For Clayton Hawreluik chariot and chuckwagon racing was something once tried became a lifetime passion.
“I think I started racing in 1992. I started driving chariots,” said the Sheho area driver Friday afternoon just hours before taking to the Yorkton Exhibition track for the first races of the year.
Unlike many in the sport Hawreluik isn’t exactly following the footsteps of family.
He said his parents “were around horses all the time. Both rode horseback.”
But, they were just fans of racing, not participants.
“As a kid if there were races we would go watch,” recalled Hawreluik.
Among the racers they watched were neighbours and friends and as a youngster Hawreluik was helping out on the backstretch.
“I’d help them groom and harness,” he said.
Then one of the racers lent him a team and Hawreluik raced in Nut Lake – well sort of.
“The team froze in the barrels,” he said, noting as the other team headed round the track he was left watching.
Eventually, the team would get going and Hawreluik raced the track alone, far behind the others. While admitting the incident “was kind of embarrassing” it did not deter the young racer.
“I love speed, anything with speed, horses, snowmobiles, vehicles. Speed, it gets to be a pretty big addiction,” he said, adding for him it probably started “as a kid riding ponies bareback.”
It simply stuck with him.
“You just find yourself being competitive. You want to be faster, better at everything in life,” said Hawreluik.
On the chariot and chuckwagon front there were always other drivers to help in that regard.
“There were lots of fellow who would sell you a horse, or borrow you one,” said Hawreluik.
Soon he was into the sport in a way that just kept growing.
“You start out with two horses and end up with about 20 quite a few years later,” said Hawreluik.
And, most of the herd gets put in the trailer and head to a track like the one in Yorkton most weekends throughout the summer.
In a ‘typical’ year, one not affected by COVID-19, racing starts in June and ends in August, at least for Hawreluik, who said they tend to pass on races in September.
“Harvest in September puts a stop on racing,” he said, adding while he loves racing, the cattle and crops back on the farm always take precedent.
“Things at home have to be looked after first.”
For the Yorkton event Hawreluik has 11 horses, running two chariots and a chuckwagon and bringing along three ‘spares’ should they be needed.
The next stop in Hudson Bay Hawreluik said he plans to run a second chuckwagon.
“I have some young ones (horses) that need to get started,” he said.
Most of Hawreluik’s horses have been purchased, but not all.
“I have one favourite mare I do have some foals off of, a few that I’ve raised,” he said. “It’s nice to keep some of the older favourite ones.”
However, the horses raced are changing, getting larger in general. While they must be 68.5 inches or less at the whithers, that is still far taller than in the past.
Hawreluik said 30 years ago the ‘ponies’ were only 48-50 inches, but now with more thoroughbred and racing quarter horse blood the horses on the track today are generally 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.
Now 48, Hawreluik sees no reason not to keep driving.
“I hope that I can continue as long as I’m healthy,” he said, adding the thrill has not faded for him.
“I wouldn’t say I get nervous, but I still get a little anxious – excited,” he said, adding some races might deny the adrenaline that hits just before a race, but he believes “everybody” feels the thrill.
In Yorkton it might be a bit keener Friday given most will not have raced since the fall of 2019, other than on practice tracks, but Hawreluik said it is something he is definitely ready for.
Action in the Eastern Professional Chariot & Chuckwagon Association sanctioned races begin with chariots today at 3:30 p.m. with chuckwagons at 6:30. They will race at the same times Saturday, while Sunday the chariots run at noon and the chuckwagons at 3 p.m..