The chuckwagon races at the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” back in the day (Photo: Calgary Stampede).

There will be a “thorough review process surrounding chuckwagon safety” after the deaths of six horses during the 2019 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.

They love to run? If Mr. Ed, the talking horse, was still around, he’d tell you to get lost if you asked him to pull a chuckwagon at the Stampede (Photo: Public Domain).

Pro forma annual claims that “this is as upsetting to us as it is to our community” don’t change a thing.

Interviews with professional chuckwagon racers saying how very, very sad they are and what a pal their horses were don’t change anything either.

And repeated assurances like this year’s pledge “the Stampede’s commitment to the safety of animals and the conditions of their participation in our events is paramount to our values and brand integrity” won’t change anything at all.

Promises like these 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 year after year 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 virtually 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.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Twitter).

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 horses.

As ever, whenever horses are killed, 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 new United Conservative Party Government will ignore them because they make a cult of trying to look and sound as butch as possible in their Smithbilts, chaps, spurs and Cuban heels. (Just like the NDP did in 2015, come to think of it.)

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 people of Calgary.

I’ve got news for you: If Mr. Ed, the talking horse of 1960s TV fame, were still around, he’d tell you he’d rather give the chuckwagon races a miss, this year and every year, thank you very much.

I’m sick of hearing how the Stampede is all about the cowboy’s trade and a vital part of our precious 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 races are concerned, this is pure 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 vaguely relevant to the Western agricultural sector.

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, covering it for the Calgary Herald.)

What is the relationship between the agricultural industry of 2019 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, 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 $1.45 million in prizes this year – 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 a chance. I leave it to readers to make of that what they will.

A timely note to readers about the words used above

I admit it, this post is almost word for word the same as the one I published on July 13, 2015, a year in which only four horses died in the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races. Like I said then, it’s not plagiarism if you’re plagiarizing yourself.

Calgary Herald columnist Licia Corbella (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

About all I had to do this year was revise the number of equine casualties, note the diminishing size of the prize pot, and change the name of the political party in power that encourages this travesty. Plus update the pious quotes from the Stampede, of course.

Why bother changing anything else? At a time in history when even Catalonia and three Mexican states have banned bullfighting, nothing has changed at the Stampede – which may not be the Greatest Outdoor Disgrace on Earth, but is certainly in the running – or ever will without pressure from outside Alberta.

Well, in fairness, some things change. Chuckwagon race prize money this year appears to be down from more than $2 million four years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised the declining prize money is an indicator of what consumers are telling companies that sponsor pointless cruelty. Maybe that’s a message that should be passed on to this year’s sponsor of the event, General Motors Corp.’s GMC truck division.

In addition to the ever-popular suggestion the horses died doing what they loved, the defences trotted out for this annual disgrace keep getting more preposterous. Consider Licia Corbella’s column in yesterday’s Calgary Herald, which tries to portray criticism of Stampede chuckwagon racing as evidence of “an undercurrent of anti-western sentiment.”

Calgary stockbroker and political spouse J.P. Veitch (Photo: Twitter).

She quotes stockbroker J. P. Veitch, the former bull rider nowadays generally known for his supporting role as husband of former Conservative MP and leader Rona Ambrose, saying “the criticism reminds him of the refrains heard about Alberta’s energy sector.”

In fairness, Mr. Veitch was talking about bull riding, not chuckwagon races. But you wouldn’t want to be a horse as lame as this kind of argument. I wonder whatever happened to the spike in the Calgary Herald newsroom we used to use for submissions like this?

Well, this much is true. After 71 years of doing very little to diversify our economy from fossil fuels, Alberta would be in deep trouble if the oilpatch dried up overnight. But ending cruelty to washed-up racehorses sent down to the chuckwagon circuit? I think our economy could stand the blow.

Maybe the hearings by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s House Un-Albertan Affairs Committee into foreign-funded defamation and disinformation will be expanded to include people who think chuckwagon racing is a national embarrassment and cowboy boots make your feet hurt if you’re just walking around in them.

