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.