of 6 horses stirs animal-rights debate at Stampede’
cares more about animals than the owners,’ says supporter
race earlier this week at the Calgary Stampede. A petition from a U.K.-based
lobby group is protesting the rodeo as cruel to animals. - Jeff McIntosh/THE
a Calgarian, it’s a tough admission to make: Rhonda Pomfrey says she
went through a stage in her youth when she questioned the existence of the
went from loving the Stampede as a kid and then I began questioning why
was it necessary to put the horses through all that,” says Pomfrey,
stroking the nose of a grey horse and contemplating how a horse would look
in her backyard. But
then Pomfrey, visiting the Calgary Stampede along with her 10-year-old daughter
Jayden and son Jake, 6, says she grew to understand why men and women rope
calves, race chuck-wagons or sit on bucking steers.
says an invitation from family friends, members of the Sutherland rodeo
family, helped change her mind. She witnessed the dedication of the chuckwagon
drivers, who slept beside the horses in the stables, how well cared for
the animals were, with sick livestock tended to around the clock.
one can tell me after seeing that in real life that anyone else cares more
about the animal's well-being than their owners,” Pomfrey says.
its nearly 100-year history, the Calgary Stampede has faced questions over
the treatment of animals. This year, with six horses dead, the criticism
is mounting — and gaining notoriety because of a U.K-based protest.
League Against Cruel Sport began a petition, encouraging British members
of parliament, to condemn the rodeo at the Stampede. The league also lobbied
travel agents to stop arranging tours to Alberta during the 10-day-long
spokesman Steve Taylor says fellow Britons are “surprised they still
were banned in the U.K. in 1934 — as a result of one of the league’s
first actions. “People are genuinely shocked that this is still going
doesn’t buy the argument that the rodeo should be supported because
of its roots in farming tradition. The league, he points out, successfully
lobbied for the ban against another long-standing tradition that it also
deemed cruel: fox-hunting in the U.K. But
Deb Erickson takes exception to Taylor’s comments.
easy to say there shouldn't be a rodeo but anyone who has 400 head of cattle
home on a 4,000-acre ranch knows what we're demonstrating here is a way
of life,” says Erickson, who handles the horses for her family’s
ranches, Highland Stables and Erickson Farms. “Anyone who eats a hamburger
for dinner or buys a loaf of bread should recognize that this is all part
of it, it's part of our history and we need to make sure that there is a
future in agriculture if we want to continue eating.”
rodeo, she says, highlights agriculture, and provides a tangible link between
the work farmers and ranchers do, and the food that Canadians eat. Of the
six horses that have died so far this year, two suffered heart attacks,
three were put down because of injuries; one death remains unresolved. It
is not the worst year on record: in 1986, 12 horses died and in 2005, nine
died while crossing a bridge on their way to the Stampede.
Renaud Leguillette, who teaches at the University of Calgary's veterinary
school and is volunteering at the Stampede, says the horses' deaths do not
necessarily mean the animals are being pushed beyond their physical limits.
like any other athletes. These horses are built for speed by nature. They
are designed to be athletic.”
said surveys show that less than 0.05 per cent of rodeo events lead to an
is very competitive yes, there are lots of accidents and we should avoid
them when we can but we cannot eliminate them.”
animal rights activist argues that rodeo events deliberately put animals
in harm's way.
Shaw, who organized protests in front of the Stampede entrance, says it
was obvious that most people going to the Stampede did not want to hear
about animal rights.
told we're weak-kneed vegetarians and they try to reflect the reality which
is cruelty to the animals,” says Shaw. “We're told again and
again they love their animals but they cannot answer why they continue to
throw them in harm's way by having them compete for entertainment.”
spokesman Doug Fraser said the rodeo is an inseparable part of what organizers
have long touted as the Greatest Show on Earth with midway rides, fair foods
and games. The Stampede contributes $350-million annually to the southern
happened is truly unusual and truly upsetting,” says Fraser. “All
we can say is to those who oppose us, is we respect their opinion and hope
they will respect our right to our opinion.”