After finishing fourth in the World Standings for the 2019 WPCA season, Codey McCurrach will be looking to crack the top two at this seasons' end.
Before he even begins thinking of what's to come, McCurrach needed to get some horses to bring in some new energy and youthfulness. Over the fall and winter months, he went down to Seattle, Washington to buy some new horses. He picked up a total of four horses in Seattle, including a youngster named Jesse.
"We came and got three horses," McCurrach explains. "(Jesse) was the younger one and showed a lot of promise as a two-year-old." Jesse had dealt with a small injury but there's no real concern for his performance down the road.
McCurrach didn't start training Jesse right away. But thanks to a family discussion, they got him out and McCurrach is hoping he'll be on the circuit this season. However, he's not sure if Jesse will be on the lead team or a wheeler, he said almost all new horses start as wheelers.
New horses to any chuckwagon barn have to go through a learning curve. Almost all the new ones aren't used to pulling a wagon behind them, because they come off tracks from across North America. They are horses who have reached the end of their career as a racehorse and need a second career. Many of the newbies haven't had a harness around them, rounded barrels or even had to race in a team environment.
One way to get a new horse used to the wagon life is ground driving.
Recently McCurrach started ground driving Jesse. It's a tactic he's used for many of his new arrivals. "It gets them a feel for the harness and little bit of the sound," McCurrach said. "I don't know if many other drivers do it. It's just something that has worked for me and teaches them a little more patience."
Excited for this beautiful boy, Jesse came home with us this past fall as a 3 year old...We gave him a few months off... today was his first day with harness on.. Codey starts all the new boys ground driving.. Jesse did great! Watch for him as part of the team this summer..Posted by McCurracing on Sunday, February 23, 2020
"They are generally pretty good (with ground driving.) I find with breaking in a new horse, it's about teaching them to relax, start out just steady. Being consistent and keeping their mind calm. I mean they are coming off a race track where they're in the gate. The gates are rattling. Then the bell goes and away they go."
Ground driving isn't as tough on the horses as one would think. In fact, they have it somewhat easy compared to the driver. "It's a little taxing running or jogging behind the horse, especially when I'm in full winter gear," McCurrach chuckles. "It's really about getting them used to the commands. Some horses take a few times. They'll want to turn and face you, instead of going away and driving."
Heading into the 2020 WPCA season, McCurrach would love to win every show... just like every other driver. But he does have some other goals he'd like to accomplish. Something he did last season, which helped him land fourth in the final World Standings, is staying consistent and being clean in the barrels. To do this, McCurrach wants to get his younger horses into the mix early and often.
"My core group of horses are still really good horses, but they are getting on the downside of their peak," McCurrach explains. "Every year that goes by, those horses get a year older, so you need those young ones pushing the older ones for a position. I think that's key for us, getting some young ones in early, so we have (can) have a pretty deep barn coming into the Calgary Stampede."
Some of the keys to winning a chuckwagon race are having a clean barrel turn and getting to the rail. McCurrach was really good at both last season, which helped him stay in the top half of the standings. It'll also be key for him again this year, especially when the big money showdown at Century Downs Casino and Racetrack comes around.
Century Downs is a bit longer of a racetrack than what the drivers are used to on the circuit. Not a lot of preparation goes into training for this event, but having a deep barn and fresh legs are what will keep McCurrach in contention for the championship money, truck and belt buckles. Besides Century Downs and Calgary, are there another shows he'd want to win?
"You know what? I'd love to win Ponoka," McCurrach stated. "Ponoka is close to home for us. We're from Central Alberta and I've always loved the Ponoka Stampede and I've run there for a lot of years. I've been close, made the semifinals and the finals, but haven't come across the line first yet. We're knocking on the door last year but came up a little short. I think Ponoka is a big one for us, second to Calgary and following that Century Downs."
The sport of chuckwagon racing wouldn't be where it's at if it wasn't for the amazing sponsors. If you're sponsoring a driver whether it be for some time during the Calgary Stampede or during the WPCA season, you're not only getting your business broadcast on national tv and throughout B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan, you're also supporting the drivers, families, and horses.
"You know our sponsors are huge for us. We've had some pretty consistent sponsors over the years and people who've stuck by us. Without them sticking by us in both the big and small shows whether it be Calgary or a small show like Medicine Hat or High River, there are always folks there to support us," McCurrach said about the importance of sponsors.
A major sponsorship event is the Calgary Stampede Tarp Auction. It's 10 days of national advertising and having your company's name mentioned numerous times throughout the show. When companies purchase the tarp of a wagon, the driver and his family will treat them to an amazing night of food, barn tours and hopefully winning day money. The drivers will also have an opportunity to educate the sponsors on how they take care of each horse individually. They'll also explain the horses get massages, chiropractic care, and anything else the horse needs to compete at his best.
The 2020 WPCA season gets underway in late May when Codey McCurrach and the other 35 drivers make their way to Grande Prairie. Be sure to watch for Jesse and team McCurrach as they make another push to be top in the world.
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