Pony chuckwagon races a Ross family business

Meadow Lake’s Paul Ross works hard to make a turn around the barrels in the pony chuckwagon races July 9 at the Cherry Grove Little Britches Rodeo in Cherry Grove, Alberta. Ross, who’s currently in fifth place, said he’d one day like to try racing thoroughbred chuckwagons.

By Mac Christie

For Paul Ross, it all started one day in 2000.

He was cultivating in brother Lyle’s field, when Lyle came over the hill driving his pony chuckwagon team by himself.

“He said his arms were played out and he’d already went in the bush a couple of times,” recalled Ross, 48, from his home outside Meadow Lake. “So I got on there with him and helped him drive them back.”

His brother asked him to hold the leaders for him at an upcoming competition, and as they say, the rest is history.

“He said, ‘You’ll have to come with me every weekend,’” Ross said. “I said, ‘Well, if I’m going to hold for you, I might as well drive a chariot,’ and that’s how I got started.”

In 2003 Ross started driving pony chuckwagons, and that year won Rookie of the Year. He trained all winter, with his dad Pete showing him the ropes.

“We’d be driving in the field,” he said, “and when you don’t know how to drive four (horses) it looks easy. But if you get the four lines they start going all over.”

“I’d be saying ‘Dad, take them back, take them back.’”

He said his biggest influence is his father, who used to drive thoroughbred chuckwagons in the 1960s and ’70s, winning the Meadow Lake Stampede in 1976, before retiring to focus on farming.

“It was taking up too much of his time,” Ross recalled. “He said if he could win Meadow Lake he’d quit racing. And he did.”

But even though his father drove chuckwagons, Ross didn’t take it up when he was younger.

“I was around horses,” he said. “But I was more into hunting, fishing and farming. It wasn’t something I was interested in until later.”

Now he doesn’t have time to hunt or fish, he laughed, instead spending all his time wagon racing.

Ross said the highlight of his career so far was finishing first in the North West Saskatchewan Pony Chariot and Chuckwagon Association in 2007. He hasn’t won since, although he’s finished second twice.

“My goal is to try and win another championship,” said Ross, who’s currently sitting in fifth place this season.

But Ross, who works at NorSask Forest Products, also has ambitions to race thoroughbred chuckwagons in the future.

“It’s something I’d like to try,” he said, “but I don’t know if it’s in the cards. You need good sponsors and you need to be able to take a lot of time off work, too.”

But last winter, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to keep racing pony chuckwagons.

“I was going to quit last winter,” he said. “Now I’m getting more horses and a bigger trailer. So I guess I’m not going to quit after all.”

But if he does stop racing, Ross has someone to pass his outfits to – his son Jon, 21, now races pony chuckwagons, even beating him last year.

“I got him started,” Ross said, “now it’s up to him. I told him, ‘Now you’ve drove. If I ever decide to quit you can probably do it.’”

Still, Ross said it seems funny he could start so late at something and be successful.

“If Lyle hadn’t been coaxing me to come and help him, I probably would never have done it.”


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