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article imageOp-Ed: Is it time to ban chuckwagon racing?

By Darren Weir     Jul 13, 2012 in Sports
Calgary - There are more calls to ban chuckwagon races after yet another crash at the Calgary Stampede. This time three horses were killed and one was injured.
The driver and the outrider were not injured in yesterday's crash, and fans of the "sport" say it's simply an unfortunate aspect of racing. But how many animals have to die before authorities step in and put an end to this blood sport. The CBC has posted video online of the race and the accident.
Since 1986 more than 50 horses have died and many more have been injured. One of the worst years at the Calgary Stampede was 2010 when six horses died, four during the chuckwagon races, and another 40 animals were injured, prompting animal rights groups to demand an end to rodeos. And yet the toll continues to climb.
Pete Fricker from the Vancouver Humane Society tells The Globe and Mail, the combination of speed, tight turns and the close proximity of the wagons makes the races particularly dangerous. “If they can prove they can overcome all of those issues, then we wouldn’t have the same concern.” “We just think it’s wrong to subject animals to abuse for entertainment.”
The Globe and Mail says the issue is gaining international attention. The British organization, League Against Cruel Sports has called on the Canadian government to end "the immense cruelty" in rodeos and is lobbying British travel agencies to refuse to offer vacation packages to the Stampede. 50 Members of the British House of Commons also supported a motion telling Canada to improve the way animals are treated at the rodeo. PETA's Ashley Byrne tells the Montreal Gazette, “Animals are put in situations where they are certain to be injured whether mistreated or seen as expendable.”
Rodeo supporters say the animals are well treated and the horses are like members of the team's family. Rookie driver John Walters tells Metro News, “It’s very emotional. We had one that we lost with a heart failure two hours after the race last year.” “As a family you sit there and cry. They’re family to us right? They’re our children." I wonder if he would send his children out to take part in a sport where they might not come back alive. The horses though don't have a say, they don't have the chance to say "no."
So what is being done about it? Last year the stampede brought in some new rules like reducing the number of outriders from four to two, to cut down on the crowded field. Veterinarians are also required to check all horses before they can compete and must have mandatory "days off." And this year, the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, studies are being done on the amount of stress the animals are being put through. University of Calgary veterinary professor Renaud Léguillette and his research team is putting electrodes on two teams of horses taking part in the chuckwagon event. A box with a Bluetooth transmitter is attached to each harness and linked to a cellphone in the wagon. The data collected is sent back to a computer to show the animal's speed, electrical activity of the heart and the heart rate before, during and after races. They are also checking blood samples before and after the races for electrolyte levels and lactic acid. Leguillette tells Metro News he thought up the idea to monitor the horses after watching some suffer heart attacks at the Stampede. "When I saw that, I thought there must be something we can do for these horses and the first thing to do is to try to understand if there are some risk factors and to see why it could happen and then try to give recommendations to prevent that."
But Fricker, from the Vancouver Humane Society, tells the Montreal Gazette, “Clearly the Stampede’s much publicized safety improvements have failed to make the race any safer.” “The Stampede has run out of excuses. Now is the time to take real action to stop these horses from dying.”
If more than 50 athletes in any sport died, you can bet the authorities would step in and put an end to it, or at least demand a complete overhaul, in order to improve the safety for those taking part.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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