More women in chuckwagon and chariot racing

Dianne Gervais cares for Showtime, one of the horses she uses on her pony chariot. Originally a barrel horse from Brazil, Gervais found the horse worked well in the races. A first-year driver this season, Gervais is one of several women taking part in the once male-dominated sport.

By Mac Christie
Chuckwagon and chariot racing are fast-paced, exciting sports that are almost exclusively the purview of men – but there are some exceptions.

One of those is Meadow Lake’s own Dianne Gervais.

This year she’s a 46-year-old rookie chariot driver in the North West Saskatchewan Pony Chuckwagon and Chariot Association.

Gervais said she used to always attend the races because her father Pete Ross and brother Paul drove chuckwagons.

Then, someone who was driving for her father decided he’d move up to thoroughbred chuckwagons, and her dad asked if sheÕd drive the chariot.

“I said, ‘Do you think I could do it?’ and he said ‘Well, why not?'”

So this spring Gervais started driving a chariot.

“It’s just great,” she said of racing. “I’m having a blast.”

But Gervais wasn’t new to horses, she’d be around them her whole life.

“I’ve been riding since I was five or six years old,” she said, adding she used to jockey and still barrel races.

But while she thinks there are more women that take part in chariot and chuckwagon racing now, she said that wasnÕt always the case.

“When I used to watch the pony carts years ago, there weren’t any women,” Gervais noted. “It was mainly a man’s sport.”

Even now, she estimates there are only four or five female chariot racers out of 60 in the association.

An even greater discrepancy shows up in chuckwagon racing.

Amber L’Heureux, an 18-year-old pony chuckwagon driver from the Glaslyn area, has been driving wagons for two years, and drove chariots before that.

L’Heureux said she got into racing because of her family ties.

“My dad really wanted me to follow in his footsteps,” she said of her father Gerald, 70, who still races pony chuckwagons.

In fact, since L’Heureux was three months old her parents took her on the chuckwagon circuit.

“It was kind of in my blood,” she said with a laugh.

However, L’Heureux confessed that it’s a male-dominated sport, adding as a female driver, you have to fight to get where you are and earn the respect of other drivers.

“There’s a lot of scepticism (from other drivers) of girls being able to drive wagons because of being able to control four horses, I think,” she said.

While L’Heureux said she’d like to think she’s earned the respect, she added there are only about 10 female chuckwagon drivers that she’s aware of.

But she understands part of the reason there are less women.

“As much as people like to say it’s not a physical sport, it’s a lot of upper body strength to be able to control four horses,” she said, adding strength can also be a problem when younger guys start to drive.

There are no female thoroughbred chuckwagon drivers at all, although L’Heureux said she’s aiming to make that move in the next couple of years.

“That’s my biggest goal in the sport,” she said.

But someone else might beat L’Heureux to it.

Mae Gorst, who was the first woman to outride at the Calgary Stampede, is considering driving a thoroughbred wagon someday.

Gorst, who would like to see more female drivers, said she felt shunned when she started outriding, but that stopped once she showed she could handle the horses.

One day, she might be the first female driver at the Stampede.

“My son (Calgary Stampede rookie driver Layne Bremner) doesn’t think I’m strong enough to do it,” she said, but added if she had the right horses, she thinks she could.

One Response to “More women in chuckwagon and chariot racing”
  1. Sara says:

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