If you thought miniature ponies were only good for teaching children how to ride or for looking cute, Clayton Hawreluik has news for you — mini chuckwagon races are hot stuff.
“It started out as a little hobby but it has turned into a little more than we expected it to,” said Hawreluik, who started Hawreluik Racing Company, from Sheho, Sask., in 1992.
The ‘mini-chucks’ form a third category of wagon-pulling equines. At roughly 36 inches high at the withers, they’re considerably smaller than pony chucks — which are about 1,100 pounds and 14.2 hands (58 inches) high — and tiny compared to the thoroughbreds of the Calgary Stampede’s “Half Mile of Hell” fame.
But what they lack in size, they make up for in sheer energy, said Hawreluik, who also races regular-size pony chuckwagons.
“Everything is pretty much the same, it’s just that if they looked in the mirror, they’d be pretty disappointed about their size,” he joked. “They’re a tough little animal and they sure try hard.”
In a typical show, Hawreluik drives them around the ring for a couple of laps, then has an assistant blow a horn to signal the race has started.
When that happens, the ponies hit the collars hard and their hooves disappear in a jaw-dropping blur of furious motion as they wind their way through a figure-8 pattern, just like their larger cousins in regular competition.
“People can’t believe how fast they can run,” said Hawreluik, adding that at the Saturday night demonstration at Horse 3, the teams were so keyed up that they were almost uncontrollable and missed one loop of the course.
The one-quarter-size, miniature chuckwagons he uses are self-made, with a welded steel frame and tongue. The wooden wheels and hubs are the most expensive part, at about $1,200 for a set of four.
He drives the four-up in a mainly biothane harness without britchen, but uses a strap that runs through the collars of the lead team to help keep things together.
Hawreluik likens the nature of his mini-chucks to draft horses and says, “Big Willie,” who makes up half of the lead team, is his “pride and joy.”
“If someone offered me $50,000, I don’t think I would sell him,” said Hawreluik. “On the other hand, that paint and bay on the back — on some days, they have different names.”