The 2017 Grande Prairie Stompede got underway Wednesday at Evergreen Park, and for the first time, there’s a female thoroughbred rider in the Western Chuckwagon Association circuit. Track announcer Dennis Hall says Rilee Letendre got her start as a barn hand for former WCA competitor Bruce McAleney.
“Then she took over with her uncle Brian Lewis, who was a driver for many, many years. She held the reins for him a few times and he coached her along and she’s ready.”
Letendre lives in the Grande Prairie area but is originally from Drayton Valley. May 31st marks her debut, and she’s the only female driver in both the WCA and World Professional Chuckwagon Association this season.
“A lot of female drivers are driving the pony wagons,” explains Hall. “Pony wagons don’t stand quite as big as the thoroughbreds; the wagons themselves are quite a bit smaller. What you’re going to see now is somebody in there trying to handle four big, thoroughbred horses pulling a heavy wagon.”
This year’s Stompede is also another milestone for the WCA. It marks 10 years that the club has taken part, after having joined in 2007. In addition to Letendre, Hall says there are plenty of drivers to keep an eye on.
“You can watch for our last year’s champion Dean Dreger. One of the drivers Eric Rever has won a few shows and he’s always competitive, and Lane Kimble’s a two-time champion so keep an eye on him.”
The Stompede officially busted out Tuesday with a barbecue celebration in the Revolution Place parking lot. Earning Stomper of the Year recognition is board president Terri Ellen Sudnik, while Arne Lavalley of Bezanson was named this year’s Wagonmaster.
This year marks the event’s 40th anniversary, and a special commemorative wagon was unveiled at the BBQ. The Stompede runs May 31st through June 4th.
Photos of the Bust Out Barbecue and Stompede Parade are below: