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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Horse dies in Stampede chuckwagon race -- no one does anything about it

| July 9, 2011
The Calgary Stampede

It was opening night yesterday at the Calgary Stampede: another horse died in a chuckwagon race.

So what else is new? Last year six horses died at "the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." This year, well, it's just beginning.

Everybody in Alberta knows rodeo activities are cruel to animals. Everybody in Alberta knows chuckwagon races are dangerous for horses. Nobody in a position to do anything about it cares enough about it to do anything about it.

Indeed, nothing will ever be done to fix this situation by anyone remotely connected with the Calgary Stampede or the government of Alberta. After all, the Stampede Board owns Calgary's soul and always has, and a goodly portion of the Alberta government's as well.

Most Albertans let this go on because we don’t much care, because we enjoy it, because there's money to be made doing it, or some combination of all three.

Everything you hear from the Calgary Stampede about how they really, really care about the safety and welfare of their horses is a load, if you'll pardon the expression, of horse manure. (Example: "Honestly, we're greatly saddened by what happened," a Stampede spokesman said in today's Calgary Herald. "We take the care of our animals very seriously." Right.)

At least Calgary's faint-hearted media covered last night's animal death -- although, as might be expected, the emphasis was on what the Stampede is doing to prevent horses being killed, not on what it does every year to kill them. Naturally, the story started out by telling readers that "the death comes during a year when the Stampede has made a number of changes to the chuckwagon races and increased veterinary inspections to make the competition safer."

Do you wonder how a veterinary inspection can make an inherently unsafe race safer? Never mind!

A local radio station reported today that a blood sample had been taken from the horse before it was put down. Maybe they're going to argue that the crash in which the horse broke its leg was the animal's fault -- as the Alberta authorities like to do when a human worker dies on the job. You gotta know, those rodeo horses live a tough life -- at least half of them have a barley addiction!

In the past, Calgary media have attempted outright to suppress the debate about animal cruelty at the Stampede.

Back in 2009, both Calgary daily newspapers refused to run paid advertisements by the Vancouver Humane Society. The ads made the self-evident case that calf roping is cruel -- though not as cruel by a long shot, it seems to me, as chuckwagon racing.

Some observers were surprised at the time that the Calgary Humane Society had nothing to say about this. They should not have been, really. After all, back in 2009, the Calgary group defined its goal as merely mitigating the effects of practices it knew perfectly well to be cruel.

"The Society recognizes that rodeo, chuckwagon racing and other related forms of entertainment involving the use of animals occur in Western Canada. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the animals involved that the Society work with those who use the animals to ensure the potential suffering is minimized," it stated weakly on its Internet home page, noting that, like cheating at cards, "as events … chuckwagon races are not illegal."

Since 2009, while the Society's position has not really changed, it has grown a smidgen braver, testing the limits of what Calgary will put up with by stating that it "fundamentally opposes high risk rodeo events like chuckwagon racing, calf-roping, and steer wrestling." It even has a number to call for people who observe instances of animal cruelty at the Stampede. However, like everyone else in Alberta, it is not really prepared to do anything about systemic cruelty to animals at the event.

The blunt fact is that the only way organized cruelty to animals in the form of rodeo sports will be stopped in Calgary and elsewhere in Alberta is through political and economic pressure from people in other provinces and other countries.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.



Don't send your kids to school, for they will be teased and/or bullied.  Don't let them drive a car, for they may get KILLED on the road.  Don't let them go to college, for they will endure great stress to complete tasks and to pass exams.  Yes, LIFE is full of hardships for both animals and humans.  It is called L.I.F.E = Life Isnt Fair or Easy!!!  NEXT SUBJECT: I personally could not kill any animals (okay, I do set out mouse traps occasionally), however, I am more than willing to eat them (beef, pork, poultry, lamb, alligator, fish) -- so why should I be angry at those who slaughter them, as long as they do it as painlessly and as respecfully as is possible. 

