Neither man is a stranger to the Calgary Stampede.
Curtis Morin, as an outrider for his father Bruce, has been here before.
And Danny Ringuette? Well, as a hired hand for Doug Irvine over the years, he got the lay of the land.
But this is different. Way different.
Morin and Ringuette are in Calgary to serve as demonstration drivers for the GMC Rangeland Derby. Which means they have their own horses, their own wagons, their own helpers – and their own barn space on the grounds.
Which means it is a big deal.
“For myself, pulling in here with a liner of horses, that in itself was a big deal for me – very exciting – and it made things very real,” says Morin, a World Professional Chuckwagon Association driver from Prince Albert, Sask. “It’s great for myself. It lets me know that I’m going in the right direction. It’s great for 2019, definitely.
“That was good news, very good news. I was very excited about it. There’s a lot of other drivers they could have selected. I felt very privileged. I was really honoured.”
The gentlemen were officially invited last fall. It’s a call Ringuette won’t soon forget.
“Oh, gosh, yeah – pretty unreal,” says Ringuette, a regular on the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association’s tour. “There’s a lot of guys who want the spot. To be recognized by the Stampede board is just awesome. It’s kind of our foot in the door.”
Even though they don’t participate in the heats, they are part of the scene. Big parts, in fact.
Nightly, before racing begins, Ringuette or Morin do one-wagon runs in front of the packed grandstand as the track-announcer explains the basics of wagon-racing.
The experience for someone like Ringuette is invaluable.
“It’s a good learning curve for newer drivers, I think,” says the 33-year-old native of Bonnyville, Alta. “It helps us as drivers lots. It’s a good thing for my horses … this is a totally different venue than what they’re used to, right? It’s good for everybody. Everybody here gets to know me and the horses.
“It’s a really good first step into getting into the Stampede.”
But for demo drivers, taking solo spins on the track are only one of the duties. They are also responsible for conducting barn tours, which is exactly what it sounds like – talking to sponsors and fans about the world of chuckwagons.
On Friday morning, Ringuette showed around a half-dozen Australians.
“It’s a whole new life when you come to the barns,” he says of the visits. “A lot of people don’t realize how much work there is and how much these horses are actually cared for, right? When they come back here, they get a totally new perspective on the life of a chuckwagon horse and the driver and the barn crew – what it really is.
“That’s what’s so great about those barn tours – it helps people understand.”
Later in the afternoon, Morin entertained a group of 13 people in his barn with stories about his herd – how he wrangled a lead horse away from his brother Kelly by buying him two new leaders; how his horse Crazy got his name (key elements: one giant storm, two pig skeletons); how horses love swimming and visits from the chiropractor; how thoroughbreds are just like hockey players – sometimes they just need a change of scenery; how horses are just like kids – sometimes they’re picky eaters.
“I really enjoy showing what it’s all about,” says Morin, 43. “The best way … is telling them what we do. At six o’clock in the morning we feed them. We take them for a walk at seven o’clock, clean out their stalls. We’re done our morning chores by 8:30, nine o’clock. Of course, then they get lunch at noon. We bring them out in the afternoon for another walk. We shower them, we brush them.”
Even if this marks their first crack at formal show-and-tell sessions, the concept is nothing new. When people find out what Morin and Ringuette do, the questions start.
“And there’s answers to all of them,” Ringuette says. “It doesn’t have to be in the barns. It can be in the middle of nowhere. But you’re always answering questions about the sport.”
This week, however, spreading the gospel is actually part of his role as an ambassador of the GMC Rangeland Derby.
“Unreal,” says Ringuette. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be a part of the Calgary Stampede. To have the opportunity and be chosen to do this? It’s just a good feeling. Hopefully I’ll be here next year to compete.”