It was a tough ending to good weekend of racing at Archerwill, SK, for a local chuckwagon and chariot racing family, the Gareau Chuckwagon Racing Team. The Team traces its history back to the early 1970’s. Gilles Gareau began racing chariots in 1973 and branched out into chuckwagons as well. In 1978 Gilles won the aggregate chuckwagon championship in the Prince Albert Professional Chariot and Chuckwagon Association and the Best Driver Award in 1979 but hung up the reins in 1981.
Throughout Gilles’ racing days his wife Lorraine followed to the races helping Gilles and taking care of their children. It’s not hard to see why as the children grew into adulthood the call of the racetrack drew them back. Kevin Gareau started racing chariots in 1996 and began chuckwagons in 1997. This is Kevin’s 26th year holding the reins. Over his many years in racing, Kevin has filled the role of president of the Prince Albert Professional Chariot and Chuckwagon Association and later that of president of the Eastern Professional Chariot and Chuckwagon Association, a role he relinquished this year. Kevin and his wife Lisa, have three children the eldest of which is following in the family hoof-prints by racing chariots. Kevin’s brother Ben also races, taking the reins in hand 20 years ago. The families travel together to races helping each other prepare and care for the four-legged members of their extended family and every so often the two brothers do the figure eight and race down the track against each other with Mom and Dad, Lorraine and Gilles, cheering them both on.
Just before 10 pm on Sunday August 14th the volunteers of the Wakaw/Hoodoo Fire and Rescue were called to respond to a motor vehicle accident. The preliminary information they received was of a motor vehicle collision with a moose on Highway 41 about 15 km east of Wakaw. On route they learned that more than one vehicle was involved in the collision one of which was a vehicle pulling a loaded livestock trailer. Responding to the collision scene were two rescue engines and one command unit, EMS, and the RCMP. The crews were on scene for approximately four hours doing traffic control, scene clean up and providing medical assistance. Multiple animals had been injured in the accident.
Unfortunately, that accident involved the Gareau Chuckwagon Racing Team member Kevin Gareau. The next morning the Team announced on their Facebook page, besides having injured animals, four of their horses lost their lives. There’s livestock, then there’s pets and then there are four-legged family members and these horses were family. Gone from the family, but not forgotten are Kevin’s left hand chariot horse, ‘Bobby’, his right-hand pole horse, ‘Jack’, his left-hand pole horse, ‘Wizard’, and daughter Shae Lynn’s right-hand chariot horse, ‘Sugar’. For people in horse racing, the horse is not just the vehicle used to get to the winner’s circle, the horse is an active, participating member of the team. They are bred to run and they love to run. Ask anyone who races and they will tell you the same thing, these horses are elite athletes who will give 110% if asked to and that kind of heart and desire stems from the love and care they receive. The horses eat first and are cared for first and at the end of the day they are the last thing checked before heads hit the pillows. In a salute on the Team Facebook page, the family wrote, “To our horses, You guys were all amazing. You gave us everything you could and we thank you guys immensely. You brought us to the winning circle a few times this year. Every one of you had a great run on Sunday. Rest Easy”
When the Gareau Chuckwagon Racing Team heads out for an event they have quite the convoy heading down the road. Last week Kevin, his wife Lisa, their son Cody and niece Samantha headed up the convoy with their truck pulling the first of two trailers each carrying eight horses. Kevin’s daughter Erika and her boyfriend were in the next vehicle followed by Ben pulling the second trailer. Next was Shae Lynn and her boyfriend followed by Gilles and Lorraine pulling a camper trailer and then some friends who enjoy travelling to the races as well. The impact with the moose resulted in the truck and trailer entering the ditch and overturning. “The truck and trailer are write-offs,” Kevin shared. The horses didn’t fare so well either, but the people are ok and what was a devastating accident could have been so much worse. Besides the four horses which died, another has sustained a career-ending injury. Her injuries are not life threatening so once recovered she will have a comfortable retirement in her home pasture, Kevin said during the interview. The remaining three suffered less severe injuries, but nevertheless are on pasture-rest recovering and it is a wait and see situation. Kevin says he is “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
Most in the sport of racing have a couple of young horses in the wings that are still maturing and are slowly introduced into the program to see how they fit and work with the other horses on the team. Like in any team sport, each member of the team has a role and the team needs to work together as a unit. Young horses are tried in different positions, in different combinations to see where and how they fit. In a situation like Gareau’s where he needs to replace such a large number of horses to rebuild his team, he said that he will definitely need to be purchasing some as, although he was 3 that he will be able to move up, he doesn’t have enough young bloods ready to step up to fill all the gaps left in his team yet.
Healing takes time, and for those who have a close family relationship, in times of crisis, being with family is most comfortable place to be. In the world of horse racing, whether the genre be harness racing or chuckwagon and chariot racing, that community has been equated to being one big family. Their lives take them to the same events and so they see each other almost weekly throughout the season and they understand each others struggles and triumphs. They celebrate each other’s victories and step in to help each other out when troubles arise. Kevin himself drives a team for Casey Peterson who suffered a spinal cord injury 20 years ago and loved horses and the sport too much to even consider giving it up. Just three days after the accident Kevin was driving Casey’s team in North Battleford thinking that the pain in his hand was just minor soft-tissue damage resulting from the accident. However, a quick x-ray taken at Rosthern Hospital as he prepared to return to North Battleford to drive the team again revealed a fracture needing surgery to repair. So, even though Kevin himself is sidelined, this past weekend the family was off to Canora to support Ben and continue to heal in the embrace of the chuckwagon and chariot family.
In Saskatchewan, there’s always next year and for Kevin Gareau and his family that’s what they are looking toward. They had almost 50 days of racing this year with their superstar team, and next year they will be back racing again. Anyone interested in following the healing journey of the team can find them on Facebook as the Gareau Chuckwagon Racing Team.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder