PHOTOS: Stampede chuckwagon races – exciting for spectators, but deadly and cruel for horses. Real men don’t hurt animals for entertainment.

There will be a safety “review” after the death of a fourth horse on Sunday at the 2015 Calgary Stampede, which is now mercifully over.

Oh, please! There will be no meaningful review of the safety of the horses that are abused for fun at the Stampede, just as there will be no meaningful review of the undeniable cruelty to which these animals are subjected.

Calling the horse by its pet name in media reports doesn’t change this. Interviews with professional chuckwagon racers saying how very, very sad they are and what a pal the horse was doesn’t change it either. And repeated assurances, year after year, that next time the Stampede will do better won’t change anything at all.

Promises that “we are really going to look hard and try and understand what we can be doing differently to achieve a better result because we certainly take it very seriously,” certainly don’t change anything because it’s plain on the face of it that the only thing the Stampede takes seriously is the bad publicity generated among “bleeding hearts” like me every time a horse has to be put down after a chuckwagon race.

The plain ugly fact is the equine carnage continues at the Calgary Stampede because chuckwagon races are exciting and nobody in Alberta gives much of a hoot.

“The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” they call it, and I guess that’s true if you consider pointless cruelty for the sake of entertainment a great show. Horses die every year for the entertainment of the humans who pack the Stampede grounds to witness the thundering excitement of “the chucks,” and they’re dying in greater numbers than usual this year.

Unlike other rodeo sports, which may be cruel in the sense they’re uncomfortable for the dumb beasts involved, chuckwagon races are particularly dangerous for horses because of the nature of the creatures themselves and the tactics used by wagon drivers to cut off competing rigs. The resulting spills are exciting for spectators – and deadly for the animals.

That’s why Stampede officials have taken such great pains to insist that two of the horses killed this year weren’t injured because of a crash with another wagon. The cause of the other two animals’ deaths is a mystery because they seem to have happened during practice runs when the public wasn’t watching.

As ever, when this happens those who protest this cruelty are sure to be dismissed as sissies and do-gooders. The deaths will be ignored by the Stampede’s organizers, and by everyone else in political Alberta. Certainly our NDP government will ignore them because they want to look and sound just as macho in their Western Stetsons, chaps, spurs and Cuban heels as the butchest of Calgary’s Tories and Wildosers.

Me, I’m just sick of it. I’m sick of the learned treatises about how horses love to run and how and if they could talk would surely tell us they’re good with the risk of being whipped around the track for the entertainment of the good people of Calgary.

I’m sick of hearing how the Stampede is all about the cowboy’s trade and it’s a vital part of our western culture, yadda-yadda.

I hope readers will forgive me one more time for the appropriately western metaphor when I say that at least as far as the chuckwagon event is concerned, this is all bullshit.

You can make a case for calf roping as a worthwhile cowboyin’ skill. You can even make a case for riding belligerent broncs, bulls and steers as not being all that dangerous for the beasts, most of the time. You can argue persuasively that both rodeo events emphasize riding and roping skills still relevant to the Western agricultural sector.

But no such case can be made for chuckwagon races.

Racing sandwich trucks and taxicabs around the track through an active pedestrian crossing would have more relevance nowadays to the state of the cattle industry in Calgary – which hasn’t been entitled to call itself Cowtown since the last cattle auction decamped for Strathmore in 1989. (And I was there, buckaroos.)

What is the relationship between the agricultural industry of 2015 and racing wagons too small to carry sandwiches and coffee pulled by four horses accompanied by mounted outriders around a track, using demolition derby tactics to keep competing rigs from passing?

As I have said time and again in this space before, in almost the same words – it’s not plagiarism if you’re plagiarizing yourself – everybody in Alberta knows rodeo activities are cruel to animals, everybody in Alberta knows chuckwagon races are dangerous for horses, and nobody in a position to do anything about it cares enough to bother.

Mostly, we let this go on because we don’t care, because we enjoy the spectacle, because there’s money to be made doing it – more than $2 million in prizes – or some combination of the three.

The Calgary Stampede ethic emphasizes courage and masculinity. But real men aren’t cruel to dumb beasts for no reason but entertainment and money.

This barbaric and pointless activity should be an embarrassment to every Albertan, especially those who think of themselves as a real men.

Will the Stampede’s governing board ever man up and do anything about this? Not likely. I leave it to readers to make of that what they will.

