July 9, 2021

What You Don’t See

In 2020, the Calgary Stampede was cancelled because of the pandemic. In 2021, the Calgary Stampede is set to run again, but without chuckwagon racing on the bill. The organizers promise chuckwagons will return in 2022, but the event should never come back.

Here is what I wrote about the stampede and chuckwagon races just two years ago:

Television didn’t show the grisly accident. The crowd didn’t see the inevitable result because organizers blocked the view with tarps. Nonetheless three beautiful horses died on June 14, 2019.

You see, these horses had the misfortune of being selected to entertain at the Calgary Stampede.

They aren’t alone. Three other horses met the same fate in chuckwagon races earlier in the month. In fact the CBC reported the total animal deaths at the Stampede have exceeded 100 since 1986.  The 2019 Stampede was the second deadliest year for chuckwagon horses in more than three decades of the event’s history.

Organizers of the Stampede wouldn’t provide the numbers or details of the deaths, and I understand why they wouldn’t want to. CBC relied on the research of our colleagues at humane societies in Western Canada. The list is grisly: 72 chuckwagon horses alone have died, along with an assortment of calves, steers, and bucking horses. Outside of the Stampede itself, nine horses died in 2005 while being herded over a bridge on their way to the grounds. Two humans have also died in the competition since 1986, one in 1996 and the other in 1999.

So, who is to blame for this slaughter?

The drivers? Certainly they have a role to play. But deep down, I feel the drivers are just trying to make a living and are likely truly fond of their horses. 

The Stampede? Organizers say it has made many changes over the years to increase the safety of animals and humans, but they are not transparent about the number of animal deaths, nor about the training methods used on the animal participants. While the Stampede is a not-for profit, it is also a big money earner, with $150 million in revenue generated annually. The board certainly doesn’t have any incentive to do anything that it believes might threaten that revenue.

Government?  The governments of Calgary, Alberta and Canada have taken no action to protect animals from the distress, injuries and deaths caused by the Stampede and other rodeos. There is a lot of tourism revenue at stake and no level of government has been willing to risk that to take serious action to protect the animals.

The attendees? As is so often the case, it is attendees who have the power to end the suffering of animals exploited for entertainment. If people stop attending, the Stampede will change. Enlightened people, voting with their wallets, ended Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus century-plus-long abuse of animals in 2017.  And one day, they will end animal suffering and death at the Calgary Stampede.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO