The rodeo world is worried about the future of the Calgary Stampede this summer and many are wondering how the pandemic will impact their sport.
Last week, the Calgary Stampede temporarily laid off 80 per cent of its staff — 890 people — due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not yet known if the event will go ahead in July.
“With the recent restrictions of mass gatherings as a result of COVID-19, the Calgary Stampede is currently facing an unprecedented halt in activity. To that end, we have made significant temporary staff reductions and are working through this with all of our employees,” the organization said in an emailed statement March 17.
Kelly Sutherland, a longtime chuckwagon driver who is now retired, says those competing in rodeos are in uncharted territory like everyone else.
“They’re on hold mode right now and they’re hoping that there will be a full season, but they’re unsure what will happen,” he told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.
He says that it’s also uncertain if other rodeos, like Grande Prairie and Ponoka, will also go ahead.
“I think they should have some answers in the next couple weeks to formulate the season, but routinely the training starts around the first part of April,” he said.
“They have a number of major stops to make and some start in May, so they need to have some decisions made. Otherwise, the costs are going to be crippling.”
He says for chuckwagon drivers they have invested $30,000 to $40,000 in their animals and will have training, farrier and veterinarian expenses in the coming weeks.
“That’s going to be a hit alone and I don’t think there has been any financial margins left in this sport except for maybe 10 per cent of the individuals winning more than their share, like I did, or have extraordinary sponsorships,” he said.
Sutherland, who won 12 Rangeland Derby trophies, says until the drivers get direction, there’s no sense in putting money into the sport if there’s nowhere to race. As well, he suspects some will leave rodeos altogether.
The chuckwagon driver says 60 to 80 per cent of seats at the Calgary Stampede are bought by tourists from around the globe.
“I doubt we will see a lot of travel this year. Everyone is upside down.… That poses a huge problem on the revenue side,” said Sutherland.
Let all rodeo end. They are hideously cruel and deadly to horses and all the animals they use.
The number of fatalities vary because numbers are rarely revealed to the public. However, it is generally accepted that since 1986, approximately 75 horses have been killed in the Calgary Stampede.
Last year, the CBC reported that the 2019 Calgary Stampede tied as the 2nd deadliest year for chuckwagon horses, and that the total number of animal deaths at rodeo and chuckwagon races have topped 100 since 1986. At the top of the per kills per year list is 1986 when 12 horses were killed.
“Has a horse go down” the caption says. That’s rich. You cannot go down any lower than being dead. These people defy belief.
Please also bear in mind there are fatalities that no one hears about, such as horses dropping dead after an event, or found dead in the their stalls the following morning from Stampede related injuries.
And there is this. There are literally thousands of animals used behind the scenes to perfect the “cowboy” rodeo skills. The figures mentioned herein do NOT include horses who have been injured or killed in practice or training.
Alas, horse killing does not begin and end in competition.
Some horses die before they even make it to the Stampede. Nine rodeo horses died after they became spooked while crossing a bridge in 2005.
Injured horses or horses who are no longer competition are sent to slaughter.
NOTE: We have been challenged by these folks for our “constant use of the word killed instead of died”. Saying a horse “died” following an abusive situation makes it sound like it was the horse’s fault instead of the abuser’s. If you abuse a horse in the conduct of any activity and that horse dies, you killed that horse.
If you have never seen one of these races check out these excerpts. In the meantime, how does anyone stand there and say horse safety is a priority with a straight face? Trying to “save face” and not doing a very good job of it. Watch.
Animal rights activists in New York have staged four protests at the Manhattan home of Madison Square Garden president Andrew Lustgarten, demanding that he cancel a rodeo scheduled for June 2020. The ongoing protests are being organized by Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund (ACEF) and NYCLASS, animal rights organizations based in New York.
During the protest, Janet Enoch, Investigator of Showing Animals Kindness & Respect (SHARK), an organization that has been exposing rodeo cruelty for three decades, told bystanders why the rodeo is cruel:
“Rodeos shock the animals to make them buck and appear wild. Rodeo contestants rake horses and bulls with spurs causing internal hemorrhaging. Rodeos use the buck strap which causes abdominal pain. In an effort to get the buck strap off, horses sometimes crash into walls often causing injury or death. Animals should not be tortured for human entertainment.”
