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Jennifer O’Connor, Published July 18 2012

Rodeos kill horses

A horse stumbles, his leg shattered, his life over. Spectators are horrified, but this isn’t a racetrack. It’s Canada’s annual Calgary Stampede, which “celebrated” its 100th anniversary this month. Animals routinely die on the rodeo circuit, but the Stampede’s statistics are particularly grim. Since 1986, 59 animals at the Calgary Stampede have died or been euthanized. Of that number, 51 have been horses.

Animals used in North American rodeos are hit, kicked, spurred, slammed into the ground and goaded into participating in violent displays. It’s difficult to understand the mindset of those who deliberately provoke animals for fun or of those who enjoy watching it.

The deadliest events at the Stampede are the chuckwagon races in which teams of horses pull “pioneer” wagons around a track at breakneck speed. Horses have sustained fractured legs and broken backs and suffered heart attacks. A casual observer of the chuckwagon races can see horses foaming at the mouth and their eyes rolling back in their heads. Yet shockingly, riders vehemently opposed a proposal to tighten the rules in hopes of making the races somewhat less deadly.

In calf-roping, a common event at rodeos across the U.S. and Canada, young calves race desperately out of the chute and often sustain neck and back injuries when the rope yanks them violently to the ground. A flank strap is used in the bucking and bull-riding events, causing the horses and bulls to buck wildly in an effort to rid themselves of the constricting band across their groins. During a July 4 rodeo in St. Paul, two horses suffered serious injuries after crashing into each other. One was euthanized; the fate of the other is unknown.

Horses and cattle used on the rodeo circuit are hauled from one venue to the next with little downtime to rest or recuperate. When too worn-out or broken-down to continue, they aren’t retired to comfortable pastures – they typically get a one-way ticket to the slaughterhouse.

Many horses don’t even make it as far as the fairgrounds. A recent Alberta Views exposé revealed that Stampede officials admit that horses who don’t make the cut to compete are sent to a slaughterhouse in Fort Macleod. Terrified horses will have their throats slit in full view of others awaiting the same bloody fate, and their bodies will be cut up for human consumption in foreign markets. The Stampede’s veterinarian claims that the horses can’t be placed into new homes.

Opposition to the Calgary Stampede crosses the spectrum, from animal advocate Bob Barker, who has called for an end to the carnage, to the Humane Society of Canada, which has called for a boycott. Other animal advocacy groups in Canada and the U.S. have also condemned the deadly spectacle. Yet much like the internationally condemned seal massacre, some Canadians are still clinging to the Stampede, a tradition that should have been retired long ago.

People who care about animal welfare should not support any event that causes so much pain and suffering. Please steer clear of all rodeos.

O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation.