The deaths of three horses at the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day event where people can go to pretend that we still live in the Wild West, has spurred outrage from animal advocates and calls to ban chuckwagon races for good.
The accident that lead to the deaths happened on Thursday during the GMC Rangeland Derby when the lead horse faltered on the backstretch of the race and collapsed, taking down the three other horses and the wagon with him and causing a collision with one of the outriders.
The lead horse died on the scene, two others had to be euthanized on the track due to their injuries and a fourth will need surgery. A necropsy on the lead horse revealed the cause of death was a ruptured aortic aneurysm near the kidney, according to a press release.
“This pre-existing condition is undetectable in animals and could have ruptured at any time of exercise,” explains Dr. Evans. “The condition is a weakening in the wall of the aorta–the major vessel leading from the heart. This area of weakened wall can rupture and the horse then bleeds out internally. The rupture occurred in the abdomen, which explains the hind limb weakness noted in the horse prior to the collapse.”
The incident has animal advocates understandably calling for a ban on chuckwagon races.
“It always shocks and infuriates me … you’d think after 100 years they’d come to realize they cannot prevent deaths,” said Michael Alvarez-Toye of the Calgary Animal Rights Coalition.
He said the group is organizing a protest on Saturday “to mark the occasion of the Calgary Stampede’s 100th Anniversary of cruel and callous acts perpetrated upon animals.”
Sadly, this tragedy comes after weeks of announcements about improvements to safety that were made after six horses died in 2010. A total of 50 have died since 1986.
The Stampede began a Fitness to Compete program, which increased veterinary inspections before and after races, breaks between events and reduced the number of outriders for each wagon from four to two to make more room on the track, but it hasn’t helped protect horses.
“Clearly, the Stampede’s much publicized safety improvements have failed to make the race any safer,” said Peter Fricker, a spokesman for the Vancouver Humane Society, which supports a ban. “Horses continue to die needlessly. This has to stop.”
According to a statement, the Stampede will be using the results of the necropsy to make further improvements.
“Nowadays, in veterinary medicine there’s very much a push on for evidence-based decision making,” said Evans. “We want hard scientific data.”
Maybe, nowadays, since horses keep having heart attacks, dropping dead and crashing into each other that could be all the evidence we need to stop scratching our heads and investigating this mind-boggling conundrum and just solve the problem by doing away with chuckwagon races instead.
Please sign and share the petition asking the Calgary Stampede to ban chuckwagon races.