Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Dear Ms. Arden,
I’m writing this in response to your decision to accept the position of Calgary Stampede Parade Marshal and your various responses to people who remonstrated with you. Many people are very concerned about the treatment of animals, including horses, who are forced to participate in the rodeo circuit. These are all high-risk activities that often result in disastrous, unrecoverable injuries to the animals.
Many Canadian rodeo aficionados cite tradition, culture and athleticism as justification for events such as steer-riding, chuckwagon racing, and calf-roping. In the face of increased public critique, animal welfare groups are helping to shed light on the cruelty of these events. Canada’s animal cruelty legislation is a disgrace – the laws have not been substantially changed since 1892. Grassroots movements of Canadians say things need to change. There have already been at least 25 walks across the country and around the world, trying to bring awareness to Canada’s horrible animal cruelty legislation.
You previously tweeted in 2013 that you wished the Stampede would give the chuckwagon races a hard pass – I wish the entire rodeo itself would end. I’m not alone, there are many humane organizations throughout the world who want to see rodeo-style events come to an end everywhere.
The ASPCA “recognizes the cruel treatment inflicted on many additional animals in the process of practicing to compete in rodeo events. Further, the ASPCA is opposed to children’s rodeo events such as goat tying, calf riding and sheep riding (“mutton busting”), which do not promote humane care and respect for animals.” The Vancouver Humane Society was instrumental in bringing international focus to the issue of rodeos in Canada, via the League Against Cruel Sports. This is a first step toward internationalising opposition to rodeos in Canada and making it harder for rodeos to justify their use of animals as “entertainment.” The Vancouver Humane Society has had some success targeting rodeo events it considers cruel. It pressured the Cloverdale Rodeo, a major competition staged in the Fraser Valley just east of Vancouver, into dropping four events, including calf roping and steer wrestling, in 2007.
“I treated saddle horses with wounds to their mouths from abusive use of the bit. One horse had half his tongue severed. I saw lots of so-called “minor” injuries, like cuts and abrasions, lameness, and eye injuries. I believe the callous attitude toward the calves added to their injuries; there was no concern for their welfare at all. I’ve seen injuries that ended in death, some resulting in death from euthanasia or a trip to the slaughter plant, broken bones, lameness, and minor scrapes and cuts.” ~ Dr. Peggy Larson, former Vermont State Veterinarian and Chief of Livestock and Meat Inspection, and former rodeo bareback bronco rider/large animal veterinarian
The breeding of bucking horses for entertainment is such an anachronistic practice – the only reason bucking stock exist is for the purposes of inhumane entertainment. They virtually all go to slaughter in the end, with a short stop at the Stampede before heading directly to Bouvry in Fort McLeod. That plant was the subject of an investigation by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition in 2010, which found evidence that horses were being killed inhumanely. The CHDC revealed video footage showing horses at the slaughterhouse being shot and then hoisted away by their legs while still fully conscious.
The fate of other horses at the Stampede is often not much better. Consider that
- More than 55 chuckwagon horses have died since 1986. This number excludes bucking and show horses.
- At least nine rodeo horses died after becoming spooked while galloping across a bridge before they even got to the Stampede grounds. They jumped from the bridge and plunged 10 metres into the Bow River in 2005.
- A post-mortem revealed the cause of the sudden death of a 10 year-old outrider horse in 2013. Pathologists from the University of Calgary reported that the horse died almost immediately as the result of a pulmonary hemorrhage – essentially a rupture of an artery in the lung.
- In 2014, a 12-year-old thoroughbred chuckwagon horse collapsed during a training run. A post-mortem determined he died of a ruptured aorta near one of his kidneys, according to a news release from the Stampede organization. The University of Calgary veterinary school’s Dr. Gord Atkins, who chairs the Stampede’s chuckwagon committee, explained to reporters that the horse was afflicted with a common parasite that can damage blood vessels, creating an aneurysm that is undetectable until it lets go. The ex-race horse died quickly from massive blood loss.
Most thoroughbreds in the chuck races are older ex-racehorses who have already earned their retirement. They’re retired for a reason – they’re too old to be charging around at
breakneck speeds. Note the age of the horses above who died – they were 10 and 12 years old – relatively young animals in absolute terms, but far too old for these outdated Roman-style events. In addition to age working against them, modern thoroughbreds have strongly muscled bodies and delicate legs that suffer stress fractures. And we know what happens to horses with stress fractures – broken legs are the result. And please note the veterinary comments about a horse with such a heavy parasite load that it caused an aneurysm. I thought these horses were “family” to their owners, and worth as much as $50,000? You know that a tube of wormer costs around $25?
“….the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) controls the camera shots that ESPN can use while filming rodeo. In calf roping, ESPN is not allowed by the PRCA to show the calf actually being dropped. The audience will never see the rope strangling the calf; they will never see the calf jerked off its feet, dragged, and choked. As soon as the loop settles over the calf’s head, the camera moves away from the calf and moves back only after the calf is tied.” ~ Dr. Peggy Larson
Tradition and heritage are two very emotional words, heavy with meaning. Yet, despite those historical connections, the Catalonians have banned bullfighting, which was intensely tied to their nationhood and heritage. The British have outlawed foxhunting. The scarlet coated riders are now gone, even though few things were more “British” than stately homes, country weekends, and The Hunt. I wonder, with regard to Canadian tradition, how many settlers had to ride or wrestle steers and race chuckwagons at breakneck speeds across the prairie? I don’t believe that calf roping has ever been a sport but it was made so for entertainment and prize-money, as was bull-riding. Think about it: why would anyone ride a bull? It was created for entertainment and was not something based on culture or tradition. And what the rodeo industry wants is a way to make every last dime from all the horses they shock, beat, drag, and buck.
You joked that you “want to be a rodeo horse.” You may wish to re-think that, since the PRCA, the largest rodeo-
sanctioning organization in the world, has come down unequivocally as pro-horse slaughter. In any case, I think we could both agree that none of the horses depicted in this blog post seem to be enjoying their “jobs.” The 2015 corporate report published by the Calgary Stampede explains that Stampede Park hosted many animal “guests” last July, including 629 chuckwagon horses and 410 bucking horses and bulls that competed during the rodeo. So I honestly wouldn’t say it’s all about the music. I would also be willing to bet my next paycheque that most of those animals aren’t really having their best day while at the Stampede. And I love how the Stampede refers to them as “guests,” as if they come of their own volition!
“Sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy. Sometimes–not often, but sometimes–the cranks and radicals turn out to be right.” ~ Matthew Scully: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
Jann, in closing, I wish that you could see that these issues aren’t merely being brought forward by “people wearing leather shoes and eating hamburgers.” Ask yourself though, if these events that focus on livestock do not sufficiently concern you, would you subject your dog to the same treatment? I’m sure you wouldn’t ever consider it. It would be illegal if you did. Yet you are promoting the Calgary Stampede and the misery of thousands of animals by appearing in their parade. Therefore, you are giving tacit approval to everything they do, despite saying that you do not like the chuck races. There are many other ways that we can support Calgary, Fort McMurray, and promote Alberta.
Thank you for the work that you have done for animals in the past.