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  1. Thank you for this, I agree. Real men are not cruel to animals. Chuck wagon racing is cruel, barbaric and stupid – and horses die or are terribly injured. It is not part of anyone’s ‘tradition’ or history.
    Any justification of it is just plain false.

  2. I am an expert in horse-drawn vehicles. My work includes serving as a consultant for the Province of Alberta’s carriage collections. I know more about carriage design than most. Chuck wagons, historic or reproductions, were NEVER intended to be pulled at any gait other than a walk. They have a poor turning radius and will flip when turned quickly. Not only is the Stampede dangerous to horses, but racing so-called Chuck wagons is stupid and shows very little understanding of driving and vehicular design. Stop killing your horses out of blatant stupidity.

  3. The fact that you call a horse a “dumb beast” is an indication of your ignorance concerning horses. Learn something about them, understand their intelligence and then maybe you, Dave Climenhaga will have the right to complain about the work they happily do for the “real men and women” who own them.

    1. You’ve got me there, May. I’d completely forgotten about Mr. Ed! A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course, that is, of course, unless the horse, is the famous Mr. Ed! … Either that, or YOUR lack of knowledge of the English language led you to the mistaken conclusion that I think horses are unintelligent, which I would never do having had the opportunity to converse with people on this blog who are unhappy about my complaints regarding institutionalized animal cruelty.

      1. What does a 60’s TV show have to do with anything? Which “dumb beasts” are you referring to, not once but twice in your little misinformed rant? Why do you think I have a lack of knowledge of the English language?

        1. Here, Dear May, is what the Oxford Dictionary has to say about “dumb”: “(Of a person) unable to speak, most typically because of congenital deafness… (Of animals) unable to speak as a natural state and thus regarded as helpless or deserving of pity.” Do you wish to continue this discussion, or do you insist on making yourself look … foolish? Mr. Ed, of course, was the only horse known not to be dumb.

  4. Maybe the dictionary should be updated. Animals communicate with us on so many levels. I raise and train horses, and they speak, not only with each other, but with every human who agrees to listen. The more you listen, the more they realize you understand. Chuckwagon horses are proud of the job they are bred to do, and communicate this through the willingness to accept a harness, jog excitedly to the track, and run to the best of their ability. Standing in a pasture, eating grass and getting fat, is not a lifestyle they would choose. When you walk to the pasture, a horse with a work ethic will walk right up and put his head in the halter. He’s asking to go to work and the job of the day gives him a sense of purpose, whether its wagon racing or chasing cows. The horses left behind watch as the gate closes and stand asking, ‘Why didn’t you pick me?” Why do you choose to call me foolish because I have a different point of view regarding animals that I work with every day. Horses speak, you just don’t know how to listen.

    1. Just the other day a friend of the chuckwagon races accused me of anthropomorphizing animals as if that were a bad thing. Apparently opponents of the races aren’t the only people who do this. That said, I can agree with you on this bit – I had a friend who could talk to bears, and I’ve seen him do it, quite nicely defusing a potential human v. mom-with-cub conflict with a few grunts and barks. So why not horses, eh? As for the tone of this human debate, well, if you’re going to dish it out – “your ignorance,” “your little misinformed rant” – you need to be prepared to take it. Finally, as for the dictionary, they do update it from time to time to reflect changes in the language, but the phrase “dumb beast” continues to be widely understood to refer to the inability of animals to speak, hence the sarcastic reference to Mr. Ed., the talking horse. When your horse whispers to you, I doubt she’s saying “Oh, please let me pull an unstable chuckwagon with a wide turning radius at breakneck speed around a short track for the amusement of a couple of thousand bloodthirsty humans. Oh, and make sure you shoot me if I break my leg!” That would be as dumb, if you’ll forgive the usage, as a human being agreeing to drive a stock car or participate in a cage fight.

  5. David it’s very plain to me and probable most rural raised people that you have very little to know experience with animals the. Stampede was formed by rural people over a century ago. I am guessing your not from western Canada but hitchhiked out here from Eastern Canada probably Ontario my suggestion to you is the leave and move to another place where they don’t have Rodeos to upset you. Your do youself a favour And everybody else

  6. We really need to raise awareness among the people to find ways to entertain themselves in ways that do not hurt other animals. I mean just go to an escape room for entertainment.

  7. The Calgary Stampede is one of the most tragic events that has happened in history, and when I first read about it, I was shaken to my core. I still can’t believe some of the things that happened in this stampede.

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