Layne MacGillivray is a third generation chuckwagon driver from Halkirk, AB. He is one of many in the wagon racing community who was thrilled to see the return of the sport in 2021. Layne and his wife Loreena recently offered WHR a glance behind-the-scenes of their operation, while they were on a leg of their summer tour for the Strathmore Stampede. At the time of writing, MacGillivray was sitting first in the standings of the World Professional Chuckwagon Racing Association, having just come off a spectacular run in High River, AB.
MacGillivray gave us the chance to ask some tough questions about his sport and his lifestyle. Here’s what he had to say:
WHR – Why do you love wagon racing?
LM – “It’s a combination of a few things. Being around horses is number one. The thrill of the competition, friendships you make and the lifestyle. You get addicted to it, basically. It’s been good to us. We’ve had our ups and downs for sure, but overall it’s been good.”
WHR – What’s your schedule like this summer?
LM – We’ll go home for a few days after Strathmore. Then we leave Wednesday for Bonnyville, AB. After that it’s Dawson Creek, BC, Rocky Mountain House, AB, then Ponoka, AB, and after that, we turn the horses out and go back to work.
(MacGillivray works for League Projects as a truck driver in the off-season.)
WHR – So, you have another career in the winter?
LM – Yes, it gives me some stability to the year. Chuckwagon racing can sustain itself but you can’t do it and then just live for the other months. The horses pay for themselves. But as far as going home and kicking your feet up after the season – that don’t happen.
WHR – Are you excited to see the chucks go back to Stampede next year?
LM – Yeah definitely. It has been a tough two years not having it. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of it for many years and it’s definitely something we all want to get back to. The chuckwagons have been a very big part of the Stampede over the years and we as competitors don’t want to see that end.
WHR – Is there anything that can be done to make wagon racing safer?
LM – I truly believe we’ve done almost everything we can to make it safer. It’s tough. Unfortunately, accidents can happen. But I’ll tell you, when an accident does happen it tears a hole in everybody’s campsites [referring to the community of wagon drivers camped around any wagon racing event]. It’s not like it doesn’t go unnoticed. Everyone here hurts when something happens.
WHR – So what if the races were just a little slower, but still had a dramatic finish at the end?
LM – We’ll it’s tough to rate the horses and it’s not really the speed that gets anyone in trouble. An equipment failure can cause an accident but everyone has safeties on their equipment now to help avoid a potential accident from an equipment failure, so that has been a big change. For us as drivers, we thrive on the competition but we also feel that the fans who come out to watch the sport do as well – so we want to keep the competition there. On the other hand, we don’t thrive on it so much that we want to hurt a horse or another person just to win.
I have been part of racing indoors down in Houston and Ft. Worth Texas where we had to set races up some nights. It’s not easy to do and almost makes it more unsafe than just competing.
WHR -Do you ever have animal activists actually bother you?
LM – Not really but back in 2002 in Calgary, I had trouble with a horse the first night. A guy come to my barn three days later. He wanted to know the condition of the horses, how they were being cared for, etc. He’d heard lots of stuff about the way we treat our horses and how we care for them. When he walked into my barn, he was impressed with the condition of the horses, they all had feed in front of them, the barn was cleaned, etc. He was convinced. He left that day, happy.
WHR – Do you think that’s part of the answer then, in dealing with activists?
LM – We’ve invited activists down, to follow our routine. We do everything for these horses. They eat before we do. They do a lot of things before us. What some people don’t understand is, we get these horses off the track anywhere from age four to eight. For many of them they’re at the end of their racing career, they don’t fit into the jumping or dressage world. It’s true that some don’t want to run any longer, so you have to find another job for them. Some can be turned into good outrider horses. But if not, then you find another riding home for them. And that’s part of our job too – rehoming them if need be. One way or another, we give them another life.
Then, we also retire the ones who’ve run for us after a certain point – I don’t like to run them past age 18. They’ve done it long enough. I’ve had horses in the pasture until they’re 25-26. We take care of them until the end.
The reason we buy them off the track is because we as drivers, have so much into our horses by age four for instance, that it’s more economical to just buy off the track. We don’t breed any horses and most of the ones you’ll see wagon racing are geldings.
I’ve got 21 horses here on the road with me that I feel, if I didn’t have them – I don’t know where they’d be. I’ve got eight more at home. That’s the biggest thing. We feel like we give them another life.
- Interview by Jenn Webster