For chuckwagon drivers, a successful race has a lot to do with their outriders. The outriders’ most visible role is loading the stove as the race begins. Their unseen job is to steady and gentle the horses before the horn sounds, and to be extra eyes for the driver during the race to be sure the driving horses are not having problems.
The outriders ride horses belonging to the chuckwagon driver so although the horses are trained to work with either the stove man or the lead man, they do not train with any specific rider. It takes a good horseman to be able to work with a variety of horses, each of which has its own personality, traits and temperament.
The lead man is responsible for making sure the lead team is aligned with the wheel team, and has to be sure the whole outfit is pointed in exactly the right direction for an optimal start. If the lead horses are a bit edgy, he must be able to talk to them and try and calm them. The stove man throws the stove into the back of the chuckwagon as soon as the horn sounds. Failure to get the stove loaded means a penalty of two seconds – enough to drop a team far out of the running for a good finish on the night, and maybe even in the ten-day aggregate.
Once the race starts, the outriders must pay close attention to all the chuckwagons, since the wagons always have the right of way. Outriders don’t have to ride right with their wagon, but they can only be 150 feet behind.
Just like the chuckwagon drivers, outriders have to be able to sense and understand what the horses are experiencing. It’s a key factor in having a successful night at the Stampede.