What’s The Beef With The Calgary Stampede?

Calf Roping

So recently feathers have been ruffled people have been causing a ruckus around an ad attempted to be published in the two major Calgary papers. The ad, produced by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS), depicts a competing cowboy calf-roping a calf as a bully/baby relationship.

Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society on Monday:

We think the calf roping is one of the cruelest of rodeo events. We felt that there wasn’t any other major animal protection group taking on that issue at the stampede.

Obviously, whats good for the goose must be good for the gander he has some hangups.

One may wonder why the Vancouver Humane Society is the one doing the protesting. Are the Calgary Human Society volunteers to busy working in their oil rigs and churches to care about a poor defenseless animal? VHS must have thought so: they didn’t even contact the CHS before pitching the ad. Actually, the CHS has chosen the high ground and rather than crowing complaining about the issue from a distance, they are actually on the ground involved in the Stampede. Rodeo events at the Stampede are monitored by both the Alberta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the CHS.

The role of livestock and animals central to the theme of the Stampede. The event has persisted for more than 97 years since Guy Weadick produced the first “Frontier Days and Cowboy Championship Contest in 1912”. The idea was and remains to be a celebration of the pioneer spirit that settled the Prairies. Along with the rodeo there are shows and exhibitions such as the World Blacksmithing Championship, petting zoos, milking demos, and live auctions. The Aboriginal Plains People have been a crucial part of the celebration since the Stampede’s 1912 inception and allows us city folk to learn and take part in tipi raising contests, trying bannock, and learning about traditional music and dance. It truly is an event that allows Calgarians and Albertans to be proud as peacocks about their history.

And yet, it is the apparent horrors of the Rodeo that always attract the attention of animal rights activists like moths to a flame.

VHS Attepmted Roping Ad

The events that occur at the Calgary Stampede rodeo and at other rodeos around the world are based off of the daily activities of the ranching pioneer’s who settled the plains (save perhaps bull riding, that started out of boredom). If you are moving a herd of cattle from one grazing area to another and a calf breaks away from the main herd, whats a cowboy to do? Call the SPCA to pick it up for them? No, you rope it, just like they’re doing in the competition.

These events didn’t start out as a competitive event. When Weadick started the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition, it was to exhibit the prairie way of life. There was no professional rodeos, just local joes who came out to meet, have a laugh, and have a go. The historical culture that persists at the Stampede should be celebrated as a part of this nation’s history, just as we still allow various aboriginal Canadians to practice their traditional hunting.

What about the actual animal injuries as a result from tie-down roping? The VHS claims that “Calves roped while running routinely have their necks snapped back by the lasso, often resulting in neck injuries.” They are all hat and no cattle. In reality, injuries are incredibly rare. A report done by the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association (NZRCA) and the National Animal Welfare Advosry Committee (NZ) states:

The NZRCA has collected statistics over the last 20 years and reports that there is a very low level of injuries. Injuries are probably overestimated since any sort of injury from a small laceration to a fractured limb or death are recorded. In the period January 1999-Feburary 2000, injuries recorded by veterinarians, from trucking and yarding associated with rodeos, as well as those related to the events, numbered 42 out of 5527 animals (0.76%). Calf roping accounted for 4 of those injuries (out of 646 calves) and one calf was euthanased. Reports from the USA also indicate that there are few injuries associated with the modern rodeo. For example, one minor injury out of 915 calfroping runs (August-September 1994), 15 injuries from 27,767 animal runs at 19 rodeos (1998-1999) and 15 injuries from 26,584 animal runs at 21 rodeos (1998-2000).

Full report here.

That’s far fewer injuries than you would expect sending your kid out to play little league soccer.

The animal rights debate will resurface at every Stampede, and it should. It is important to make sure that we are keeping watch of our practices and treating the livestock well. But lets get real here: the Malibu princesses walking around with a little dog inside their purses are being just as cruel as the cowboys at a rodeo. These activists, although well intentioned, are making a mountain out of a molehill overreacting.

We wouldn’t want to celebrate the role that animals have had in our society and history would we?

I’ll be watching the Stampede this week, cheering on my favourite roper – Fred Whitfield.

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Geoff is a 5th year student who studying a double major in Integrated Science (Evolutionary ecology, virology) and Political Science. He was the 'Wish' speaker at the 2008 Terry Talks and is passionate about university education, especially when it comes to interdisciplinary experiences. After graduation Geoff wants to find a job that allows him to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and share stories. If your savvy enough you can follow Geoff on Twitter - user: gcosteloe.

15 Responses to “What’s The Beef With The Calgary Stampede?”

  1. J.J.S. Boyce

    I think you’ve rather abused the html in this piece.

    I’m a bit wary of PETA (I’m not a vegetarian nor do I protest against animal research in almost any form), but I hardly think the Humane Society are radical activists. This is a group that shuts down puppy mills, and shelters homeless animals. They’re humanitarian first, political second.

