Local cowgirl and Stampede spokesperson maintain animals are treated better than riders

As the dust settles on another Calgary Stampede for many it’s been a ten day adventure for many to slip in and out of the city’s cowboy image — for others it was a chance to protest and picket the famous rodeo.

Kenneth Montville, college campaigns assistant for PETA, states that the Calgary Stampede is a group spectacle where animals die every year, yet Canadians continue to cling to the rodeo events as a treasured tradition.

“Rodeos in general are inherently cruel, even if animals are not injured, they still face the fear and pain during the events as well as being carted around in crowded, ill-ventilated trucks,” says Montville.

In addition, he claims that the chuckwagon races are the most harmful to animals because of its nature to push horses to their limit.

“These are deadly events where horses are forced to race at breakneck speeds around a track carrying a pioneer wagon behind them and the horses die from that every year,” says Montville.

“They die from heart attacks, broken necks, broken legs. A lot of the time it’s because collisions between the wagons are inevitable. You have pileups where these horses rarely emerge unscathed.”

Bonni Clark, part of the communications team for the Calgary Stampede, contends that Montville’s views are incorrect.

“Certainly these animals are not being forced to race, they do it because they love it and are bred to do it instinctively,” said Clark. “They are high-strung; they are racers. These are not going to be the ponies you put your kid on.

“It’s said that these horses are forced to run. That is like saying a Labrador is forced to fetch. It’s an instinct that’s bred into them and chuckwagon horses are thoroughbred horses that are raised to race on a race track,” adds Clark.

In regards to accidents on the track, the Stampede works out a way to insure that a causality doesn’t repeat itself.

“With every incident that happens, we always look and analyze what happened, how can we be putting in measures or checks to try to anticipate that same problem in the future,” says Clark.

QUALITY CARE FOR ANIMALS

Another one of Montville’s contentions is that rodeo animals are not treated with the type of humane love, care and respect that they deserve.

“If rodeo teaches us one thing is that animals exist to poke and prod at and that is not a message that is acceptable in today’s society,” says Montville.

“With reference to the Calgary Stampede it should be made clear that a lot of rodeos are phasing out their most cruel events: calf roping, team roping, steer wrestling. These events that are just death traps for animals and should be phased out as well.”

Kelsey Simpson, a cowgirl, who grew up in a rodeo environment maintain that animals involved in the Stampede are treated better than the people who ride them.

“Your animal always got fed before you did, no exceptions. After your event, no matter how sore, dirty or tired you were, your animal had to be taken care of,” claims Simpson.

Simpson maintains that the public doesn’t get to see is how the animals are treated before and after an event and that the animals involved in a rodeo are not considered as pets but family members to the competitors. Still, rodeo families and the rodeo industry are constantly painted as heartless and unemotional when an animal passes.

“Every rodeo weekend is full of fun and laughter with other cowboys and cowgirls that share the same passion for competition and an undying love of animals,” says Simpson. “It is like a big family that gets together every single rodeo weekend.

“No one has a greater tie to their animals than their friend and owner. When an animal is hurt it affects them more than anyone,” states Simpson. “They remember the first time they got the animal, the first time they competed, and other achievements they did together.”

Clark said that the Calgary Stampede is where urban meets rural and fewer people are directly affected by their rural roots. A lot of people will default their views of their pets and children by comparing them to livestock, which is where many misunderstandings begin.

“We’ve heard a lot of misconceptions were people believe animals are poked and prodded. It always makes us shake our heads,” says Clark. “So this is a great venue to share with people who are more in the know of what really does happen.”

CONTROVERSIAL POKING AND PRODDING

One highly controversial and largely misunderstood aspect of the rodeo is when a rider uses a flank strap, or bucking strap, to encourage a horse to kick out straight and high when it bucks.

Montville claims that rodeo riders poke, prod and hurt the animal to get them to react violently.

“When you’re talking about rodeos, you’re talking about people using bucking straps and spurs. These animals are normally tame and docile and they’re poked and prodded to make them appear to be aggressive and fierce when they’re not.”

Simpson says that if “an animal is in pain or feeling under the weather, it does the exact opposite [bucking and kicking]. It sits there, lays down, or is unresponsive. If the flank strap were to be too tight or too painful, the animal would absolutely refuse to move, let alone come out of the chute with its legs ten feet in the air.”

Clark adds, “Horses buck from the moment they’re born They are not naturally receptive of riders so their natural instinct for them is to shrug off something unfamiliar. If they were in any fear or anxiety, they are not apt to perform a buck.

“[The horses] are encouraged and rewarded to buck. They win, every time when they come out of the shute because ultimately the cowboy gets off their back whether it’s before eight seconds or after. The horse always wins so it’s a positive reinforcement,” added Clark.

For more information on PETA’s stance on cruelty to animals for entertainment, go to www.peta2.com and for more information on the Calgary Stampede and animal care  check out their Q&A on animal care.

hcawsey@cjournal.ca

ksimpson@cjournal.ca