"Autopsy shows lead horse in chuckwagon accident died of ruptured aortic aneurysm," shouts a headline in yesterday's Calgary Herald.
So… what? The Calgary Stampede's going to blame the chuckwagon crash that killed three horses Thursday night on "equine error"? Shoulda seen a vet, that dumb hoss…
Have you noticed that in such situations it's usually the driver that gets blamed? If a passenger jet skids off the runway with fatal results, it's pilot error. If a bus plunges into a ravine, it's the driver’s mistake. If a kid piles an ATV into a tree, well, he was inexperienced and wasn't wearing a helmet. Not our fault! It's reassuring to consumers, and, more important, may limit the liability of the company that serviced the jet in China, sold the ATV, or whatever.
But in Calgary, during a Stampede chuckwagon race, it would violate the unwritten laws of Cowtown to blame the driver -- at least if he's a macho man in a Stetson hat and a pair of high-heeled boots with jingly spurs -- so this time the poor horse will have to take the rap.
Still, you've got to admit, blaming the "mishap," as the Herald's stenographer neutrally put it, on a horse is a new one.
What's next for the Herald's headline writer in Hamilton, Ont.? "Autopsy shows crippled rope-calf had congenital trick knee"? Nope, here’s the Herald's actual alternative headline: "Record attendance Thursday at Calgary Stampede; Centennial year drawing in the crowds." Now that's the Herald we know and love! When in doubt, count Stampede gate receipts.
There's scant satisfaction in saying "I told you so," but as was predicted in this space on May 25, and again on July 5, horses were certain to die cruelly at the Stampede this year, as they die every year and will continue to die every year, as long as the Stampede insists on treating animal cruelty as a suitable spectacle for entertainment.
There's really no getting around this obvious interpretation any more. The wagon driver's no doubt sincere on-air tears for his horse, which he described as a pet, won't do it. The Stampede's pathetic excuses certainly won't do it. Nor will the Stampede's meaningless promises to improve its "Fitness to Compete Program."
When a Stampede spokesperson says, "the Calgary Stampede, and the people who bring their animals to the Stampede, care deeply about the welfare and well-being of those animals," you're entitled to laugh out loud. It's all stuff that's found on the floor of the Stampede cattle barn.
This is about money. The money you can generate in substantial amounts by holding exciting events. The money you can make in prizes pushing your horses hard around the tight corners of the chuckwagon races.
And if animals are put in danger to generate the excitement required to make money, well, too bad, Durango. That's the true attitude of everyone involved in this disgrace.
Our sour prime minister goes around telling the world that Calgary's the "greatest city" Canada. Well, I'll give him this: it's a pretty enough town in a suburban sort of way, and the streets are clean. But every year at Stampede, "Canada's greatest embarrassment" would be closer to the truth.
Meanwhile, Calgary City Council is considering a ban on shark fin soup at the city's Chinese restaurants. I'm certainly not saying this isn't a worthy cause if the trade in sharks' fins is endangering the species worldwide. And no one's saying horses are an endangered species -- except every year during the Stampede.
Just the same, Calgary's aldermen -- as they still insist on calling themselves -- would do better if they turned their minds to cleaning up their own back 40 first.
Real men don't kill horses for fun. It's time for the Calgary Stampede to man up and end this practice.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.