More women flock to the track in Alberta

Sixteen of the 79 drivers in the Alberta Professional Chuckwagon and Chariot Association this year are women

BASHAW, Alta., — In 1992 Tracey Stott was the youngest woman to drive a chuck wagon in Alberta’s racing circuit. From her seat in the wagon 27 years later she sees more women taking the reins and racing around the track.

This year, 16 of the 79 Alberta Professional Chuckwagon and Chariot Association’s drivers are women.

“It’s growing, said Stott, who points to the family atmosphere at the races that encourages women to hop into the carts and wagons.

“We go down the road with our family and race with our second family,” said Stott of Olds.

It’s that family connection that is the boost needed for the women. Tracey and her sister, Lori, grew up helping their father, Jack, also a wagon driver, look after the horses and get the wagons ready.

“When I was growing up I was always driving Dad’s wagon.”

It’s the camaraderie with the other wagon-driving families that keeps their family driving two liners of horses and assorted stock trailers to races across the province every weekend from May to September.

“This is all we know.”

This summer Stott, her brother, John, her dad, Jack, and nephew, Carson, plus assorted kids who race miniature horses, have gathered in Bashaw for the three-day race meet.

Lori is no longer racing but comes along to help look after horses and hitch wagons.

Linda Shippelt Hubl and daughter Martina Hubl stand beside some of their wagon horses. The duo are just some of the growing number of women driving horses in the racing circuit. | Mary MacArthur photo

“We’re quite the circus,” said Lori.

Tracey simply loves to race. When the wagons are side by side racing along the backstretch, she banters with the other drivers. When they’re coming down the homestretch three wagons across racing to the finish, she feels the rush of adrenaline.

“That’s my high.”

When Stott was younger she raced both chariots and wagons, but now only races chuck wagons.

Martina Hubl said the joke in her family is she was born on the track. Her mom, Linda Shippelt Hubl, was nine months pregnant and still helping with the wagons during the races.

In 2012, Hubl and her brother, Zachary, started racing minis, either with two or four miniature horses hooked to wagons.

In 2016, she won rookie cart drive of the year.

The McEwan University student doesn’t know how long she will be able to spend each weekend at the track, but eventually her goal is to graduate from driving carts to wagons like her mom.

Driving the four-horse miniature team has given her a sense of comfort with the ability to hold four lines on four horses.

“It’s a whole different ball game to have four minds out there.”

Shippelt Hubl of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., also grew up in a racing family. In 1974, she began racing chariots, one of only a handful of women driving horses on the track in the 1970s and one of the few to continue. In 1990, she jumped to racing chuck wagons along with her husband, Marvin.

“I was too stubborn to quit.”

She raced while going to school and continued while working as a dental assistant. Shippelt Hubl had raced her first triathlon in the Alberta Masters Games in her hometown before driving to Bashaw to race her team and help the rest of her family with their races.

Over the years, Shippelt Hubl gained a name as a horse whisperer, helping to train and rehabilitate the racing ponies.

When she started, the circuit was known as the Pony Chuckwagon Association and the horses couldn’t be higher than 52 inches at the withers. Gradually, the height limit was raised and now the horses can be no taller than 58 1/2 inches high at the withers and the pony portion of the name has been dropped.

After 45 years, coming across the finish line first is nice, but Shippelt Hubl also celebrates the smaller wins. She enjoys trying out a new lead horse, making the perfect barrel pattern or raising a sensible wagon horse.

This year, the family went on an extended tour racing in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta, possibly the last time the entire family will spend the summer together at the races.

Relaxing in the shade of the camper, one leg over a camp chair, Kennedy Cooke plays on her phone and chats with friends.

In less than an hour she will hitch her horses, Buster and Tiny, to her chariot, twist around the barrels and race her horses around the track while standing in a rattling, bouncy, metal cart just like she has a dozen times this year.

It’s her first year on the circuit, and Cooke, 16, is in line for rookie chariot driver of the year. Points are accumulated throughout the year at each race.

“Getting in a cart is not scary,” said Cooke. “I trust my horse.”

Cooke comes from a line of drivers. Her grandfather and father drove chariots and wagons and it wasn’t a surprise to her family when she wanted to drive.

“I wanted to try it out. I thought it would be a lot of fun and it is.”

She bought her team last year and practiced driving all winter.

“My team is older and they don’t run the fastest, but they do their best,” she said.

“It feels like home when you’re coming to the track. It’s nice to be around family you’ve been around forever.”

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