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Chuckwagon driver suspended after horse dies during Rangeland Derby

Last Updated Jul 12, 2019 at 1:22 pm MDT

Chuckwagons race at the GMC Rangeland Derby at the 2019 Calgary Stampede. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – A horse has died and a driver has been suspended following a collision at the Calgary Stampede.

It happened Thursday night during heat seven of the chuckwagon races.

According to the Mike Whittle with the Chuckwagon Safety Commission, driver Chad Harden blocked the wagon of another driver, Danny Ringuette, causing a third wagon to collide with the inner rail of the track.

That collision resulted in the death of a horse, belonging to driver Evan Salmond and three others suffered minor injuries.

“We don’t believe that Chad deliberately meant to do this. We have determined that there was driver error involved in his decision making,” said Whittle.

Harden was informed of the decision late Thursday night, but Whittle would not elaborate on what the driver told investigators.

As a result, Harden has been suspended from racing for the remainder of the Stampede and fined $10,000.

He’s also barred from competing in future Stampede events, though he could be reinstated at a later date.

It’s not clear how severe the injuries are to the other horses, but it is hoped that they will be able to race again.

Salmond and Ringuette were both given average times in the race, and they will each be racing for the final three nights.

READ MORE: A horse has died after Stampede chuckwagon race

As far as officials know, this is the first time a driver has been barred from taking part in more races.

“Unfortunately we’re talking about an incident that happened that we hoped would never happen. This is new ground for us,” said Stampede CEO Warren Connell. “Our zero tolerance policy was put in place to ensure this did not happen — not now and not in the future.”

It is also hoped that such a strict response will send a message.

“There have been incidents in the past where our message has not necessarily always gotten through, and we believe that this message will now get through hopefully to the drivers that safety is absolutely paramount,” Whittle added.

Connell apologized to the fans who were watching the race as well.

“I know it isn’t easy to see what you saw. I’ve been seeing it in the faces of our high-performing athletes, of our committed staff and our dedicated volunteers. Please know we do everything possible to minimize the risk at all of our events.”

This is the third incident in the Stampede that has led to the death of a horse. On Wednesday night, a horse was euthanized after suffering a broken leg during heat two.

A horse also died on Monday after suffering what the Stampede called a medical condition, due to what is believed to be a heart attack, and a post-mortem examination is underway.

Stampede Communications Manager Kristina Barnes stressed those deaths were not solely related to racing.

“Last night was very different,” she said. “Due to interference and the resulting contact from another wagon, a horse sustained severe injuries. This was the result of driver error and has been determined a fatality that could have been avoided.”

But this is renewing calls from some groups to ban chuckwagon racing, as there are protests planned through the weekend at the Stampede Grounds.

RELATED: Another horse dies after chuckwagon race at Calgary Stampede

Barnes said the horses go through many checks and an incident like this is even more upsetting to staff and the drivers.

“I think it’s fair to say while we have a difference in fundamental values, we do agree on something: that we don’t ever want to see an animal injured when we head out on to our chuckwagon track,” she said. “We know that when those horses go out on to the track that they have had full veterinary inspections when they arrive here at Stampede Park each night before they race. So we know that we have done everything we can to ensure their health and safety.”

Barnes also wanted to point out that they recently changed rules on how they select drivers, so the racers in the Stampede are chosen in part based on their safety record.

“It’s a very emotional time. It’s hard for them. They never go out on that track wanting something like this to happen. They make the right decisions, and we’re confident that we have the right drivers out there,” Barnes said.

“Where would the benefit be for them to have something happen to their horses?”