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Four Horses Killed in 2015 Chuckwagon Races
 By Winniefield Park   •   26th Jul 2015   •   2,117 views   •   0 comments
Four Horses Killed in 2015 Chuckwagon Races

As I write this the Calgary Stampede is in full swing. A few days after it began, a horse was killed during a chuckwagon race. It was an unfortunate occurrence but the injury was not something unusual for race horses. Chuckwagon racing is very exciting for spectators as it provides lots of action and plenty of spills. After four horses have died however, the public may be souring and there is more criticism of the event than ever.

Chuckwagon racing has a long history that may have started, as many rodeo events have, with impromptu races amongst chuckwagon drivers. Chuckwagons were covered wagons that carried the food to sustain cowboys on long cattle drives and were much larger, and full of provisions and cooking equipment than the wagons used in modern competition. It debuted as a sport at the Calgary Stampede in the early 1920s.

There are few vestiges of the original wagonís roots however. At the start of the half mile race, one of two outriders must throw tentpoles and a barrel that represents a cookstove into the wagon. as the driver steers the wagon in a figure eight. This must be completed before they head onto the track. The outriders must finish the race mounted, accompanying the wagon pulled by a team of four horses. Points are lost if the equipment is not loaded, knocking over a barrel marking the route, or an outrider finishes too far behind the wagon.

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In the beginning, any horse was used to pull a chuckwagon, but as the sport grew more competitive, faster horses were needed, and most chuckwagons are now pulled by Thoroughbreds. The speed as turned this into a high risk sport as multiple teams of Thoroughbreds, and mounted riders can quickly turn into a dangerous melee. At this yearís stampede, four horses were killed in the races. Two horses had to be euthanized due to irreparable suspensory ligament damage. Two suffered broken legs. One of the horses was a three year old.

This isnít a track record the Stampede organizers can be proud of, and it isnít the first time incidents like this have happened. Chuckwagon racing has been repeatedly criticized for endangering both horse and human participants. In 2011, the Stampede enforced new rules that reduced the number of outriders from four to two, track horse soundness and prevent them from being overused. This was in response to the six horse deaths that occurred at the previous Stampede.

The recent horse deaths seem to indicate the rule changes have done little to make chuckwagon racing safer for humans or horses. The risk continues and the public is starting to notice. A Care2 petition claims that there have been fifty horse deaths over the last twenty years and is calling for an end to the races. This echoes what many animal activists have been hoping for. The Vancouver Humane Society has petitioned the CBC, Canadaís national broadcaster to stop televising the Stampede. VHS claims that not only are the chuckwagon races inhumane, but calf roping and many other rodeo events exploit and injure animals needlessly. It claims clever camera angles and editing hide the brutal truth from viewers. There are those of course who donít want rodeo events to be safer, they want them stopped altogether.

So what do you think? Should race organizers continue to modify rules or given the nature of the race, is there just too much risk? What do you think of other rodeo events? And, what do you think of these deaths in comparison to the injuries and deaths that occur in other horse sports?
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