9 horses die during Calgary Stampede drive

At least nine of the Calgary Stampede's rodeo horses have died after getting spooked on a 200-kilometre trail ride and plunging off a bridge.

At least nine Calgary Stampede rodeo horses died Sunday after becoming spooked while galloping across a city bridge. They jumped from the bridge and plunged 10 metres into the Bow River.

Ranch hands had been guiding about 200 horses on a six-day, 206-km journey from the Stampede Ranch near Hanna, Alta., to the exhibition site near Calgary's downtown.

The event was organized to commemorate the province's centennial.

The procession was only a few kilometres from the Stampede grounds on Sunday afternoon when tragedy struck.

Stampede spokesman Lindsey Galloway said some horses became frightened as they crossed a bridge over the Bow River in southeast Calgary. Galloway says the horses sped up to a full gallop as they crossed the bridge.

* Calgary Stampede

"The bridge narrowed, they bunched together, there wasn't enough room and several horses went over," said Galloway.

Some animals were able to scramble to shore or were roped out by the wranglers. Most of the ranch hands were professional wranglers, but there were about 20 "guest" riders who paid $15,000 to take part in the event, including former Ontario premier David Peterson.

Eight of the horses had been pulled dead from the water and another animal had to be put down later because of its injuries, Galloway said.

"These are our star attractions and these are star athletes so they are the kind of animals that are just irreplaceable in the world," said Galloway. "So it's a real loss for the organization."

The chuckwagon driver who was leading the trail ride across the bridge suffered a pulled groin muscle, but no spectators or riders were hurt, officials said.

Called bucking stock, the horses are kept at a stampede ranch outside of Calgary. They're brought to the Stampede site to take part in daily rodeos.

Galloway said that organizers had completed similar drives through the city without incident in 1987 and 2000.

The Calgary Humane Society has launched an investigation.

The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede begins on July 8.