14 July 2015
- From the section US & Canada
Calgary Stampede: Why horses die on the ‘half-mile of hell’
A fourth horse has died during races at the annual Calgary Stampede. While officials have implemented changes to make the race safer, animal rights activists argue the popular horse and wagon sprint is still cruel and dangerous.
A 10-year-old thoroughbred horse named Duke was competing in a chuckwagon race in this year’s Calgary Stampede when he collided with another team and broke his leg.
Shortly after, Duke was removed from the track and euthanised.
Two days later on the same track, nine-year-old Schuster’s Way was caught between two wagons and suffered the same fate. Over the weekend, two horses – aged 13 and 16 – sustained leg injuries and were put down.
A total of 65 horses have died at the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races since 1986, an event the World Professional Chuckwagon Association calls “a half-mile of hell”.
Teams of four horses pull covered wagons in figure-eight formations around barrels, then race down an oval track, followed by outriders who assist the wagon driver at the start of the race.
In 2011, the event’s safety commission implemented new measures after six horses were killed the year before. The number of outriders was reduced, microchips were added to all horses in order to track their racing record and health, and a team of veterinarians was put on standby at the races.
But opponents of the event say the entertainment value of the races isn’t worth the inevitable accidents on the track.
The chuckwagon races have been a part of the Calgary Stampede since 1923.
Around that time, cattle ranchers would bring covered cook wagons – or chuckwagons – to town to feed the crowds at pancake breakfasts. The wagon drivers often raced back to the barn and soon after a formal race spread to rodeo events across western Canada.
Originally, a winner was declared after the first chuckwagon built a fire in his stove at the finish line, but that ended when participants started using gasoline.
Instead of making camp, teams now break camp, with outriders throwing a “stove” into the back of the chuckwagon before the driver takes off.
“Chuckwagon racing was quite a bit more exciting in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Stan Church, the Chuckwagon Safety Commissioner of the Stampede.
“A lot of people were disappointed if at least one wagon didn’t roll over. So over the years, it’s been a progression. It’s much safer now – much safer for the drivers too.”
The commissioner admits horse fatalities are a cost of the races. Since the additional safety standards were set in 2011, 11 horses have died.
“As long as you’re going to have horses running, whether it be on a racetrack or the chuckwagons, there’s going to be some fatalities,” said Church.
“Just like if you own horses, they’re running out in the field, horses will step in a hole and break their own leg.”
“Humans are involved [in the races] so we can’t make it accident free. It’s our job to make sure we do it the safest way possible.”
Church says the majority of deaths are a result of health breakdowns, which the new safety standards address, and says the two driver-error incidents this week were an anomaly.
“It’s a tragedy to lose any of our animals,” driver BJ Carey told the media after the crash that ended in the death of Schuster’s Way.
“We look after these horses like they’re our children. They eat before us every day, they get pampered, we look after them like nothing else.”
Even so, animal rights advocates have long argued against the chuckwagon races and other rodeo events.
“The Calgary Humane Society opposes the use of animals for any form of entertainment in which they are placed at risk of suffering undue stress, pain, injury or death,” said Sage Pullen McIntosh, spokeswoman for the Calgary Humane Society.
Church argues fewer horses die as a result of the chuckwagon races than in thoroughbred racing.
A 2012 New York Times investigation found about three horses die every day on US race tracks, but the number of horses in chuckwagon races is far smaller than those in thoroughbred racing.
And the majority of chuckwagon horses are retired thoroughbred racers.
“It’s a sport that provides another use for these thoroughbred horses after they’re finished with their career on the racetrack.” Church says.
“Race horses are born and bred to run, so if you didn’t race them, you wouldn’t raise them, they wouldn’t exist,”
Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) argues a second career isn’t beneficial for horses.
“Thoroughbreds do love to run, but they don’t necessarily love to race,” said Guillermo.
“I don’t know how anyone knows what a horse’s dream is, but I can imagine that collapsing in a heap of tangled and broken bodies would not be it.”
Taking a horse from one risky sport to another “and then excuse it by saying it’s better than death, I think that’s reprehensible,” Guillermo says.
And there’s pressure from across the Atlantic as well.