    The immediately dismissive tone you use in this piece suggests to me that you are so far on the opposite end of the spectrum that you can’t even see the point they may be making. Kudos for providing data, but I suspect this may have been the result of selective Googling to support an argument ad hoc.

  2. J.J.S. Boyce

    That is, the STRIKE command html in this piece. I didn’t actually intend to strike my own words.

  3. Geoff Costeloe

    Thanks for the comments J.J.
    You are right. I didn’t give credit where credit is due to the VHS. They are doing a lot of good work with animals around the Vancouver area. I wasn’t intending to write off all the work that they do. My comments were made solely in regards to their comments made about the Stampede.

    When I was doing some of my research though I learned that there is also quite a distinction to be made between the VHS and the BCSPCA. Both groups are doing good things for animal welfare but fresearch VHS is much more of an activist/lobbying group, while BCSPCA does the shutting down of puppy mills and finding homes for abandonded animals. I might be wrong but thats how I read into it.

  4. Debra Probert

    Geoff, you are incorrect on a number of items. Firstly, VHS did contact the Calgary Humane Society. After our first discussion, they said they’d get back to us, and we did not hear from them again, despite repeated and varied attempts to contact them.

    Secondly, you are citing injury stats that are provided by….rodeo folks. Many injuries, particularly those to calves, are not visible to the public. They are internal – bruising, internal bleeding, collapsed trachea, etc. These injuries are not reported, since nobody takes note of them. It’s only injuries that are obvious to the public – broken necks, legs and backs, that are reported. Kind of like the fox guarding the henhouse, no??

    Thirdly, the BC SPCA relinquished their role in attending and monitoring the Cloverdale Rodeo because their name was being used (abused) to justify animal cruelty (“We work closely with the BC SPCA. Ergo, everything must be fine.”) Once they did that, there was no humane society for the rodeo to hide behind and public sentiment forced them to drop not just calf-roping, but ALL roping events. That is what we (and probably a lot of the Calgary Humane Society’s supporters) would like to see CHS do – tell the public what they think and why they are there attending animal abuse and acting like it’s business as usual.

    VHS & the BC SPCA proudly work closely together on many issues, rodeo being one of them. The BC SPCA is the most progressive sheltering organization in Canada.
    Debra Probert
    Executive Director
    Vancouver Humane Society

  5. Nick W.

    Chuckwagon racing seems to have a particularly nasty record when it comes to animal deaths and injuries.

  6. Lincoln

    if the calves get injured / killed , what better way to honor them by barbequeing them.

    the cuter they are, the more delicious they taste !


    finger lickin good

  7. MK


    The NZRCA report cited in the above article addresses issues and reflects rodeo practices and safety protocols on the other side of the world. The report’s injury statistics are for New Zealand. Does the Calgary Stampede employ an identical or similar set of practices and do the statistics reported by the NZRCA reflect injury rates here?

    Even better question: are there no similar reports or stats that actually deal with our Stampede? Hmm.

    Tie-down roping: the calf involved weighs over 200 lbs. It’s a pretty big baby, and the rate of injury is low. It’s not zero, however, and injuries, when they happen, are brutal. Any rodeo-related injuries are serious, simply because, where veterinary rehabilitation is even possible, it’s not worth the expense to the animal’s owners. Outside of the big business of breeding and owning animals for entertainment, you don’t have to be an animal-worshipper to abhor the waste.

    On the whole, rodeo animals do have pretty good lives. They work or stress out for a grand few minutes out of the year and get pastured for much of the rest of the time. Still, that in no way negates or mitigates the tragic potential attached to calf roping. It is what it is.

    Frankly, I get the same fix from watching steer-wrestling or cutting horse competitions. A better fix, actually. And even fewer accidents.

    My bigger beef is chuckwagon racing, and I know that’s never going away. Animal-lovers and humane societies aren’t alone in their disapproval of this event, either. A lot of very fine, seasoned horsemen have a jaundiced view of this event, too. The breed of horses used for the teams is not the kind you’ll typically find on a trail ride. Chuckwagon horses are racehorses bred for height, long-legs, and a higher centre of gravity. They are there for speed. Problem is, pulling four chucks through figure eights with four teams of outriders in close quarters and then crowding each other at high speed down a half mile of July mud requires high agility and a different kind of physical stamina. Race horses may give us a faster track but they also give us a higher likelihood of catastrophic accidents involving horses, men, and wagons. All in the name of spectacle and profit, to be frank.

    LIke I said, the chuckwagon races are here to stay. I, for one, would love to see the track slow down and a different, better suited, breed of working western horse substituted on the teams.

