Story and photos by Alex Kienlen
Just finishing up its 34th year, the National Championship Chuckwagon Races is a premier event for equestrian and cowboy lifestyle fans.
The Races take place over Labor Day weekend at the Bar o F Ranch in Clinton, Ark. It started as a one-day event where friends got together for a picnic and a chance to ride, and race, the rolling countryside on and around the ranch.
Since then it’s grown, with the 2018 event drawing an estimated 25,000 people over the three days, with fans from as far as Australia on hand. And with that, although the races start on Saturday, events begin that Monday and run throughout the week, including trail rides – one of which ends with a fish fry sponsored by the city of Clinton, and various skill and fun events for equestrian riders.
Dan Eof, whose o F Ranch hosts the event, is careful to use “equestrian” and not “horses” in describing the event, as mules are a frequent site – often seen pulling recreation (as in “not racing”) wagons as families and friends take in the event. Over 5,000 horses and mules check in at the ranch every year, and are a common site throughout the sprawling camping area, often tied to trailers or being casually ridden. The races themselves are lined with horse-mounted fans, taking in the sites.
A majority of the race fans watch the chuckwagon races, which take place over a large pasture, from a bluff on one side of the pasture. The races consist of, obviously, a chuck wagon pulled by a team of horses or mules (separate classes exist for each) accompanied by an outrider. The finish is not scored until both the wagon and that team’s outrider cross the line. The nature of the event, with wooden-wheeled wagons and riders running full speed, means that both do not always cross the line together.
And it’s not just wagon racing. Through-the-week events include cattle dog competitions, roping contests, mule racing and more. One popular event is the Snowy River race where horses and riders compete across a course taking them down steep hills and across streams. The demands of the course are such that only very experienced riders and horses are entered.
Every year, evening entertainment includes live music, by the end of the week including national touring acts.