Changes were made after six horses died in the 2010 Calgary Stampede. So this year, only two had to be put down after breaking legs in the chuckwagon races. Whether this represents acceptable losses for a popular event or inexcusable risk to animals are opposite sides of the rodeo tug of war.
Last year Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser observed so few deaths out of a total of 7,500 head of livestock showed the level of care for the animals. If deaths are the only measure, Fraser is right. In 2009, three horses and a steer died. In 2005, nine horses part of a 200-horse trail ride were pushed off a city bridge and killed after the group spooked.
Public pressure, particularly from animal-rights groups, has led to ever-improving standards. This year the Stampede launched Fitness to Compete to ensure “that only the healthiest and fittest of animals will compete…”
Fraser’s media release about the new standards states, “The bucking and bovine stock of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo will also receive increased attention while on Park. Brought into the Park each day, every animal in the rodeo will undergo a thorough veterinarian inspection prior to competition. The vet will have the authority to withdraw the animal from the day’s event should the animal’s health appear to be in question in any way.”
Should animals be used as entertainment?
From a health and safety standpoint, the Stampede is likely ahead of many other rodeos in assuring the welfare of animals used in these sporting events. What no amount of care can address is the more fundamental questions about animals being used for human entertainment.
Rodeos are far removed from the rural culture that fostered them, although they continue to thrive in part because of it. Ranchers still gentle wild horses (“breaking” is old school and frowned on). They still rope and brand calves. Those and other farming and ranching activities raise different questions and offer other opportunities as we consider our responsibilities toward the creatures who share the planet with us.
The Calgary Stampede and the dozens of smaller rodeos are not a necessary part of livestock raising. So the questions they pose are better addressed by wrestling with questions such as those posed on the BBC’s site, Ethics guide to Animals for entertainment.
Our species clearly finds watching animals competing with each other highly entertaining. Gladiatorial spectacles, bull fights, cock fights, horse and dog racing, wrestling, boxing, and rodeos have all tapped into that fascination.
If we are serious about wanting a more peaceful world, we need to examine our penchant for inflicting fear and pain on each other and on our animal relatives.
Photo from sweetscape via Flickr