For decades, for most of the animals involved, being bought and used for rodeos it is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. Animal injuries and deaths are routine, on-site veterinary care all too rare.
Canada has the notorious Champion Stampede. Yet, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) outlawed rodeos back in 1934. N. America needs to catch up.
So. what do you think? Cruel? Or good family fun? Speaking of which, rodeos teaches kids that it’s alright to brutally abuse animals to the point of serious injury or even death. The ones who survive, if you can call it that? Well, we’ve already told you the answer to that.
Care to send Lustgarten a message? You can’t tweet him @alustgarten; his account is private. Suppose that’s why they showed up on his doorstep.
You will recognize the group NYCLASS. They are trying to shut down the carriage horse business in New York City too.
Featured Image: An angry neighbor attempts to enter Andrew Lustgarten’s building to complain about the noisy protest going on outside against rodeos being held at Madison Square Garden.
Video footage apparently showing cowboys breaking the law by using electric prods twice on horses during last May’s Rowell Ranch Rodeo has prompted Hayward area park district officials to fine the company behind the event.
Paul McCreary, the district’s general manager, said in a Dec. 9 letter to the Flying U Rodeo Company that two public complaints were received, saying livestock handlers used an electric prod on two different horses during the annual rodeo.
The complaints included video footage posted on YouTube. McCreary included links to the videos in the letter.
“The video confirms the electric prod was used at least twice during the rodeo,” McCreary said. “In both instances, the horses were in the chute and the gate was open when the electric prod was used. The prod was used on the horses in the shoulder area. However, there is no evidence supporting the requirement that the participants or spectators needed protection from either horse.”
The district issued an infraction for two violations with a fine of $500 for the first one and $1,500 for the second.
A representative of the Flying U Rodeo Company was not available for comment. The company, based in Marysville, has until Dec. 31 to appeal.
Under state law, an electric prod or similar device cannot be used in the holding chute, unless it’s necessary to protect participants or rodeo spectators. Fines can be as high as $5,000 for a second or subsequent violation.
“The current fine of only $2,000 for continued violations seems awfully lenient to me,” Eric Mills, coordinator for Oakland’s Action for Animals, said in an email. “Dollars to doughnuts the violations have occurred every year, but (they) were not filmed.”
In Defense of Animals concur with the above report. Here is their description of what occurred:
A horse stood helplessly immobilized in a cage with a man on the horse’s back while cowboys punched their equine victim in the head and mouth at the May, 2019 Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Alameda County, California. They had already pummeled several other horses that day, but when this particular horse didn’t fight back against the vicious beating which failed to produce the desired effect of unnatural bucking, the cowboys moved on to their most reliable form of torture: pumping thousands of volts of electricity into the horse’s neck.
A video filmed by Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) shows men on the attack: yanking on one of the ears and landing kicks in the belly with long spurs while the terrified horse stood frozen to the spot. After being repeatedly slapped in the face, the poor horse lunges forward in pain after a brutal burst of electricity is applied to the neck.
In California, shocking horses at rodeos in not just appallingly cruel, it’s also been made explicitly illegal. California Penal Code Sec. 596.7(e):
“The rodeo management shall ensure that no electric prod or similar device is used on any animal once the animal is in the holding chute, unless necessary to protect the participants and spectators of the rodeo.”
Additionally, electric prod manufacturers have spoken out against the practice, stating that “Any use [of the electric prod] for entertainment purposes is not something we support or condone.”
Rowell Ranch Rodeo had a chance to agree to comply with the law concerning electric prods last year. Instead they chose to ignore it.
The East Bay Times reporting on the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District board meeting held March 1, 2018, in Hayward, California, which was attended by animal rights activists and rodeo participants, wrote:
Despite animal rights activists’ latest efforts to rid wild cow milking and mutton busting from Hayward’s Rowell Ranch Rodeo, the events can continue.
The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District board voted 4-1 on March 1 to include the events, as well as the use of electric prods on horses at the rodeo, in its Animal Welfare Policy for rodeos. Mutton busting — which consists of children riding sheep — was not previously addressed in the policy.
“. . . as well as the use of electric prods on horses at the rodeo, . . .” What? The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District board have absolutely no right or legal standing to ignore or override existing law.
Please call and email the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and request that law enforcement handle this incident with the seriousness it deserves by investigating and prosecuting individuals shocking horses in violation of California Penal Code Sec. 596.7(e).
