Recently I had the opportunity to chat with chuckwagon driver Rae Croteau Jr.  He’s a pretty nice guy and was kind enough to explain a bunch of things that I didn’t know about running a chuckwagon outfit. Managing 25 high performance equine athletes is not easy, so often drivers will have a co-driver that helps them out in all aspects from looking after the horses, to hopping on the wagon after the race and taking the reins.  This made me wonder – Could I be a co-driver?  I chatted with Rae about some of the responsibilities.

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A co-driver is important in helping out with everything from feeding the horses, looking after their exercise and care, ensuring they get enough rest, and even hopping on the wagon to take the reins and provide relief to the main driver.

Hockey Player in the Winter, Cowboy by Summer?

At first I thought that hockey proficiency would translate into chuckwagon proficiency. That’s because you might have noticed Curtis Glencross (from our very own Calgary Flames) as Rae’s co-driver on several occasions.  I used to be a pretty good skater, but Rae told me that Curtis’ ag background was was a bit more important than the skating factor. Glencross doesn’t co-drive with Croteau as much any more as Glencross now has a young family that he co-drives with his wife!

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Instead Croteau has two guys from Mexico working with him this year. I didn’t realize that I would be competing against an international group of individuals…my chances seem a little smaller.  I also found out that looking after the horses means an EARLY start to the day (another strike against me).  These horses really are athletes and their pre-race preparation is similar to other athletes that run.

Picking the Team

Finally some good news – I like to run, maybe my knowledge of running would be helpful in getting the horses ready to race!  But with 25 horses and only 6 racing – how do you pick who runs in a particular race?  Rae explained that it’s much like a soccer team, with rookies and veterans.  Some horses are front wheelers, some are good turners.  A lot depends on which barrel he’s starting from.

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My dreams of co-driving were dealt another blow when I found out that after the race, the co-driver basically throws himself into the wagon to take over the reins.  Timing it so that you actually end up in the wagon as it’s passing by… this takes some practice and is not for the faint of heart.  I’ve heard that some drivers have their wives as their co-driver…maybe I’ll be able to poke around the barns some more and talk to these tough cowgirls.

You can learn more about co-driving, chuckwagons, and other stuff by following Rae on Twitter @raecroteau