Mercifully, the 2019 Calgary Stampede has finally ended.
The 10-day event, billed The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, wound up with 6 horses sacrificing their lives.
Six horses paid the ultimate price for the entertainment of the more than 1.2 million people who attended.
Not to mention the dozens of viewers who watched the TV highlight coverage at home, brought to you by our taxpayer paid very own CBC.
The six horses who perished were all racing during the exhilarating chuckwagon games.
No doubt retired Thoroughbreds who were granted a reprieve from the slaughterhouse with a second career as a chuckwagon horse.
Since 1986 (I guess that’s the year people first startd caring), more than a hundred animals have died at the Calgary Stampede.
In that year alone, 9 horses were killed in chuckwagon races, 5 in one crash. There were calls then to ban the sport.
And yet the races, and the deaths, continue.
Which is ironic, since the event was created to CELEBRATE horse culture and all aspects of horses and their entwinement with humans.
And don’t get me started on the calves and steers who are injured and killed during the rodeo roping and tie-down games.
It’s no game for them.
A group of equine welfare advocates is calling for a boycott of the event, and the Vancouver Humane Society has asked stampede organizers to suspend chuckwagon racing, an event which clearly puts horses at a catastrophic risk of injury and death, until an investigation could determine how to make it safer for the horses involved.
The so-called sport of chuckwagon racing was first introduced when the Stampede began back in 1923.
Since then, the race has been nicknamed the “half mile of hell”.
Originally, six teams raced back in 1923.
Today, that has grown to 36 teams competing for $1.15 MILLION in prize money.
That is A LOT of money.
And for some, there is no price too high.
Including the deaths of the hapless beasts who give their all to compete.
There is no doubt the Calgary Stampede has become a world reknowned tourist attraction for the city, launching it into the international event stratosphere.
There is no question that the economic fallout is incredible, and the city’s very identity is tied to the event, taking on a festival atmosphere.
Everyone, including businesses, gets into the spirit with cowboy themed everything. Residents put on their western gear, and events across the city include barbecues and pancake breakfasts.
Other events at the Stampede include the famous parade with an honourary marshal, a midway, stage shows, concerts, markets, agricultural exhibitions and competitions, livestock displays and First Nations exhibits.
The rodeo events include bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping (a.k.a. calf roping, but that was not consumer palatable, with the poor creatures being just a few months old), bareback riding, barrel racing and saddle bronc.
But it’s the rodeo events and chuckwagon races that are KILLING the creatures the event is supposedly celebrating.
And the international eye has noticed the inhumanity of the event.
And increasingly both the rodeo and the chuckwagon races have come under criticism by animal welfare groups and animal rights organizations who are looking to have them banned altogether.
The U.K., no less, has asked travel agencies to stop offering packages to the Stampede.
And in 2010, the members of the U.K parliament signed a motion asking their Canadian counterparts to denounce the rodeo. Many were disappointed when two members of the royal family attended in 2011. It is noteworthy no royal members have attended since.
In 2005, a traditional trail ride of “wild” horses into the city ended in tragedy when they spooked on a bridge and 9 of them fell to their deaths in the Bow River.
The trail rides have been suspended ever since.
In 2010, six animals died at the event, prompting new rules to increase the safety of both animal and humans in 2011.
In 2016, the chuckwagon barrels were repositioned to help reduce the potential for the wagons to come into contact with each other, and there were more new rules for safety.
This year, a chuckwagon rider was disqualified from racing for the rest of the season and fined $10,000 after his wagon collided with another and resulted in the death of a horse.
Organizers are always “deeply saddened” by these incidents. And some argue that the horse deaths are a cost of the race.
I know the Calgary Stampede isn’t closing up shop or going away anytime soon. There’s money to be made.
But somewhere along the way we have lost sight of our compassion and empathy towards the very creatures who are giving their lives so people can make that money.
There needs to be some serious reconsideration about the humaneness of it all, because I believe the way we treat animals speaks volumes about us as humans.