“Please investigate and prosecute those responsible for shocking a horse in the chute during the Rowell Ranch Rodeo on May 19, 2019. California Penal Code Section 596.7(e), specifically lists shocking horses in the chute as a violation. Rowell Ranch Rodeo management must be held accountable under this statute. Additionally, the individual who shocked the horses should be prosecuted for animal cruelty under California Penal Code Section 597.”
It has been called “The Deadliest Horse Race in the World”.
Each year in mid summer, a small town in Eastern Washington State, called Omak, proudly promotes an event named “The World Famous Suicide Race,” considered the marquee event at the four-day Omak Stampede rodeo.
Omak straddles the border of the Colville Reservation, home of almost every racer, horse owner, and trainer.
Town officials claim this event (created as a draw for the town’s annual rodeo) is a celebration of history and tradition. In reality, it’s murder on horses. The race seriously injures and kills horses.
Over a span of four days and nights, riders repeatedly run their horses off Suicide Hill with a 120-foot galloping start. At breakneck speed, the horses then meet the Okanogan River. Entry into the river is narrow, causing bottlenecks and horrendous multiple-horse spills. Horse and rider then face a treacherous and often panicked swim about the length of a football field to reach the other side. The final grueling sprint is a 500-foot uphill climb to the finish line.
Always the second weekend in August, each race awards five points to the first-place finisher, four to the second, and so on; the overall winner clinches the King of the Hill title on Sunday.
FIRST LEG — DOWNHILL DEATH DROP
Anyone who has ever watched a Western movie will have noticed that when a horse is asked by his rider to carry him down a steep decline, even in hot pursuit, how carefully the horse proceeds, measuring every step.
After a galloping start in the Omak Suicide Race, horses are whipped to make them “charge” down “Suicide Hill” an almost complete vertical drop of approximately 225 feet at a 62 degree angle, much like a steep staircase.
Studies carried out regarding equine vision show that because of the position of the horse’s eyes, which are set wide apart on either side of the head, there is blind spot directly in front of the forehead. Researchers believe that this “blind field” is the width of the horse.
This means when a horse is catapulted down a sharp decline such as “Suicide Hill” he cannot judge where to land his feet and will not realize where the ground is until it comes rushing up beneath him. Horses are also known to lose their footing and somersault head over heel down the hill.
Since he cannot see the horses ahead of him he may crash into them. Others trip over or collide with falling horses.
The numerous any injuries that occur in pile ups on Suicide Hill are the leading cause of death in the Omak Suicide Race. These include a broken leg, fractured knee, fractured pelvis, broken shoulder, and heart attacks from overexertion. It is also a mentally terrifying experience for the horse.
The above are not only expected in the Omak Suicide Race, but also heralded as part of the excitement.
SECOND LEG — THE SWIM
At the bottom of the downhill death dash, the horses who have survived the first leg are immediately faced with the rocky Okanogan River and a frenzied swim across it.
Horses who have already sustained injuries, panic or get caught up in the reins, and drown. Some horses land in the rocky waters sideways having lost their balance and direction, and in an attempt to right themselves so they can swim, wrench their necks and backs, sustaining further trauma.
Horses are not natural swimmers and tend to panic temporarily when they cannot immediately feel the ground beneath them.
When horses swim they will employ a trotting motion and “a breathing pattern characterized by brief inspiration and prolonged expiration.” The difficulty in breathing when swimming is probably due to the pressure applied to the chest and abdomen of the horse by the water and the fact that the horse does not have the rhythm of body and abdominal movements that serve to help the breathing process” when he is on land.
“[It] should be noted that swimming also results in relatively high blood pressures compared with galloping and that some horses have experienced nose bleeding after bout(s) of swimming. As such, swimming is not recommended for horses with respiratory disease and it is also contraindicated in horses with back injuries.”
Because there is no support from the ground and there is little or no resistance from the water, the amount of energy required to move forward in the water is significantly greater than that required to move forward on land. It takes approximately four complete swimming strokes to cover the same distance as one galloping stride on land. Based on this approximately 500 yards is about equal to a one mile gallop.
As stated before, notwithstanding the physical dangers, the experience is mentally harrowing for the horse.
