World’s first professional female chuckwagon driver receives CPCA membership

Amber L’Heureux is ready to make history.

When the horn sounds to start the 2019 Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) season, L’Heureux will be the first female in the circuit’s six-decade history to navigate the barrels.

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L’Heureux will purchase an official membership to the CPCA at the organization’s annual general meeting on Saturday, Oct. 20, making it official.

“It’s been a long road to reach this point in my career and I couldn’t be more excited. I started racing when I was 14 in a small chariot with two ponies. Hard work, determination and a love for this sport brought me to where I am today,” says L’Heureux, who hails from Glaslyn.

“I want every little girl to know there is no limit to what they can do.”

The 25-year-old passed the CPCA sanctioning tests in July and has already begun training and preparations for the 2019 racing season. North Battleford will host her debut May 31 to June 2.

L’Heureux says her aspirations for the rookie season are to run clean and consistently, to finish in top 10 and win rookie of the year. Her parents and grandfather, who were also on the track with chariots and wagons, say they could not be more excited for L’Heureux to take this next step for their family legacy.

Glaslyn racer taking her shot at the ‘big boys’ in the CPCA

By Lara Dobson

Ironjet Promotions Inc.

Driving east on a wet, cold, fall day I found myself on a gravel road in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Sask. It led me to a modest ranch near Glaslyn where I found my subject, Amber L’Heureux, sorting tack and creating dividers in her livestock trailer.

Eight months before the first race and she is already preparing for what is to come. This young woman, who is about to take the racing world by storm, is calm, methodical and strategic.

I don’t know if anyone is truly ready for what she is about to bring to the sport.

She greeted me with a big smile and a warm hand, as I climbed out of the Jeep and into my muck boots. The rain has been going on for a week and we’re about to trek through the pasture to get to the classic red barn. My clean-ish boots got a thorough breaking in.

Sixteen horses were waiting for snacks, sweets and scratches behind the ears. Waiting for their driver to chat with them and ask them how they’re doing. Waiting for the feel of the brush along their withers and her hands on their backs. She is committed to bringing out the best in each one of “her boys.”

She described their personalities to me, where each came from and why she’s taking a chance on each one to be part of her barn lineup for next spring’s big debut. Although Amber has been racing pony chuckwagons for 10 years and chariots two years before that, this spring will be the first time the 25-year-old has raced thoroughbreds in the most famous of associations, the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association.

Not only that, spring 2019 will be the first time any woman has raced in the CPCA.

Let that sink in for a moment. Here we are in 2018, and there are still sports that women aren’t yet participating in? According to Amber, there have been skilled and talented woman drivers in the past, but none have pursued it to the professional level. I asked Amber, “Why her? Why now?” Her response was simple.

“My father raced from the time he was 27 and retired after 50 years of racing. My grandfather raced. My mom raced. It’s in my blood. Their legacy and their passion became mine, and it has led me to this moment. I’m ready.”

And there is no questioning that she has put in the preparations and is making plans to be a top competitor. She describes the feed schedule, the training routines, massages and chiropractics for the “boys” as well as the constant hunt for the right horse to add to her barn. It is a year-long grind, especially busy while the ground is snow free and her alarm is set for dawn each day.

My attention turns to the pink harnesses, pink halters, pink driving lines and I couldn’t help but ask “Why all the pink”? She snorted a laugh and explained how she came to possess over $10,000 worth of pink horse tack.

At 14 she was trying her hand at diving a chariot. Amber and her dad were on the lookout for the gear she would need to harness the horses to the small unit. While the young driver really wanted a shiny new electric green and blue set of lines, her dad was watching for anything used that would fit their budget. Then the call came in that someone was getting rid of everything they had at a great price – the only thing – it was fluorescent pink. And while Amber’s heart was a bit let down by the cliché colour, she has grown to love and be proud of it, adding more gear and a sparkling pink wagon to the lineup.

We finished up in the barn and made our way to the farmhouse for a cup of tea and fresh-baked cookies. As we sit at the 1970s table, Amber spread a large album in front of me. Her aunt built a scrapbook that is full of accomplishments and races. As we flipped pages and I listened to the stories of a young girl racing on a track full of men, her dad rummaged in a room nearby. He soon emerged with photos from as early as the 1950s, when chuckwagon racing was just getting its start on the Prairies.

Mr. L’Heureux is an unassuming and gentle man, and I could have listened to him for hours. Alas, my one-year-old was not about to let that happen and we were soon on our way. But not before I asked him what he thought of his daughter competing at this level.

He is thoughtful and then says, “I always had the intention of trying to run thoroughbreds, but due to life circumstances and economics I just wasn’t able to … it feels good to watch your daughter grow up loving what you love — the animals and racing. It may be an easy thing to do, but not an easy thing to be good at. It’s a lifelong-learning journey.”

Luckily for Amber, that knowledge is in her blood and the intuition of her grandfather, mother and father, all contribute to the way she runs the race. She can’t wait for her shot to show the world what she’s made of.

Amber and her boys are about to have their moment. Spring 2019 is not far away.

 

 

 

 

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