Mark Sutherland – Let the wagons roll on

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Mark Sutherland Calgary Stampede
Mark Sutherland with his wagon horse Sky, which he purchased from the Santa Anita Racetrack in 2003.

As the sun sets on the track at the GMC Rangeland Derby in Calgary, chuckwagon driver Mark Sutherland prepares his horses for another day of wagon racing. It’s a busy 10 days throughout the Calgary Stampede in the wagon barns and historically chuckwagon racing in Calgary brings out fans and… protesters.

While this lifelong Stampede veteran puts his horses into their stalls for the evening, Sutherland says that he enjoys seeing his horses perform at their best. But despite his feelings, there are those who see his life’s passion from a different perspective.

During the first night of wagon racing at the Calgary Stampede, there were two Vancouver based protesters that chained themselves to a rail on the track, postponing the races. Sutherland feels that these people were not “animal welfare activists,” and that they were simply …“attention seekers.”

“I’m disappointed in those people, but from what I understand they are disappointed in me. I firmly believe that every job needs a watchdog, but it’s probably not those people.”

Even over the past 10 years, he says that the Calgary Stampede has made such big strides in facilitating their equine athletes. However, those who appose chuckwagon racing obviously still persist.

“There have been mistakes made in the past, but I think we are doing a good job in keeping the horses safe. I think these horses have never been happier and healthier.”

In today’s world chuckwagon drivers have a team of equine health specialists that tend to their horses like any of the top equine sport. However, Sutherland says there are always going to be hiccups with these horses – anywhere at anytime.

“I am not sure they are really educated when it comes to the horses. Animal safety is a notable cause. I certainly love horses. I don’t have a response to those people because they only want it stopped they don’t want to improve the sport.”

Sutherland says he has been at the Stampede for 40-plus years and yes, when he was young, things were different. However, today the horses are much safer, healthier and perform much more competitively with a team of veterinarians and animal health specialists behind them at all times.

“I am concerned with what the professionals say, not the attention seeking cooks that are not here to improve the safety of these horses. Things have changed. We are professionals and we don’t put horses in harms way, certainly not intentionally. I truly question their intentions.”