In 2010, more than 50 members of the UK Parliament signed a motion calling “on the Canadian government to take steps to end the immense cruelty to animals” at rodeos including the Calgary Stampede.
And when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Calgary in 2011, Peta urged them to not attend the Stampede.
Guillermo says if people stay away from the events, it would send a message to the Calgary Stampede.
“There are limits to what people – even people who love rodeos – are willing to tolerate. And there’s not really any excuse for risking a horse’s life in this way.”
I seem to be addicted to reading the morning news online before I start work for the day. This morning I found a disheartening article in my electronic reader, a Matt Bonesteel story in the Washington Post (23 July 2015) about three jockeys’ arrest for allegedly fixing races at Evangeline Downs in Louisiana. Two brothers, Joe Patin Jr. and Billy Patin, and LeSean Conyers are the jockeys. The Louisiana State Police stated that “the jockeys willfully schemed to hold back a horse picked as a favorite to win while utilizing an agent to place unusual bets in an attempt to maximize winning.” They are also guilty of “willful pulling of the reins . . . and cheating and swindling.” Then I read more. The Patins’ charges include “unnatural stimulation of the horses” during a couple of races on July 4 by using a buzzer, a device that shocks a horse into going faster. There is more to read elsewhere on the Internet about the unsavory racing career of the brothers, but it is the buzzer that concerns me here. A buzzer, sometimes called a “battery” or a “machine,” is about the size of a lighter, and shoots electrical current into a horse during a race (it is also used in training) so that the horse will increase his speed. It is prohibited at American tracks. And yet, people who own and train horses are still instructing their riders to use a device to force their horses to run faster, rather than training a Thoroughbred to use his great skill and strength to win on the track honestly. Arrogant people like this do not care that what they do is amoral and keep repeating their violations even though they are against the law. I write about soring, another practice that is against the law; similarly, shocking with a battery is against the rules of many racing commissions. Because racing seems to attract owners and trainers who will use any horse abuse technique to win prestige and money, it often seems to many that racing should be abolished in the United States.
This morning as is my habit, I ran my eye over what “news” is available to the public before I turned to my own work. A lot of stuff assailing my eye and brain was just simply fill, put in there because, well, because those in charge of the web site had nothing else to put in. There were the usual stories on actresses appearing topless or nude. Proper acting jobs must be getting scarce for the poor dears; they have to draw attention to themselves somehow, think their agents. What else? The usual “bad boy” of sports who has beaten someone to a pulp. Depressing pictures of “old pols” trying to get elected again by promising what he or she will do for Americans and hoping that Americans who don’t think before they give up their precious vote will get the pols back into office with its perks and its opportunities to shine in the naïve and ill-informed public eye. And of course, gaudy news of so-called celebrities. Amid all this dreck is an article about George H.W. Bush, who is on my list of finest Americans who have ever served the American public. This list starts with another George, Washington, that is. I compare my list of fine Americans we were lucky to have in the Oval Office with other presidents and it’s not surprising that my list is very short, because I insist that our presidents should be men or women who have been prepared through prior service in important jobs to be the president; that they have staying power and don’t fold up in helpless whining saying, Well, we don’t have a policy yet; that they are determined to do the right thing not only for our country but also for the world causes the US insists on helping through aiding foreign countries; that they are well-educated, not in the back rooms of political manipulation but in colleges or universities; that they demonstrate their knowledge of how this country works and yes, how other countries work; that they really do know what they are talking about and are not trying to hide their appalling naiveté. But in addition to all of this, I insist that our president should be a decent and honorable man or woman, willing to be brave and steadfast in his or her decisions and explain satisfactorily to Americans why the decisions being made are good for our country as well as other countries. His or her reputation should not rest on the lying and self-aggrandizement and posturing the poorer civil servants practice or the vile breath of scandal which still wafts over those politicians who have used the office for their own venery or some other form of self-aggrandizement.
Such a man is George H.W. Bush. When I read this morning that he has broken a bone in his neck and he is again in the hospital, I feared we would lose him. But he survived and will leave the hospital in a neck brace. Look at this short summary of his experience which led to his roles as vice president to Ronald Reagan and later 41st president, and compare it with people who are now trying to get your vote as presidential candidates.
- Naval aviator in WW II, shot down over the Pacific.