  8. Patricia Cameron

    Ms Probert of the Vancouver Humane Society is in error on at least one point – Calgary Humane Society immediately responded to VHS in Spring of 2009, providing them with our official position on animals in entertainment dated July 1991 (the position statement is clear that the Calgary Humane Society is fundamentally opposed to the use of animals in any form of entertainment that poses a threat of stress, injury or death). Calgary Humane indicated to them that we would be approaching the issue with a different set of strategies, including having our Animal Protection officers on site through the whole event. – Patricia Cameron Executive Director Calgary Humane Society.

    for more than 3 decades. Being a sheltering organization, we are also in the community 365 days a year, giving direct service to animals and for animal protection both at the Stampede and in the community.

  9. The Horse in the Garage

    “That’s far fewer injuries than you would expect sending your kid out to play little league soccer.”
    I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about animals. You’ve pointed out an animal injury statistic that is (not surprisingly) mirrored by the PRCA. A very low injury rate. The question is, who cares if they do get injured? Every rodeo video/TV program out there will show animals being tormented for fun. The animals are hardly “athletes”. I’ve never seen a calf practice running at full speed, and then hitting the end of a noose.
    Why on earth would you expect us to treat our animals well, when it’s considered fun to clothesline a young animal at high speed? Sure, it’s useful on a ranch. Watch the Calgary Stanpede’s own video regarding stock handling. Paraphrasing only slightly “You have to work stock slow to be safe”. That’s why rodeo stinks. Instead of using principles of good stockmanship, a time-clock is required. That means the animals are the ones to suffer. And brutal injuries for the fun of it isn’t something I’ll ever enjoy watching.
    I’d prefer the old way of “exhibiting” cattle work. Breakaway roping is another great alternative.
    Rodeo is a continual step backward in animal welfare standards, and it won’t change as long as rodeo standards of “care” are the touchstone for children and the yahoos of the world. I worked for an SPCA. I stopped a child from swinging it’s dog around by the collar. I asked why. The child had seen it done at a rodeo.
    I’d enjoy many of the events at a rodeo, but I will never go, as long as the abuse events continue.
    I grew up in the horse world, am not a vegan. I am not shocked when an animal is humanely slaughtered.
    Rodeo beats the animal up, and then we (eventually) kill it. Hardly a moral standard for any country, is it?

  10. Sk

    Its interesting to see that you state this event is Acceptable because of tradition. As humans we’ve evolved through out the years and things of the past should be left behind. In what way is calf roping at a stampede in anyone’s benefit? Why put an animal in harms way for a few minutes of entertainment for the public. Have we stooped so low that this is our only form of entertainment ? Over the years one would assume that we would become smarter and more environmentally friendly, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Somethings should be left behind and I definitely don’t think show casing animal abuse is entertainment for anyone. This is a red neck event that should be terminated. It’s far too trailer park for anyone’s liking

  11. Sk

    Your biased point of view def makes sense. Your a ” professional calf roper” . Pathetic excuse for a career fred! Sad to see you have children, would think you’d be a little more compassionate towards animals after becoming a father but I guess you can’t reach an old dog new tricks. What a shame! Hopefully your children don’t grow up to Hold any of the same values and morals as you do towards animals !

  12. ruby

    This article is crap. Maybe you should have a look at the real statistics on how many animals actually die EVERY SINGLE YEAR at the stupid Calgary Stampede. If people kept dying, this would have been stopped years ago. Oddly enough people make the decisions for these animals – and the people making these decisions have no brain. This is an outdated, cruel, completely useless event, created to make small men feel big and strong, with their ridiculous cowboy hats. This is 2012 people. Oh, and response to Lincoln – what are you, 15 years old? If you are older than that, I truly feel sorry for you.

  13. Virginia

    What’s with all the stats?? Come on people, ONE injured/deceased animal is too much. I wrote the CHS about the 3 dead horses from this years chuckwagon events and received what I thought was a shocking reply. They take a more “Gandhi” approach to things and don’t want to be confrontational. I say time to step up CHS. While you’re there supervising and making sure the animals have enough water and feed, the Stampede Board is raking in the bucks because you are assisting them in this horrendous abuse. Time to stop all abuse now, no more excuses. There is a world-wide petition on line with over 10,000 signatures demanding that chuckwagon racing and rodeos be banned. I’ve signed, and each signature has been sent to the Stampede Board. Stop this abuse now.

  14. Wendy Fraser

    I’m replying about last night. July 10 th 2017. What’s up with that. 6 heats ran Which is 24 wagons. Then because it started raining. The last 3 heats couldn’t go. What’s up with that. Them wagons have run in worse. How fair is that to the 24 wagons that already ran to take away their time and split the money between all the wagons. Come on. The 3 heats that didn’t run is BS. Now their horses get another days rest. How fair is that. The news says they r trying to make it fair. Hahaha. What a joke. If they would have been running for the 100,000 dollar dash for cash the drivers from the last 3 heats would have been all over that like White on rice. Also if them drivers would have already ran they wouldn’t have been whining ??? Pretty sad

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