16 July 2010

Rodeo: Should some events be banned?

With two days still to go, six horses have already been killed at the Calgary Stampede. The highest number of deaths has been immediately following the Chuckwagon Races. Rodeo animals meet sudden death at the Stampede every year, which since 1912 has been one of Canada’s top sporting attractions.

This year, the animal welfare lobby is better organized and has received support from some groups in the UK. The League Against Cruel Sports, which helped ban fox hunting in the UK in 2004, has persuaded more than 50 members of Britain’s Parliament to sign a motion condemning rodeo and calling on the Canadian government to take steps to stop the “immense cruelty” of events like the Calgary Stampede. Rodeo has been banned in Britain since 1934.

Although some would like to see rodeo banned altogether, it is calf roping and steer wrestling that come in for the most criticism. In both events, the animal’s neck is twisted and wrenched in unnatural ways, with cowboys competing against the clock. These events are now banned at the Cloverdale Rodeo in British Columbia, another of Canada’s top rodeos. But in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the prairie provinces, they are still very much alive. At the Raymond Stampede in Alberta, Canada’s oldest rodeo, steer wrestling (photograph above) and calf roping are two of the main events.

Rodeo authorities are not insensitive to animal welfare concerns and insist that safety is paramount for participants, including the animals, and spectators. And nobody loves and understands horses and cattle more than ranchers and farmers who supply many of the rodeo cowboys, cowgirls and animals. But the rural-urban divide is growing and the closest many city-folk have been to an animal is their pet cat, dog or budgerigar. Animal welfare groups will therefore have an increasingly important role to play as these issues receive national and international attention.

In North America, issues over rodeo go far beyond animal welfare and the urban-rural divide. The cultural heritage of the West is involved.

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