What the hell, we might as well be as moronic as possible.

Join the Conversation


  1. “You can make a case for calf roping as a worthwhile cowboyin’ skill.”

    I’m guessing that Ms. Corbella has never had the pleasure of running at full tilt, having her neck snapped by a rope, being picked up, and hurled to the ground, knocking the wind out of her, and finally having her legs tied up so she can’t escape.
    No doubt the calves who undergo this treatment are stressed, in pain, and terrified.
    But real men don’t care about the suffering of helpless creatures.

    Injuries caused by calf roping include paralysis from spinal cord injuries, severed tracheas, as well as broken backs, necks, and legs.
    All in a day’s fun.

    1. A rare occasion indeed, Sir: I agree with you, 100% with no qualifiers. I have never attended a rodeo—despite living just a 90-second drive from our local rodeo venue—and do not ever plan to. I think it’s barbaric and cruel.

  2. “[Herald writer Licia Corbella] quotes stockbroker J. P. Veitch, the former bull rider nowadays generally known for his supporting role as husband of former Conservative MP and leader Rona Ambrose, saying ‘the criticism reminds him of the refrains heard about Alberta’s energy sector.’”

    Alberta, the land of climate deniers and horse abusers.
    Per capita, Albertans fund equalization more than other Canadians. So everybody should shut up and let us do what we want.

    This is what passes for logic in Alberta.
    Defending the indefensible.

  3. Let us not forget, the Calgary Stampede is not the only Alberta rodeo that includes chucks, just the highest profile one. This past weekend was the 103rd annual Teepee Creek Stampede which is located about 45 km northeast of Grande Prairie. The last week of May and first week of June is Grande Prairie’s own “Stompede” (note the spelling) And there are similar events in cities & towns all over Alberta. So, this is an issue that is not limited to Calgary.

    1. What you say is true, although many of these smaller rodeos do not feature chuckwagon races, owing to the requirement for a large track, multiple high-cost participants who expect and demand big prize money, and similar factors. As for the Stompede, I must tell you that, back in the day, reporters for the Calgary Herald almost universally referred to the famed Calgary event, so beloved by our bosses, as the Stoopede. I still think of it that way. DJC

  4. Correct, and well-said as always, DC. Weren’t Rona Ambrose and Jason Kenney part of the federal conservative government’s attempt to institute a hotline for citizens to complain about “barbaric cultural practices”? Calgary Stampede, come on down!

    1. That is a brilliant connection, Simon! It does make me wonder what would happen if immigrants tried to bring in some sport that inflicted as much pain on animals.

  5. For some reason CBC TV News decided to spare us the sight of yet another deadly chuckwagon cash in its reportage —which included the Stampede PR Girl assuring us that the horses’ safety is always foremost in mind. Maybe the MoCo was afraid it would get branded as part of an undercurrent of anti-western sentiment if it’d shown the actual carnage. I mean, the threat’s been goin’ around, these days.

    How maudlin can it get?

    Well, the once Dark Age necessity of a stout blade, ax or billhook, helm, chainmail shirt and berserk ferocity—often without mount or even footwear—did indeed become parody of itself, a moribund elite extending as anachronism the supposed sport of tournament jousting centuries after the original martial art had outlived its strategic value, adding an equine touch of class to an otherwise ridiculous spectacle: pot-bellied, stove-pipe clad dramatists festooned as if for a modern day pride parade, the shattering lance retained an illusion of manliness while chivalrous love tilted for ladies’ hankies. Horses and knights were of course occasionally injured or killed, and this morbidly exciting possibility might be why it’s still practiced in the odd, remote, quirky place. But with nothing like the million-dollar prizes offered at the Calgary Stampede.

    The Chuckwagon racers look positively antique in their get-ups; muh pardner noted the considerable heft clad in their long sleeved wrangler shirts: “padding,” I reminded her; “Then why ain’t the horses got no padding,” she asked.

