UPDATED July 6, 2016
by VIVIAN GRANT
Heritage and tradition are often the first lines of defense when it comes to excusing the cruelties and abuses animals are subjected to in sport and entertainment. Rodeos are no exception.
In an excellent article for the Calgary Herald entitled “Stampede rodeos a stale myth”, Peter Fricker, Communications Director for the Vancouver Humane Society, addresses this issue starting below.
IT’S NO SURPRISE that two American cowboys, best known as contestants on the reality TV show Amazing Race, are this year’s Calgary Stampede parade marshals. They epitomize the Stampede’s American show business roots.
Promoters of the Calgary Stampede often play the “heritage card” when animal welfare advocates criticize the treatment of rodeo animals. The Stampede rodeo, they say, represents ranch life, the history of the Old West and western Canadian culture. But the facts show otherwise.
The truth is the Stampede is a transplanted piece of American mythology parading as Canadian culture. It doesn’t represent ranch life, historical or modern, and its depiction of western heritage is rooted in Wild West shows, dime-store novels and Hollywood hype.
Every year the Stampede rodeo is promoted as a “Canadian cultural icon” yet a close inspection of both the modern Stampede and its historical record reveals it is about as Canadian as George Washington, Uncle Sam and John Wayne.
OMAK SUICIDE RACE
The Omak Suicide Race that takes place the second weekend in August in Omak, Washington also appears to be more hype than heritage.
The Omak Suicide Race is famous for the spectacle of more than a dozen horses and riders racing down Suicide Hill, a 225-foot (69 m) slope at a steep 62-degree angle to the Okanogan River, where the horses either gallop or swim across it (depending on the depth of the water), then scramble up the embankment on the other side, and race 500 yards (546.8 m) to the finish line.
Horses are sometimes killed when they break their legs, necks or backs as they are galloped then suddenly plummeted down the hazardously steep hill, or panic and drown in the river.
Held for more than 70 years, it is the only event in the Omak Stampede lineup not sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Where did the idea come from?
Supposedly inspired by Indian endurance races, the Omak Suicide Race is the brainchild of Omak Stampede Publicity Chairman and furniture salesman, (Mr) Claire Pentz, designed in 1935 to buck up the Stampede’s falling attendance.
Citing the fact that only a small percentage of people attending the Calgary Stampede go for the rodeo events, Fricker states:
Maybe people are getting tired of the western heritage hype or maybe people in the 21st century think it’s about time we stopped tormenting animals for entertainment.
There are many more interesting facts on the Calgary Stampede and its history in Mr. Fricker’s article. Sadly it is no longer available so glad we have the above. —Ed.
A cowboy and his horse kick up dust out on the range. Photo Credit: PictureNix.com.