For many moms of three young children the idea of living out of an RV and moving from one town to another every weekend, all summer long, might sound like the worst. To Ashly Bensmiller, it’s her life and it’s far from being the worst, in fact she’s living her best life. “It’s all about the kids, you have to spend time with them now, because it’s gone so fast.” Ashly’s husband is the reigning World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) Champion, Kurt Bensmiller.
Taking the kids on the road was an easy decision, the family wanted to stay close to another. “I’ll do anything, but the barn,” Ashly says a typical day is not typical at all. “I can’t go in the barn because it’s too hard with a two year old. You can’t take your eyes off them, so it just wouldn’t work.” A day starts with getting the kids up and ready, preparing a big breakfast for around 10:00 am for Kurt and the crew. Followed by a number of different errands that change from day-to-day. Ashly will run into town for anything from horse feed to ice to beer for post-race celebrations and she usually throws in a special activity for the kids; like swimming or playing at the park. “If they need help, I definitely fill in.” The crew will eat again at 4:30 pm and by the time the clean up is done and the kids are ready, it’s race time. “It’s crazy!”
It’s fun, it’s a lot of work & a totally different lifestyle. It’s rewarding and you get to see all these different cities. You get away & get to have all these different experiences and meet a lot of new people. – Ashly Bensmiller
“They like playing with Logan Gorst’s and Jason Glass’ kids, they’re all kinda the same age,” Ashly and Kurt have three girls, Harlee (6), Hayze (4) and Vahn (2). “It’s kinda neat cuz they have their summer friends, their chuckwagon friends, and then their school friends. It’s cute, they’re always excited to see those kids again, come April.” The kids help out, as much as they can for their age, Ashly says “you still have to be very careful with them. Hayze likes to wash the wagons and she likes the horses, so does Harlee. There’s not a lot of jobs for them yet. Whatever we ask them, they’ll do, but they spend a lot of time playing with their friends; for the most part.”
The summer moves fast. Bonnyville’s stop, July 21-24, marks about the halfway point on the circuit. “Your summer goes by so quick,” Ashly says the family makes sure to add in some fun at the end of the summer. After the races end and before the school kicks in full swing the Bensmillers will usually take a week or two to enjoy the lake, “it’s nice because there’s nobody out there then. Kids are usually heading back to school and people are done [with the camping season].”
I just see him as Kurt – Ashly Bensmiller
“It’s nice if someone recognizes you, because it’s nice to have the fan base and know that people are watching and following the sport of chuckwagon racing. You want it to be big and popular.” Of course you always want to be well-known because that usually means you’re having a good year. “Everybody has better years than others, some years you do really good and other mediocre. So you have to take it while you can.” Kurt to Grande Prairie early in the season, but has yet to win another weekend*. Despite that he is still top of the pack with 673.5 points, Luke Tournier is nippin’ at his heels with 672 points. Kurt was looking to threepeat his Calgary Stampede Championships after taking 2014 and 2015, however didn’t make it into the finals. Should he prove more successful in Bonnyville it would be his first George Norman Memorial win. “He’s good at it and it’s definitely his thing,” raves Ashly, “a natural.”
Ashly never grew up in the sport, she was introduced to it in her youth from her aunt and uncle. Her family became intertwined with the Bensmillers after Blair Hanna took a teaching job at the Dewberry School. “My uncle Blair was the principal of the Dewberry School,” Ashly says her aunt taught at another nearby community and they lived in Dewberry. With two boys the same age as the Bensmiller boys the Hannas and the Bensmillers became fast friends. Many who have been following the circuit for years remember the WPCA used to go through Touchu. A small rural Alberta community just over an hour south of Red Deer. That’s where Ashly fits in. Ashly was busy growing up in Trochu when her relatives brought the Bensmillers into her life. The friendship started, grew into love, and eventually a family; complete with three girls and over 40 horses.
“We knew them for a long time, I was probably in grade 3. I wasn’t very old. We’ve always known each other, I didn’t grow up on the chuckwagons, but now I’m doing it,” laughs Ashly, who adds her parents never batted an eye when she said that was the life she wanted. “I think they miss us when we’re gone, but we still see them lots and my sister’s family is there, with her kids, to keep them busy.”
Kurt grew up in the wagons, both grandfathers, Allen Smith (maternal) and Alan Bensmiller (paternal) raced. His father, Buddy Bensmiller retired after an impressive career as a two-time WPCA Champion and three-time Calgary Stampede Champion. Kurt’s brother’s Dave & Chance both race is the sport, Dave as an outrider and Chance as a driver in the CPCA. Kurt’s older sister, Lisa, is married to Vern Nolin and on the WPCA circuit. “I like that for my kids, their cousins are always around. They’re all really good friends.” The Bensmillers have close bonds with Jordie & Tamara Flike and Rory & Jamie Garvais.
While Kurt took on the family business, Ashly took on her family business… Teaching. She taught in Vermilion until five years ago, deciding to take some time off from teaching to be with her family as it grew. Life moves very fast on the circuit and during the off-season, “when you get home it’s already September, you have to get your yard back to the way it should be. Cleaning everything out of the barn and getting everything ready for Kurt. Then it’s all of a sudden October and you’re back at it in March. You have a few months where it’s quiet.” Two of the three girls are in school, Harley in grade 3, Hayze kindergarten and Vahn is at home with mom at two years old.”
You can watch Kurt Bensmiller live from the Bonnyville Pro Rodeo & Chuckwagon grounds Thursday – Saturday at 6:30 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm. Thursday is family night, kids 0-15 get in free. Tickets are available at the gates, or online centennialcentre.ca.
*An early version of this article stated that Kurt Bensmiller had not won a weekend thus far on the circuit. That was incorrect and has been corrected to reflect that the champion won Grande Prairie. LCN apologizes for the misinformation.