There are obviously strong feelings on this topic from both sides of the coin. Personally, I feel that banning the use of animals for human consumption and/or entertainment is probably NOT a good idea. Today we ban the chuckwagon race, tomorrow we ban the use of horses for ANY type of recreation, stop eating meat, and stop keeping pets of any kind, just because some people argue that it is cruel to the animal. Where would that leave us though? Wild horses, cows and dogs roaming the earth? Sounds nice, but I don't think so. If we didn't have use for these animals, there would be no need to breed them and eventually would all become extinct. Can humanity exist on fruits and veggies alone? I'm not willing to take the risk of trying to find out.

My point is if you disagree with the Stampede, then don't watch it and don't buy products that advertise at it. That is your right. If you don't want to eat meat, then don't eat meat. Just don't tell me I can't. I enjoy watching the rodeo and will continue to as long as reasonable efforts are made on behalf of the safety of the animals and people at the stampede. It seems that this is being done.

My biggest problem was that when I watched the CBC highlights of the day's events, the announcer blatantly lied about the welfare of the horse. It was announced that "one rider did not finish due to an equipment problem, and that all horses were fine." I felt indignant when I found out that the horse that fell had to be euthenized. Was the CBC trying to spare my feelings by keeping me in the dark? I felt worse watching on a network that felt it was more important that my enjoyment not be diminished rather than telling me the truth and honouring the horse with the credit it had deserved as an athlete. Or, was the CBC trying to protect it's revenue from the coverage by sweeping the death of a horse under the carpet? I believe they even went to the extent of using video footage that best minimized the visibility of the accident to help hide the story.

For shame CBC.


RE: Comment Six.

If your going to use religion then you might want to read the bible a few more times, god accepted meat as an offering. Mary rode on a donkey while pregnant with Jesus. No matter how you look at it, it clearly states that animals were used as a food source and as a travel tool. Activists need to take the time to try things or learn about things before they protest them.

AS for SPECIESISM, tell me do you have a dog or a cat? Maybe a hamster, fish, mouse? Because if you do that would make you a hypocrite! Those animals started as wild, do they have a choice to be couped up all day?

Re: comment six. Have you ever rode a horse. Have you owned a horse. I have and I loved that horse more than anything else. These animals are respected, they have to be because they are smart and stronger and they know it. My horse was my best friend so don't tell me that we think we are better than these animals. So I guess we shouldn't have show jumping or polo matches either? Maybe we should ban the Kentucky Derby and all horse races. Then what do we do with hundreds of thousands of horses? At least in these events they get to show themselves. These animals are gifted, they are smart. Maybe they should just go to pasture and eat grass until they are so overweight that they die of heart attacks and disease from obesity. That's sounds like a much better way to treat these animals. What do you suppose these animals do. They weigh over 1000 pounds, if they didn't want to do what they are doing trust they wouldn't do it. I know because I have been around bulls and horses and when they don't want to do something they don't and there is nothing we can do to make them. Yes they do love doing these events. Yes we do respect these animals and you are wrong that we are abusive. Horses and bulls that buck are raised from calves and get tried out without a rider to see if they buck and if they don't they don't go to rodeos. Same as horses for steer wrestling and calve roping. Maybe you should own a horse and see how they are as animals before you judge the owners. Re: third comment. I actually don't believe that you grew up around horses. What did you do with your horses? What them get fat in the pasture? You obviously didn't work with them because you would know that they do what they want. Most are gentle animals and if you respect them and love them they will do the same back.


Until people understand, that enslaving animals to do what you want, no matter how kind you think you are to them, putting them in situations that create risk of death is wrong.  Its irresponsible.  That is not how to be a good steward of animals.  If you weren't going to be paid money for it, you wouldnt do it.  You wouldnt do that to your own children, hook them up to a wagon and race them for any kind of money.  You scouff at what I say...how ridiculous....  Its not really.  When you are a speciesist, that is exactly what you are doing.  You hail one species over another.  You don't look at people and animals as a one, an earthling, a sentient being with the ability to experience pain, torture, and fear.

