Saturday, July 17, 2010

Follow the Money

A little more than a week ago I wondered, with a certain amount of anticipatory dread, how many horses would be mowed down this year at the Stampede. It was never a matter of if, just how many.

Six so far. Mysterious heart attacks, injuries, and one so maddened and stressed that it shattered its own spine with it's convulsions after bucking its rider off.

Terrifyingly, this doesn't even come close to being a really bad year for the Calgary Stampede. In 2005 nine horses leaped off a bridge to their deaths and the peak in recent years was 1986 when twelve animals died.

In an article that otherwise is an exemplar of the 'circle the wagons in support of your subject' school of journalism they usually reserve for the oil patch, the Calgary Herald draws a connection to the Stampede's death toll, unusually high even by the gory standards of professional rodeos, and the prize money pressure to take dangerous risks.

However, some involved in the sport are questioning whether the Stampede's big cash prizes play a role in the injuries and deaths of animals at the competition in Calgary.

Although it's hard to pinpoint why there have been more animal deaths in Calgary, while other rodeo and chuckwagon competitions across the province have been relatively casualty free, one stakeholder suggests competitors feel pressure to succeed with $2 million in prizes up for grabs.

"The guys run hard at every race, but the drivers are really keyed up for Calgary," said Sandy Stafford, chairman of the Guy Weadick Memorial Rodeo in High River.

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