Like humans, horses can be ‘top athletes’, but at what cost?

A University of Calgary study aims to improve chuckwagon horse safety by examining how different track conditions impact stress on leg joints.

The research is focusing on the surfaces chuckwagon horses run on, and finding the best track condition.

“The research really is to look at the track, and try to improve the safety of the track by looking at the impact of the legs on the track.” said Dr. Renaud Léguillette, professor at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Léguillette says that they attached sensors on the legs of the horse, on the hoof, and on the cannon bone.

“The horses were running on the track under three different conditions. So, we had a hard track, a medium track, and a deep soft track, and based on that, with the instrument we had on the horses galloping with the rider on the track, we could measure basically the impact on the hoof,” he said.

The track footing is a science that depends on the moisture of the track, and the type of sand.

Controlling these conditions improves the safety of the horses.

“If you have too hard of a track, you gonna be harder on the joints and then bones. If you have too soft of a track, you gonna be harder on the ligaments and the tendons, but easier on the bones,” he explained.

Proper training protects horses

Léguillette says training the horses helps protect their bones while participating in racing activities.

Jordie Fike, chuckwagon driver, says horses are like best friends and family, and should be taken care of properly to be ready for races, at least four months before the competition starts.

“Pre-race, you’re just making sure everybody is sound, nobody is sore, has anything kind of underlying, and then they’re ready for race,” Fike said.

Fike says horses has competitive energy in nature, and it’s good to be proactive to protect the longevity of their competitive energy, something that is a regular practice for the Calgary Stampede.

“The more research you can do on it, the better off you are,” Fike said.


Kristina Barnes, the manager of agriculture and western events with the Calgary Stampede, says their track is built through science to create the best track conditions possible.

She says ahead of the Stampede, they make sure the conditions are safe for horses including heavy rainstorms.

“A barrel racer would need very different conditions, than a chuckwagon would, or a bucking horse, so its finding that balance for all of those different events which is very important to us, knowing there is some inherent risk in this sport, as there is with all sports,” she said.

The kick off of Calgary Stampede 2022 on Friday broke daily attendance records, as smiles and yahoos could be seen across Stampede Park.

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