You may not have reached this point in your life to appreciate that animals are not ours to kill, use for entertainment or enslave.  It horrifies me each and every day to know, millions of animals die at the hand of man for their pleasure or for their plate.

It is called speciesism, that you believe you are entitled to use animals for your own doing.  Its wrong.  Always has been. You raise one species above another, history is loaded with examples.  You love dogs, but won't eat one.  Go to Asia, they think much more barbarically.  They'll kill and eat anything that walks and crawls and from research, that includes man too.  Yes.  I've researched it.   Man and animals belong to God.  He made us and we belong to him.  We may have dominion over animals, but that calls for responsibility, not to kill, enslave, torture, use for entertainment...etc.  Stripping an animal of its fur to wear for a coat or on a collar is usually done when the animal is still alive.  People lie to you just to sell you this animal fur/leather products. We club seals, stab dogs in the groin to cause them more pain and torture, just for sexual gratification benefits from eating that animal.  (an Asian practice)  You wouldnt treat your own children this way, why do you treat any animal different over another.  You claim to love animals, but you kill and eat them.  Our historical belief system deemed by society states its all OK to do this.  It isn't.  I bet a lot of you, if you had to hunt for your own meat, you'd become a vegan pretty darn quick.

When you truly reconcile what each and everyone one of us does to animals on a daily basis, look in you freezer, what you cook each day, you'll may have that light bulb moment, that it is wrong.

Eating meat, treating animals and possessions instead of gifts is wrong. 

Eating meat is eating death.

Treating animals as commodities, use in entertainment is all cruel and abusive.  Rodeo, is just an extension of the food industry; exploiting animals for monetary gain.

RE: Third Comment...

So then with growing up with horses, can you tell us how many horses die every year in the pasture at home? And why we never hear about then from the SPCA or on the news?

It seems to me that the only reason that we hear so much about the deaths of animals in rodeos or races is because they are broadcasted on tv and etc. They always leave out the many deaths of horses in pastures at home. People make a bigger deal about rodeo animals dieing, then they do about the animals that are being starved to death by their owners. For example the Carrot Creek Horse Rescue over this past winter. How many horses lost their lives due to lack of feed? What would cause someone to even think of doing that to their animals. Or how about the one case that happened a few years ago in Andrew, Alberta. There wasnt only horses involved in that one. There were chickens, goats, cats and dogs. 30 horses, that they could find, lost their lives. Some of those horses did not belong to them, they were being paid by people to board their horses there. And to think that guy had hay bales lining his drive way, yet there wasnt a single bale in the pasture. To top it all off there were horses that were stuck in the barn that could not get out. And a stud that actually bit one of the truckers, that was hired by the SPCA to remove the animals. On Tuesday November 2008, the judge issued an order banning Hinz-Schleuter from owning horses for 50 years and Huber for 10. But the order does allow the men to own a maximum of 40 animals, excluding horses and poultry, and up to 80 fowl, according to David Dear, spokesperson for Alberta Justice.

If rodeo and racing was actually that bad then how come it has been around for so many centuries? The Calgary Stampeed has been running for over a hunderd years. But it has been around a lot longer then that. Especially the "tie down" roping, team roping and bronc riding.If you research the history of rodeo it talks about how rodeos started as a way to settle whowas better at certain things. Back in the 1800's they did not have tractors and trucks. They relied on horses. That was their mode of transportation, their lively hood, their way of feeding animals. How do you think they used to round up/ catch cattle for branding? "Tie down" and team roping. Rodeos evolved because ranchers and cowboys would fight over who was faster and who had the best horse. Bronc riding come about over training and whose methods were better and who could stay on a rank horse the longest. HORSES DO NOT COME BROKE TO RIDE, as a horse person you should know that. Some where at some point in every horseslife they buck. Yes bronc horses are bred to buck, no it is not fear that drives them. Spend some time around those animals, my cousins run a stock contracting business. Half of theirhorses are quiet enough to pet, even a few of the bulls.