    I dunno. But it did occur to me (and I have done a bit of fencing, roping, de-horning and crimping, long ago, without any horse at all ) that the race could be almost as exciting—in the who-finishes-first sense—if the rigs were racing singly against a clock or, alternatively, within railed-off lanes that prevent rigs from being ridden into the fence by other contestants.

    But that’d risk being called a sissy or do-gooder by some antiquated, tin-starred bullshooter. But I’m good with that so long’s the horses’ safety is foremost in mind.

  6. Like a great many good things, the whole ‘rodeo’ experience comes from Mexico and Mexicans. That should be a headline for all the folks who imagine that is us European Westerners who came up with this stuff. (This does not include the horse destroying fabulous fantasy of chuckwagoneering).

  7. Perhaps in petro Alberta chuck wagon racing could be replaced with gas tanker truck racing!
    Nothing like an explosion of 12000 ltrs of gas to create excitement.
    Six such explosions would be even better.


  8. I heard someone on the radio today saying that when a horse is injured in the race and has to be euthanized, it should be done in full view, not behind a tarp. I mean the chuck wagon racing fans should watch the horse’s experience from start to literal finish.

    1. The last line of the article reads, “In related news, 12 rodeo clowns were put down just for the hell of it.”
      Could we stack up a like number of Postmedia and Rebel Media opinion columnists?

    1. I see your comment; and raise.
      The band – Propagandhi, the song – Lower Order (A Good Laugh)
      I may not agree with their stance on dietary decisions, but The Stampede board needs to do a re-think.

  9. An article that speaks the truth to pathetic justifications. Now let’s take it a step further and not cover the doomed animal with an “apology tarpe” to shield the crowd from “the act” . C’mon Stampede people,let’s see the dirty deed ,the euthanasia in all its futility and pathetic “sweeping-under-the-rugs” .

    Typing imploring emails to the Stampede boss?. Tried that already in 2015 and received a friendly invite to the next Stampede event.Snicker,snicker..

  10. Thank you Dave for continuing to write about the cruelty of the Chuckwagon Races. What ever one feels about the Calgary Stampede, the Chuckwagon Races represents one of the most barbaric practices out there. The Stampede and the oil industry are the two issues that Calgarians are the most sensitive to hearing any type of criticism. For those who are that sensitive, live with it!!!

  11. I have various thoughts on this subject none of which align with yours David. Personally I don’t have the ability or patience to work with horses. I have a great deal of respect for those who can train a team of horses to pull a chuck wagon. This takes years of dedication and a tremendous amount of work. Unfortunately the way a horse’s leg is structured if it is broken it is almost impossible to successfully repair it. A horse could just as easily break its leg running in the pasture. I also realize anything I say will not change anyone’s opinions but I personally enjoy watching rodeo events. Enjoy your day.

    1. As I have said in the past, Farmer, chuckwagon races are undeniably exciting to watch. That doesn’t make them a moral or justifiable activity, in my view. In this regard, in my opinion (although not that of some of my readers) all rodeo events are not created equal, some of which I also enjoy watching. DJC

    2. “A horse could just as easily break its leg running in the pasture.”

      That would be an accident. Deliberately endangering horses isn’t an accident.
      Six deaths at the Stampede in three separate incidents over ten days. Run horses in your pasture and see if you post those numbers.

  12. Hi David. Out of curiosity which rodeos do you think do treat the animals in a humane way? If there are, then that is something I could live with. I would take the same position on golf courses which I oppose on environmental grounds.

    1. Interstellar Rodeo. My point was that some rodeo events are less dangerous to animals that others. With the possible exception of mutton-busting events at kids rodeos, though, none of them are anything I’d do to a dog. DJC

  13. You do make a good point. It seems that the money fuels the risk that the animals are put under in order to entertain the audience. I think that the golf course comparison I made is way try noting when looking at public and private golf courses. Both have problems in there very nature, but the public ones are for public as opposed to private use.

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