- Former US ambassador to China.
- CIA director.
- Displayed the same courage and readiness to do what is right and proper as Ronald Reagan for whom he was vice president. See the Gulf War in Kuwait.
- Displayed modesty about his achievements and was, and is, not ashamed to say that he loves our country.
- Won countless honors including an aircraft carrier named after him, in active service, the USS George HW Bush.
In his personal life, he still persists in, at 91, the determination to achieve in the face of various illnesses. He will not give up. And in your estimation of this man, please add his wife Barbara, whom I’ve seen in the news countless times for her achievements as a first lady, mother, and wife. I still wish that he had been elected to a second term. With this fine man at the helm, American history would have been so different.
Today in the midst of trying to birth another novel which seems not to want to be born, I thought I’d check the mail. There was a package from my oldest and dearest friend who is constantly trying to cope with long-suffered illnesses. Nevertheless, she thought of me. Looking at the package my tongue watered automatically, and I hurried inside to open the box. And immediately, swallowed two of the contents: luscious Kourabiedes. Instantly I felt better about the novel. My friend’s parents came over here from Greece to make a new life and M., my friend, has always followed Greek customs even though she was born here. Usually she sends me these Christmas cookies just before the holiday, but for some reason, she changed her mind this year. They are buttery shortbread cooks containing among other ingredients, brandy, butter, almonds and confectioner sugar. Thanks, M! If you want to make these, go to the site A Cookie for Every Country, to whom I am thankful for the picture above.
I got up on Saturday morning July 11 grimly, knowing I would have to get the problem of the skunks settled today. This meant I would have to have oatmeal for breakfast. And toast. And an egg. I had to be fortified if I were going to do this miserable job. I decided I’d try the mothball method of getting rid of unwanted animal guests. I had heard neighbors talk about this way and since I didn’t have much choice, I thought I would do it. I went out and bought two packages of the little round smelly things and then got out my kneeling pad and started in. I found first, yikes, that you just couldn’t place the mothballs in the spaces. In some places the dirt was banked up in the spaces, and in other places the dirt was sunken. I made do with gingerly placing the smelly little balls in where I could, or “throwing” them through the spaces where the dirt was banked up inside and hoping they wouldn’t roll out. As I was doing this, which was excruciating in the heat, the day was already heating up more; I was glad I had dressed in pants and long-sleeved shirt with a thing wrapped around my head. The thing is a fancy scarf I ordered from a gardening shop which is supposed to protect your hair from perspiration. It did and does. I was quite prepared to do this dirty job. But as I was either placing or rolling the mothballs, an idea dawned. All the way around the garden area surrounding the patio, I have placed nice red paving stones to border some bushes and flowers. How about if I place/roll the mothballs where they belong, and then put some paving stones all the way around that patio area where the supports are located? Would a skunk or some other intruder knock its head against the patio stone and say, “Duh, I can’t get though here, I better give up, Duh.” On the premise this might happen, I started to place the stones. I happened to have some; I had placed a pile in the back yard that were left over from a previous project. Laboriously I rolled my garden cart to the back of my yard and placed all the ones back there in the cart and rolled it back to the scene of the crazy stuff I was doing. But soon I didn’t have enough of the patio stones. Darn it, I was missing about 45 of the things. By this time, I was too hot to continue. I went in and had a cool drink and a cookie, and retired from this job for the day. In this climate, every time you come in for the day you have to wash everything you have on for fear of stuff like ticks in the dirt. Tomorrow, I vowed, I’d surely finish. That evening at about twilight I peered out the cat window. No skunks there! Yay! But this didn’t keep me from knowing I’d have to do this tiresome thing the next day.
July 12. Up again early and more oatmeal. My back didn’t feel too bad. I went to Lowe’s and got 45 patio stones and two more boxes of mothballs. Thankfully, the man at Lowe’s kindly lifted everything into the back of my car. At home once more, I slowly lifted each stone from my trunk and continued placing the stone/mothball combination until I finished the ring. I had been encouraged by what had happened when I stepped onto the patio that morning. The mothballs still smelled strong.
The skunks have never come back, and I hope any other animal who tries to get in will be repelled when it smells the moth balls and cracks its little head on the patio stones.