also towards taking care of his 30 head of horses year round.

Despite not competing this spring and summer, the thoroughbreds still have their hooves trimmed every seven weeks—a $1000 fee each time. Dorchester is already bracing for fall feed bill that comes in October. He says that his horses feed has been double what they used to pay for the last few years, and the winter supply of feed costs Dorchester $20,000 to $25,000 annually.

“You know lots of people say, ‘oh yah, you got to get a real job’ and all that, get a different job. Well that’s great, but I still have 30 head of horses here to make sure I got to feed,” Dorchester says.

Dorchester worries about the future of stampedes, including the 2021 season.

“It’s still scary. I think about it just about everyday,” he says.

He worries that the 2021 season may be in danger if the novel coronavirus is still circulating in December and January. Dorchester also believes that the circuit won’t look the same when competition resumes.

“The sponsorship is the scary part. There are so many sponsors that have been affected because of this shutdown of the economy,” he says. He predicts that the financial burden of the pandemic will also cause competitors to retire early from the stampede circuit, regardless of their event. “I think that you’ll see it’ll effect a lot of guys bad enough that they might close the door and say enough is enough—I just can’t do it anymore.”

Dorchester knows that it’s not just him missing the thrill of the race. His horses are anxious to run and compete.

“Everyday, at night when its dark, you can hear them, they come rumbling,” Dorchester says, “They’ll wake me up; I can hear them going by if the window is open.”

“They’re athletes. That’s what they’ve always done is run.” He says his horses’ frustration about not training like normal matches his own.

Dorchester says he has a truck with a water tank on it that he uses for training some of his chuckwagon racing horses. He says that they get excited when they hear him start it and all run in from the pasture. “They’re like, ‘are we going? Are we going?’ It’s funny because they’re all looking at you like ‘why aren’t you snapping me into a halter and shank and taking us for a run’, you know?”

Dorchester says that in addition to the financial burden of a cancelled season, it is difficult to see people or organizations, such as animal activist organization PETA, celebrating the lack of chuckwagon races this year.

He explains that people don’t realize how much love and dedication is given to the horses, from their feed, teeth, foot, and exercise regimens. Dorchester’s horses are even fed dinner before himself and his family can sit down for their own.

“That’s what frustrates a guy. You work hard, you love your horses, you cry when you do have one that you lose… We all cry, all the kids, the wife, because we spend years—we get them at 4, 5, 6 years old, and I retire them at 16,” Dorchester says. “You always try to find them good homes when they are done with us because they are healthy and sound, they’re just starting to slow down.”

Dorchester says that if the chuckwagon circuit was to be shut down there would be up to 1000 head of horses with no where to go.

The uncertainty that this pandemic brings still makes Dorchester uneasy, but he is trying to make the best of a bad situation.

“It has just been one of those summers that you’ve wondered what it would be like to sit at home all summer and it’s not for me. I think I’ve got too much gypsy in me or something,” he joked. However his family did get to do more things that they haven’t in summers past, such as getting together with close family and friends to kayak as a group together.

“The one thing is if things come around, it kind of rejuvenated us and realized how lucky we are to be able to do what we have for as long as we have, and hopefully it comes back and we can enjoy another 10 or something like that,” Dorchester says.

Dorchester says he can only hope that by spring his team can hit the chuckwagon track again and put the ghost season of 2020 behind him.

“We’re just going to try to get through, and hopefully there is brighter days in 2021. I can’t wait to see 2020 in my rearview mirror.”



shaela.dansereau@pipestoneflyer.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday 12, 2020.

Manluk Centre/ Impress
Manluk Centre re-opens to the public

Drop in and registered programs will be available; one-third facility capacity to be followed.

File photo
Leduc RCMP request assistance to identify armed robbery suspect

Leduc RCMP are looking for male responsible for an armed robbery at Super Car and RV Wash in Leduc.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Most Read