As for wagon racing, research it before you say anything. Thats been around in several forms. Like the Civil War, they used a wagon to rush wounded soldiers out of the battle feild. As a fluke in 1919, the Calgary Stampeed had it's very first Chuckwagon race. (http://archives.cbc.ca/society/celebrations/clips/4569/)

I agree with the first commenter when he says that it is no different then a human suddenly dieing. We break bones in our body the only difference is that they have figure out a way to fix them, unlike with animals. Why dont people complain about scientists finding a way to fix broken cannon bones in a horse. Breaking or even fracturing the cannon bone is the most common reason these horses are put down. After all, horses that do not race, can break their cannon bone all it takes is a slip or stepping in a hole. But once again we do not hear about thoses horses that are just walking through their pasture and step in a gopher hole andbreak their leg. They have the same fate as a Chuckwagon horse, they are euthanized as well.

The Calgary Humane Society likely won't* criticize the Calgary Stampede and its practices because they rely on donations and corporate support from Calgarians. Going political with this issue would mean those moneys disappear overnight.

*Note that I'm not saying "can't", because they could and then deal with the consequences, but I can see why they're hesitant to do so. This is just one more example of how the nonprofit industrial complex is keeping us from the social justice / advocacy work that would create true change in our society in favour of maintaining the status quo.

Re first comment: 'Barley addiction', its called a JOKE!! I did grow up with horses, and i let the facts speak for themselves. These  events KILL horses. Wether from a broken leg or heart attack, the horses are dying directly as a result of being in these events. What of the horses who don't actually die but have still been subjected to such extreme stress? Don't even attempt to compare them wiith human athletes who participate of their own free will; at rodeos it's fear that drives the animals' behaviour. These animals are clearly being tortured. You don't have to be a rural person to see that; you just have to have some empathy. All that for money and entertainment... Oh, if you know so much about the facts, why can't you explain why 6 horses died last year. Pardon me but you don't seem to know much about the subject at all. BTW, Many of these events are actually outlawed in several (if not enough) canadian and american towns and for good reason.  

Thanks for the article. Unfortunately people seem to forget that these animals never consent to or have much of a choice. People who have already convinced themselves that animals are there only for our entertainment or that being an "athlete" means anything to a horse or a dog or a calf.....probably imagine they're doing these animals a favour too!

Well David. I would like to know if you have ever been on a farm or around horses or anywhere near rodeo people when they are taking care of these animals. I have been and I know for a fact that these animals are not mistreated. There are some cases of animal cruelty but very seldom in these cases. Those animals are respected and loved by their owners. They are trained athletes. Also I would like to know what kind of research you have gotten on barley addictions. I have never heard of such a thing. Barley is a grain that is fed to horses that provides energy. We eat barley; haven't you ever had barley soup or eaten barley risotto. Maybe we should be careful because we might become addicted to such a risky grain. Rodeo stock are athletes and they know what they are doing and they love it. Maybe you should actually research more about rodeo and the processes of the sport before you run down this profession. You people have no idea what goes on with these animals. How old was the horse that died. I'm not sure that the horse got a broken leg and died. Possibly the horse had a heart attack. Of course this never happens to people. They never die suddenly. These horse train and go all season. They just ran last week at Ponoka and not one horse died there. It happens sometime and I can't explain why six horses died last year but it was not because of cruelty. I am very offended that people write articles about subjects that they know nothing about and have no research or idea to back them up. Only an urban closed minded brain that doesn't respect hardworking farmers and rodeo people and their lifestyle. Show some respect and find out TRUE facts before commenting on subjects you know nothing about.


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