Over the last summer, the animal ethicality of chuckwagon races has been highly controversial. I have read many posts with different opinions on this subject. While some believe the sport is cruel, they fail to look into the situation. I am passionate about the welfare of animals, and desire to be a veterinarian; however, in these circumstances, nothing is black and white. I hope to shed some light on chuckwagon races and the benefits to the animals involved.
To introduce the subject at hand, and why it has become controversial, I would like to give you the facts. Since 1986, 68 chuckwagon horses have died at the Calgary Stampede, six of which were during the 2019 tour of the Western and
World Professional Chuckwagons (2019 Calgary Stampede ties as 2nd Deadliest Year for Chuckwagon Horses, 2019). Veteran chuckwagon driver, Chad Harden’s wagon, got in the way of Danny Rinquette, which caused Evan Salmond’s lead horse to crash into the guard rail (Gilligan, 2019). Over the years, the Calgary Stampede has continued to implement new safety procedures when needed. Because of a zero-tolerance policy for preventable accidents and injuries, Chad Harden was fined $10,000 and faces a possible lifetime ban (Gilligan, 2019).
To become an unprejudiced veterinarian, I must be experienced with a variety of species, and we informed on controversial topics concerning animal welfare. This last summer, I worked with one of the top racers on the World Professional Chuckwagon Association circuit. When I arrived on the ranch, employees were told that these horses were their family and could never be replaced. His team included 50+ horses, all of which were ex-racehorses from both Canada and the United States. Generally, racehorses start their career around the age of two and last for only two to three years before they must retire from the racing industry. Horses with an outstanding lineage are used for breeding; however, the future for most of the horses is questionable. While it varies every year, according to data compiled by the ASPCA, in 2006 more than 104,000 American ex-racehorses were slaughtered in 2006. This does not include all American ex-racehorses that are slaughtered. Between 2012 and 2016, 137,000 were shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. About 60% were less than eight years old (Horse Slaughter, n.d.). While some ex-racehorses are rehomed for other equestrian purposes, thoroughbred horses are high-spirited, and born to run; therefore, they are not a suitable breed for everyone. Chuckwagon racing enables many of these horses to continue their love for running while being given a second chance at life.
Being able to experience first-hand the care these animal athletes receive was an incredible experience. Before the horses are brought into the barn, two weeks before the circuit begins, they are kept in large paddocks with partners. Daily, they had fresh hay, grain, water, and salt. For the horses to be as comfortable as possible, their feet where shod and teeth were floated whenever needed. At the beginning of the training season, the horses that I worked with were administered a small dose of Phenylbutazone (Bute), a non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drug that reduces the inflammation in muscle tissue. For these animal athletes before a competition and after a long rest period, Bute is used to prevent damage to muscles that are strained and inflamed. (On the Record: Deciphering Pre-Race Vet Treatments, 2014). Before competitions, animal athletes are subject to random drug testing. During the afternoons, each horse was groomed and examined for injuries, swelling or lameness before being exercised. To increase their cardio, horses where run on a well-harrowed track at 30 km/hour, for approximately six to eight km. Because Thoroughbreds are born to run, this is usually a slow speed for they normally sprint around 50 to 70 km/hr.
When thoroughbreds run, they put their whole heart into it; however, the adrenalin caused during racing can result in heart attacks. The Calgary Stampede released statistics stating that the chance of a chuckwagon horse dying during races is 0.26%. Since the majority of chuckwagon horses are saved from slaughter, if the sport of chuckwagon racing disappeared, the horses’ chance of death would rise to 90%. (Charest, 2019).
I believe that as a veterinarian, I can better educate people on controversial animal welfare topics, such as chuckwagon racing, and how to prevent hazards in animal sports. While chuckwagon racing tries to avoid these hazards and accidents already, many of the horses euthanized on the track occur after a severe leg injury. To repair a fractured or broken bone costs more money and time than most drivers are capable of spending on a horse. After more education, and hopefully finishing veterinarian school, I would love to research cost-effective and innovative ways to rehabilitate thoroughbreds after leg injuries.
Chuckwagon racing gives many horses a second chance. Banning animal sports, such as chuckwagon racing, will not solve the problems of animal welfare. In my opinion, we can genuinely help these animals by establishing safety procedures when new hazards appear, and hopefully, provide ways to rehabilitate animals with fixable injuries. In the end, there is a purpose for animal sports, and there is a genuine connection between human and animal athletes.
Submitted by GPRC Student Ambassador, Heidi Benson
- Charest, A. (2019, July 15). Corbella: Rodeo animals love what they do and wouldn’t exist otherwise. Retrieved from https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/corbella-rodeo-animals-love-what-they-do-and-wouldnt-exist-otherwise
- Gilligan, M. (2019, July 16). Chuckwagon driver fined, disqualified after 3rd horse death at Calgary Stampede. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/5487060/horses-crash-calgary-stampede-chuckwagon/
- (2019, July 15). 2019 Calgary Stampede ties as 2nd deadliest year for chuckwagon horses | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-stampede-animal-horse-deaths-total-1.5212439
- (2014, August 2). On the Record: Deciphering Pre-Race Vet Treatments – Horse Racing News: Paulick Report. Retrieved from https://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/on-the-record-deciphering-pre-race-vet-treatments/
- (n.d.). Horse Slaughter. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/horse-slaughter