Rant

DISCLAIMER: This is a rant about the Calgary Stampede, animal cruelty, etc. It has nothing to do with knitting. It is my own opinion and I don’t mean to offend anyone.

Last night at the Calgary Stampede, three horses died in a Chuckwagon race. The full story is here. One of the lead horses collapsed during the race, causing a pile up involving the rest of the team and one of the outriders.

I’ve been reading articles about it, and all of the comments have made my blood boil. Many argue that the horses are being forced to run, that no one cares about their perspective, that the Stampede is cruel… One man even said that the horses were “murdered” (since they were shot by a veterinarian on the track immediately following the crash).

I’m going to address the murder claim first. This is the one that really got to me. I’m an aspiring vet, my dad is a vet, and I come from a farming community. Where I come from, if a cow is sick, you don’t pay for euthanasia, you pay for a bullet. It’s cheaper and actually causes a faster death, which obviously means less time spent suffering. The “murder” claims are just that – claims from someone who isn’t aware of the whole situation. I assure you that the horses were put down humanely by a certified veterinarian; that’s protocol at a big event like the Stampede. They had to be put down because their injuries were too severe; therefore, it was the humane thing to do.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, on to the next point – the animal cruelty side of things. The rodeo has always got a bad rap for being cruel to animals. I’m sure in the past, things were different. But now, as a rider, I can tell you that every one of the athletes competing at the stampede has a bond with their horses; otherwise, the horse wouldn’t put out half the effort. I know this from experience.

The horses that are used in Chuckwagon races love to run. They are specifically bred to run. If you turn them out in a field, they will run. That’s what they are bred to do. The lead horse that collapsed had a “fatal event”, according to the news story. I thought that the event looked a lot like star Canadian show jumper Hickstead, when he collapsed after a competition last year. The video is here, but I warn you that it’s a video of his collapse and the drama that occurred afterwards. It’s very sad and slightly horrifying to watch. 

Anyway, the point of that comparison is this: no one complained that Hickstead was being forced to jump against his will. No one blamed Eric Lamaze, his rider, for the death. That’s because most people who watch show jumping understand that the horses love to jump; that’s why they do it. If a 1500-pound animal really didn’t want to jump, do you think a 180-pound human could make them? Let’s put this in perspective. Chuckwagon racing: 4 horses, each 1500 pounds. One driver. Let’s say 200 pounds as an example. Plus a wagon. It’s a race, so the wagon is going to be a light as possible. Do you think that this driver + wagon would be able to make all of these horses run if they really didn’t want to?

I’m not saying that the Stampede is perfect. I’m not saying that Chuckwagon racing isn’t dangerous (it sure is). I’m just saying that people need to understand the entire situation before making snap judgements about how inhumane a situation is. The horses are these drivers’ livelihoods. They treat them with care and respect, and they make decisions based on the welfare of a horse. I’m a horse owner; I know.

Those horses are going to do what they love to do. In this case, it’s run. Turn them out in a field, and they will do what they love. Sometimes it’s jumping. There have been some horrifying jumping crashes involving the deaths of horses, and countless injuries, but generally it is not labelled by the public as “inhumane”. The horse is bigger than the human – therefore, the horse’s opinion wins every time.

Believe me – I know. My horse fell into a jump today – we were both on the ground. Not pretty. I said jump, she said (at the last minute too, her feet were already partly in the air) I don’t think so. And we both ended up on the ground. No one was hurt (horse or human) but this illustrates my point. Horse is bigger. Horse wins.

Really, I think the most important thing to do is offer condolences for the driver and his family, and to all of the owners and riders that have lost horses at this Stampede and past ones.

Sorry if I’ve offended anyone, but feel free to add your opinion in the comments. I would love to hear some more opinions on this story, since it’s a hot topic in Canada at the moment. Please try to be civil in the comments, but spark a good discussion none the less. What is animal cruetly? Is the Stampede cruel? Should all sports involving animals be banned?

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