Each Labor Day Weekend, starting in 1985, the 700 acre ranch of Dan and Peggy Eoff, of Clinton, Arkansas, has been the scene of an ever-expanding phenomena, that is now known as The National Championship Chuckwagon Races ( www.chuckwagonraces.com ). It is said to be the largest horse event in the United States!! On the day that I was there, the announcer said there were 5,386 mules and horses "checked in"! Not all of these animals are there to compete, as the event also includes parades in Clinton, breakfast and sunset trail rides, concerts, and a western trade show.
This is billed as a "family friendly event", so it is not surprising that it has drawn an estimated 20,000 spectators the last few years. I had as much fun watching the people, as watching the horses! The left side of this collage shows two "wanna be" young cowboys, and below them, a "wanna be" old cowgirl for the day (me!). Since the Amish are famous for their horse-drawn vehicles, it was logical that they would be there as well. Many ranch families use this event as a time for their families to visit and reconnect, as the men in the lower middle photo illustrate. I even saw a guy wearing a KILT! Two little girls dressed in "cowgirl" dresses caught my eye, because the boots of the little girl had flashing lights on them, that twinkled every time she took a step! There are plenty of "authentic" cowboys, as well, like the one in the lower left photo.
Besides the feed and furniture store that the Eoffs operate on Hiway 65 in Clinton, there was also a general store at their ranch, that was full of local handicrafts, race tee shirts, videos of previous races, and cups/magnets, etc. with the Chuckwagon logo on them. When I asked the clerk at the store the history of the "oF" brand/logo of the ranch, he dodged the question graciously. I can only assume it has something to do with the middle letters of the owners name "Eoff. The general store at the ranch was also the location of the bulletin board that had the "penciled in" results of the various competitions held the previous day.
A large pavilion is equipped with picnic tables, benches, paper towels, trash cans, electric lights, and washing facilities. In addition, one wall had a flat screen tv mounted, with a repeating reel playing previous year's races. That wall also was "paneled" with wood, bearing the burned-in brands of hundreds of folks. I even found a brand with my initials!
There is no shortage of food available for purchase at the event. Although hundreds of people bring their campers to the campsites available at the ranch to rent (and hence cook their own food), "day trippers" such as myself will not go hungry. I had a delicious taco salad for lunch!
Naturally, with all this eating and drinking, there is a need for "pit stops", and portable toilets are available throughout the venue. All the horses, wagons, and people stir up great clouds of dust, so a water truck was constantly making the rounds, spraying water over the dusty roads and trails.
The Western trade show ( aka "Cowboy Yard Sale" ) had every kind of Western attire, horse tack, and Western home furnishings that one could imagine. Winners of various competitions during the races, are given "Western Bucks", that can spend with the vendors.
Some very skilled riders put on a magnificent display of flags and horsemanship, at the beginning of the big event, on the afternoon I was there.
As is traditional for Western horse gatherings, the "missing rider" ceremonial circle was completed. During this time, the names of folks who were significant in the chuckwagon races of previous years, who have died during the past year, are read out loud by the announcer. I have no idea how they were able to get this team of horses to make a perfect circle around the field, but they did it "without a hitch"!
The one-fourth mile bottom land track, is bordered on one side by some natural bluffs, that have been "terraced" to accommodate spectators. As the photo shows, many participants "stake out" their claim to this unusual viewing area, by setting up portable canopies, on the various levels of the bluff. In spite of this, I had no trouble finding a rock to sit on, under a shade tree, during the time I was there. I had taken a lawn chair with me, but never really needed to take it out of my car!
There was no need to have a lawn chair, because I spent most of my time milling around taking photographs! When I saw this vendor offering a mechanical bull ride, my mind went back to a popular scene from a movie of the last century. That memory put a "no way!" on the prospects of me trying it out! However, the youngsters who were standing in line to try their luck at holding on to this "animatronic" contraption, were all smiles in anticipation of proving their riding skills!
It was the "grown-up" cowboys who were given the opportunity to try out a REAL bucking bronco! Now when I hear the phrase "smokin' hot", this image of a bronc rider surrounded by a cloud of smoke, is what I will remember!
This photo is a reminder to mention that the announcer pointed out that this annual spectacle in Clinton, is the ONLY "bucking bronco" competition, where the horse and rider, are NOT encircled with a fence. The spectators are the fence! As one would expect, this meant there was some chasing after stray horses in the pastures surrounding the completion area!
Chuckwagon racing is an equestrian rodeo sport, in which drivers in a chuckwagon, led by a two to four horses/mules, race around a track. In addition to the driver, they are supported by 2 - 4 "outriders" on individual horses, that accompany the chuckwagon.
The design of the wagon, and the number of animals, determines which event it is eligible to participate in. The first time that a chuckwagon race was held as a spectator sport was at the 1923 Calgary Stampede. Although I have not been to the annual July event in Calgary, Canada, my son and I were able to attend some "exhibition events" of the stampede, when we attended the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
Most all of the races include making turns around barrels, before running down a track or field. The first wagon and outriders to cross the finish line wins, although various penalties may reduce their placement in the final results.
In a scene reminiscent of the "Old West", the outrider must "break camp" by tossing "tent poles and/or camp stove" into the back of the wagon, before mounting their horses and following the wagon.
So even if you have the fastest horses, a bad toss by an outrider, can slow you down so much, that you do not win the race. This makes for some exciting moments, as "Murphy's Law" seems to be ever-present with the unpredictable animal behavior!
The "thrills and spills", so commonly associated with chuckwagon racing, mean that sometimes the participants will find themselves in a "jam" (hence, the "JAMBULANCE!") In addition to this converted ambulance that a radio station used to provide music for the venue, the REAL ambulance on hand was called out the very first race I saw! (upper left photo). There was also a "horse ambulance" that had to be summoned, when one of the horses pulling a wagon, got its legs tangled up in the wagon rigging. The horses in the lower right photo are the reason some government officials think there needs to be a "fish ambulance" to protect a small endangered fish species, that lives in the stream flowing through the ranch. Supposedly, all the horses in the stream are affecting water quality. To address this issue, special water crossings were constructed, to minimize the environmental impact on the stream.
I was very thankful to be able to attend the Sunday morning worship services, held on the shady bluff overlooking the bottomland. It gave me time to reflect on a the "gear" used in the mouth of a horse, that is mentioned in James 3:3 of the Holy Bible. THE MESSAGE paraphrases the verse to say, "A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain, sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything-----or destroy it!" I want the words out of my mouth---and this blog----to accomplish GOOD things-----things that will bring the reader "MILES OF SMILES"!! Tricia