In a normal year, even the non-horsey public would be focused on the equestrian world this week as the Belmont Stakes (New York) approached and perhaps one Thoroughbred aimed for a shot at the elusive Triple Crown. But COVID-19 has turned 2020 into anything but a normal year, so if you’re missing your racing fix, may we present: the Chicken Derby.
The brainchild of Chronicle forums member Jody Chantler (screen name GoodTimes), the chicken derby race was just one of several avian sporting events she created for entertainment in the time of the coronavirus.
“Organizing six chickens by yourself is a little like herding cats,” said Chantler, 29, who lives just outside Midland, Ontario. “We had a little post parade and a walk-up start.”
The feathered field included Ruby the Red Sex Link, Wanda the White Leghorn, Rocky the Barred Rock, Echo the Easter Egger, Puff the Cream Legbar, and Speck the Speckled Sussex.
“Speck is the most curious,” she said, “always following me to see what I’m up to.”
In place of the starting bell, Chantler tossed a piece of apple to begin the race. “Food is the best motivator,” she said.
The wire-to-chicken-wire winner proved to be Ruby. “They sure are fast when they want to be, and Ruby’s definitely the most food-motivated,” Chantler said. “I have to watch my fingers around her.”
When she’s not at home with her boyfriend tending to their hens and dog, Chantler is a cardiac sonographer. Like many medical personnel whose specialties aren’t directly related to treatment of COVID-19, she hasn’t been working since the epidemic hit her province.
“I’ve been furloughed for the past eight weeks,” Chantler said. “Since most of our patients are vulnerable, we decided that the risk to them would be too great if we remained open.”
Local virus precautions have also kept her from visiting her 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding Centurion C at his boarding stable. “Restrictions in Ontario are just starting to ease,” she said. “Boarders can now visit their horses with precautions. Other than the lack of treats, he has been thoroughly enjoying his vacation.”
The pair typically shows in the hunters, but the involuntary time out of the saddle inspired Chantler to experiment with chicken competitions. In addition to the flat race, she upped the difficulty level and built a hen-sized version of a dog agility course in her poultry pen. Just like the canine event that typically features laser-focused border collies speeding through various challenges in the ring, Chantler’s obstacles included weave poles, a jump and a ramp.
While the dog handlers use years of training and lots of verbal commands for motivation, what was Chantler’s strategy?
“They’ll eat almost anything,” she said. “But they really love watermelon on a hot day!”