THIRD AND FINAL LEG — THE UPHILL SPRINT
Already terrified, exhausted and possibly injured, the horses face the third and final leg of the Omak Suicide Race which is a punishing and backbreaking uphill sprint.
When a horse’s gait quickens to a gallop, his breathing is linked to the rhythm of his hoof beats. During high-intensity exercise, this rhythmic breathing lowers oxygen intake, producing a buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration, causing fatigue and cramping, much like when a human athlete gets a “stitch.”
To bring the body back to normal, CO2 moves to the bloodstream and is expelled from the lungs. Lactic acid is neutralized in various organs, including muscles. With continuous overexertion, the recovery process is disturbed. In this situation, acid buildup, called acidosis, further reduces oxygen flow to the muscles, creating long-lasting fatigue — and [permanent] muscle damage.
The Omak Suicide Race takes place in four heats over four days.
Like humans, horses are imprinted with every experience they have encountered since birth. They are highly sensitive, instinctual animals, and much like us, think about not only what they have been through but also about what they may be about to endure.
Horses have sharper and broader hearing ranges than humans. Loud noises are painful to a horse’s ears. Their sense of smell is also acute. Horses sense or “smell” the fear in other horses, which further perpetuates their own.
Their sensitivity to sound and smells is why they become hard to handle when they are subjected to surroundings and activities they are unaccustomed to and receiving conflicting messages from their senses. The tumult of such an occasion as the Omak Suicide Race must be an assault on their senses that is debilitating and petrifying.
MARKETING GIMMICK OR TRADITION?
First run in 1935, the Suicide Race was the brainchild of Claire Pentz, publicity chairman for the Stampede, after failing to attract big crowds with boxing, trained zebras and stock car racing.
Stampede organizers currently contend that the Suicide Race has roots in Native American tradition and claim it is a customary rite-of-passage, but as you just read, an Anglo conceived the race as a publicity stunt.
The race wasn’t the only thing “created” by white man; the very invention of a Colville Tribes unit is recent.
The races that used to occur among Native tribes of the area were longer-distance, cross-country races on horses bred to thrive on the hard, rocky, desert terrain of Eastern Washington. This is not comparable to flinging a long-legged thoroughbred or quarter horse down a 62-degree slope in the dark of night.
A native rite-of-passage traditionally refers to a ritual or ceremony indicating the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Historically, Suicide Race rider’s ages range from 18 to well into the 30’s. Many have ridden in the race year after year seeking cash and popularity, not cultural fulfillment.
Animals 24-7 report that at least two horses died in the 2018 Omak Suicide race, bringing the known toll since 1983 to 25, “with many more suspected but undocumented”, and no record existing of injuries and deaths from the first “Suicide Race” in 1935 through 1982.
IT JUST WON’T STOP
PeTA has run letter-writing campaigns. HSUS has documented it but unable to accomplish anything past that. That was dangerous enough.
In 1993, the Northwest’s PAWS, or Progressive Animal Welfare Society, tried a more robust tactic, filing a lawsuit that alleged organizers harm horses for profit, but a Superior Court judge threw out the case. In 1996, a PAWS member sued the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office and the rodeo for roughing him up when he videotaped a horse being euthanized; the suit settled for $64,500.
From 2005 to 2009 The Horse Fund ran a campaign to end the Omak Suicide Race, initially focusing on its sponsors. When they went away, Omak got more. Our investigators were harassed, hotel rooms broken into and trashed. Mrs. Farrell received numerous death threats, all which were reported. Not a single law enforcement agency took it seriously — or took any action.
That was then. This is now. Social media has revolutionized advocacy. There have also been changes (for the better) in the law. We are prepared to take this on once again. And we will win — for the horses.
WHAT ABOUT TRADITION?
No caring society subjects another living being to such blatant cruelty and death in the name of culture or entertainment.
There comes a time when we as a people must move forward, and leave behind those acts and events unacceptable in a civilized society, regardless of how steeped in tradition. In this case the tradition so-called is manufactured tradition and means nothing to anyone at all.
Horses forced to take part in the Omak Stampede’s Suicide Race suffer enormous physical pain and suffering by way of broken bones, irreparable tendon damage from falls and collisions, and long-term muscle damage from overexertion. “Suicide horses” die from broken necks, strokes, heart attacks and gruesomely by drowning.
These horses do not participate willingly. It is not their intention to suffer. It is not their intention to die.