You have to hand it to the public relations masters at the Calgary Stampede organization. They are good at what they do. The stampede has been a lightning rod for animal rights groups trying to cash in (literally) on the stampede image. Right on schedule when the stampede starts, they begin their demonstrations, ads and letter writing in newspapers and general fearmongering to ride on the publicity coattails of the event. The urban media usually plays along with their antics, so it’s become part of the annual donation drive for these groups, the most notorious being the Vancouver Humane Society.
Rather than pick a public fight with the protesters, the stampede PR braintrust decided on a low-key course that focused on improvements to animal welfare and handling for their iconic rodeo and chuckwagon events. That was probably to the annoyance of animal rights groups, who prefer a more public confrontational approach to maximize publicity.
Let’s face it, there isn’t much point in trying to rationalize or justify any event where animals are put in uncomfortable situations where they might be injured or killed. The zealots will always win just by reeling off the casualty and injury statistics. I expect the stampede took the decision years ago to make their events safer and not try to change the past. Because they are the undisputed big gorilla in the North American rodeo and chuckwagon business, they can do what they want and no cowboy organization will criticize them or declare them in violation of the standards. This is a fortunate position for the stampede, because they are able to experiment to make animal events better and safer and then implement any needed changes.
One of the interesting stampede decisions was to require that in the calf-roping event (they prefer to call it tie-down roping to make it sound less ominous I guess) the calf is to remain standing once it has been roped and not jerked back and down to the ground by the roper. From a city-slicker perspective it was that violent jerking action on an innocent, cute calf that was so upsetting to tenderfoot eyes. You could clearly hear the rodeo audience gasp whenever the neck jerk-back action occurred. Clearly this was a negative response, and in the Calgary Stampede’s feel-good promotion business any negative is always bad for their image, hence the change. In the past there has been some experimentation with using a bungee-type rope.
Rodeo calf-roping purists felt the new rule was inconvenient, untraditional and unneeded. That was noted, but everyone knew who would rule the day. As it turned out the contestants were able to cope with the new rule, and best of all, the rodeo audience response was positive in that there was virtually no gasp of empathy for the calf when it was roped. Chalk one up for the stampede. The reality was that if this event could not be changed in a positive manner it may well have been eliminated from the stampede rodeo agenda in the future. You can expect that if this rule is not already in force at other rodeos across the continent, it soon will be.
The stampede also changed some rules for the chuckwagon races; they went from four outriders to two, which reduces congestion at the start of the race where horse collisions and injuries are most likely. They also put ID chips into the horses so that they can be more positively tracked by veterinarians to enforce rest times and observe health conditions. As positive as this ongoing safety trend is, two horses still had to be euthanized this year because of accidents or circumstance.
As one might expect fewer animal injuries and deaths at the stampede is bad news for the animal rights groups. Their fundraising campaigns thrive on more accidents and deaths, the better for donations from traumatized donors. A stretch of no injuries would be disastrous for them, which may be what the stampede intends by accident or design.
Animal rights zealots do stretch their PR campaigns to absurd lengths to get media attention. During the recent visit by the royal couple to the stampede, the zealots along with a compliant British media kept pointing out that rodeo and bull riding was outlawed in England in 1934, therefore Prince William should disassociate himself from the event, which causes one to ponder why would there be a rodeo in England anyway. Clearly it’s not part of its cultural tradition. You don’t hear of any Spanish-style bullfighting events in England either.
Curiously though, England does condone steeplechase-type horse racing, an exhausting type of race rarely seen in North America. In England such races invariably see injury and death to horses and riders alike on an annual basis.
Thereisn’tmuchpointintrying torationalizeorjustifyany eventwhereanimalsareputin uncomfortablesituationswhere theymightbeinjuredorkilled.