Protesters demonstrate against rodeo, chuckwagon races
Published Saturday, July 14, 2012 1:09PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, July 14, 2012 6:10PM EDT
Dozens of protesters chanted “Stampede OK, rodeo no,” and other slogans outside the Calgary Stampede grounds Saturday to decry the rodeo and chuckwagon races following the death of three horses earlier in the week.
During Saturday’s protest, activists set up tomb stones and held up signs, saying “tradition is no excuse for abuse.” Some of the protesters got into shouting matches with Stampede-goers on their way into the grounds.
"We would like Calgarians to know that we are not against the Stampede as a whole. If people want to party and watch Garth Brooks and go on rides, that's fine," organizer Jeremy Thomas told The Canadian Press.
"There's other ways of celebrating our Western heritage than celebrating animal cruelty."
According to Calgary Animal Rights Coalition member and protest organizer Michael Alvarez-Toye, little regard has been given to animal welfare throughout the Stampede’s 100-year history.
“There’s a lot of lip-service, a lot of superficial changes made after the fact, after a huge tragedy has taken place, but nothing concrete,” Alvarez-Toye told CTVNews.ca
He said the only way to prevent animal deaths at the Stampede would be to end the chuckwagon and calf roping events all together.
“With the Calgary Stampede, the rodeo and the chuckwagon are only two facets of this festival. The Stampede will survive without them, without a doubt,” Alvarez-Toye said in a telephone interview Saturday.
He predicts seeing an end to the competitive events, which animal rights activists say too often put the animals at risk, within 10 to 15 years.
Animal rights groups were outraged after three horses died and a fourth was injured following a collision during a chuckwagon race at the Stampede on Thursday.
The accident was caused when one of the horses suffered a heart aneurysm and collapsed during the race, bringing down two other horses and sending the chuckwagon driver and the outrider flying through the air.
The horse died by the time veterinarians arrived to the scene. The two other horses had to be euthanized on the track due to their extensive injuries, and a fourth horse will require surgery for its injuries but is expected to survive.
Neither man was hurt.
Immediately after the crash, the Vancouver Humane Society demanded a full suspension of the chuckwagon heats and called for an independent safety review of the event.
“Clearly, the Stampede’s much publicized safety improvements have failed to make the race any safer,” Vancouver Humane Society spokesperson Peter Fricker said in a statement. “Horses continue to die needlessly. This has to stop.”
Alvarez-Toye said 87 animals have been killed during the Stampede’s rodeo and chuckwagon races over the past 25 years.
The Stampede introduced changes last year aimed at making chuckwagon races -- in which four wagons pulled by four horses thunder around a dirt track, while two cowboys gallop on horseback near their teams -- safer.
The number of outriders that accompany each chuckwagon was reduced to two from four in an effort to reduce congestion.
Thursday’s crash wasn’t the first time the chuckwagon races led to an animal’s death. In 2010, two horses died of heart attacks during competitions. In all that year, six horses died in various events.
All horses are now inspected by veterinarians when the animals arrive at the Stampede and before and after every race. There is also a mandatory rest day after every four days of racing.
However, veterinarian Greg Evans said the heart condition suffered by the horse during Thursday’s race is undetectable in animals and the vessel could have ruptured at any time during exercise.
"These horses are cared for; they are loved by the drivers themselves and there's no question it's a tragedy for these families,” said Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser.
Fraser said Stampede organizers had hoped to wrap up the Stampede’s centennial festivities without any animal deaths. He said the driver of the chuck involved is devastated as is the chief veterinarian.
"We've had absolutely phenomenal success this year, up until tonight."
The Calgary Animal Rights Coalition has staged protests during the Stampede since the early 90s. Alvarez-Toye expects to see a greater turnout for Saturday’s demonstration due to the media attention following Thursday’s deadly collision.
The chuckwagon finals are planned for Sunday.
With reports from The Canadian Press