2019 Calgary Stampede ties as 2nd deadliest year for chuckwagon horses

Total animal deaths at rodeo and chuckwagon races have topped 100 since 1986

Chuckwagon driver Chad Harden was disqualified from the Calgary Stampede after causing an accident on July 11, 2019, that led to a horse being put down. Chuckwagon horses make up more than two-thirds of the animal deaths at the Stampede. (CBC Sports)

The 2019 Calgary Stampede is now tied for second place as the deadliest year for chuckwagon horses in more than three decades — with the total tally of animal deaths surpassing 100.

Three horses had to be put down at Sunday night’s chuckwagon races, as the 10-day Stampede wrapped.

The latest deaths bring the total number of animals that have died during the rodeo and chuckwagon races at the Stampede since 1986 — when the most detailed records are available — to 102.

The Calgary Stampede declined requests to provide the organization’s own details on deaths through the years.

The most complete records available publicly are from the Vancouver Humane Society, which has added up the tally since 1986 using data from the Calgary Humane Society and media reports.

CBC News validated the numbers wherever possible.

In total over the 10-day event in 2019, six chuckwagon horses died — four of them from the same driver’s team.

That gives it the unfortunate honour of tying with 2010 as having the second highest toll on chuckwagon horses. Chuckwagon horses make up more than two-thirds of the animal deaths at the Stampede.

The top of the list is 1986, when 12 horses died.

Two humans have also died in the competition since 1986: outrider Eugene Jackson in 1996 and wagon driver Bill McEwen in 1999. Both died of head injuries.

Here’s an overall roundup of animal deaths at the Stampede since 1986:

The Vancouver Humane Society says the total tally includes:

  • 72 chuckwagon horses.
  • Nine calves.
  • Five steers.
  • Four bucking horses.
  • One wild ride horse.
  • One show horse.
  • One bull.

Outside of the Stampede itself, nine horses died in 2005 while being herded over a bridge on their way to the grounds.

The latest deaths prompted renewed calls from animal rights advocates and others for the Stampede to end chuckwagon races and the rodeo.

This graph tallies animal deaths, by year, at the Stampede. Use the drop-down menu to see the data by animal type:

The Calgary Stampede has launched a review in response to Sunday’s deaths. Last week, a chuckwagon driver who caused an accident that led to a horse being put down was fined $10,000 and banned from competing at future Stampedes.

The Stampede says it has made many changes over the years to increase the safety of animals and humans.

The Stampede’s roots can be traced to 1886, when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first fair.

The  2019 Calgary Stampede ran July 5-July 14.

A tarp covers the scene of the accident that led to three horses being euthanized after a chuckwagon race at the Calgary Stampede on June 14, 2019. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Should the Calgary Stampede ban animal events?

Calgary Stampede events, like steer wrestling, don’t put the animals first, says a spokesperson with the Vancouver Humane Society. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Should the Calgary Stampede ban animal events?

Some rodeo events are a form of animal abuse, critic says

An animal activist is calling on veterinarians to stop supporting the Calgary Stampede.

Those who put on cowboy hats and work at the annual rodeo event are “turning a blind eye to animal abuse,” said Peter Fricker, communications director for the Vancouver Humane Society.

In an opinion piece for CBC News, Fricker said some of the activities at the Stampede cause the animals involved distress and discomfort.

Events like calf roping and steer wrestling also put them at risk of getting hurt, he said.

The Calgary Stampede is an event organized each year by a not-for-profit group — and put on with the help of thousands of volunteers — as a way to preserve and celebrate “western heritage, cultures and community spirit,” its website says.

That includes a number of traditional rodeo events.

Man holds rope in his mouth while he wrangles a calf.

Some critics say rodeo events like calf roping put the animals at risk of getting hurt. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

What do the vets say?

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) is against activities that cause suffering to animals that would otherwise be avoidable, president Terri Chotowetz said in an email.

She said her group supports those veterinarians who are working to “safeguard animal welfare” at the Stampede, she said.

It’s not up to the CVMA to set the laws around how animals are used in sport or entertainment, Chotowetz said, but she encourages governments to keep working to improve the rules.

Man in cowboy hat holds cow by the horns.

A note on the Calgary Stampede website says event organizers are committed to treating the animals with respect and care. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

What does the Stampede say?

The Calgary Stampede has one of the “most comprehensive animal care programs in North America,” said spokesperson Kristina Barnes, when asked to comment.

Organizers are constantly working with veterinarians in order to improve their practices, she said in an email.

They’re also careful to follow provincial and national regulations around the use of animals.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in.


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