Do chuckwagon races amount to 'cruel' abuse or save horses from slaughter? Here's what you said

Is chuckwagon racing a barbaric abuse of animals that should be banned? Or a proud rural tradition that saves horses from the slaughterhouse and provides a comfortable life? CBC readers weigh in.

Some argue horses would otherwise be on dinner plates; others insist races are 'cruel' and audiences complicit

Canadians are debating the merits of the Calgary Stampede's chuckwagon races, with some arguing it's dangerous for horses and others saying the sport helps horses stay alive longer. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Is chuckwagon racing a barbaric abuse of animals that should be banned? Or a proud rural tradition that saves horses from the slaughterhouse and provides a comfortable life?

The death of a horse during the chuckwagon races at the 2019 Calgary Stampede on Thursday — the third in this year's event — has thrown fuel onto the flames of the annual debate around the Stampede's chuckwagon races and rodeo. 

Chuckwagon driver Chad Harden was found to have accidentally got his wagon in the way of another driver on Thursday night, leading to a chain reaction that drove one horse into the guard rails and injured others. The Calgary Stampede took a strong stance, saying Harden was fined $10,000 and disqualified from the rest of the 2019 Stampede and future ones (unless he successfully reapplies for admission). 

Many Canadians jumped into the debate, including thousands of CBC readers. Here's a peek at what some of  you had to say Friday on the story's comments, by email or on CBC Calgary's Facebook posts. (Names used are those associated with the posts.)

We'd love to hear more of your thoughts, including on potential solutions, so please add them in the comments section below or on Facebook.

Anne Edwards: "This is comparable to and just as cruel as bull fighting. It should be either banned or massively revamped with stringent rules surrounding the protection of these magnificent animals."

Julia LeBeau: "​​​​​​Quite unfortunate that our relationship with animals is based upon entertainment in order to generate profit."

Karen Culbert-Kozlowski: "These thoroughbred horses are bred to run and get their start in horse racing. But what do you think happens to the majority of retired race horses? They are slaughtered. Plain and simple.

"Chuckwagon drivers purchase these horses from the track, treat them like family, and give them many more years of doing what they know and love. You have no idea the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep these horses happy and healthy. These horses are not forced to run… it is their blood."

Chad Harden, 2009 Rangeland Derby champion, has been disqualified from the Calgary Stampede after the death of a horse. That means he won't be invited back to compete again. (CBC Sports)

Michelle Scharr: "I worked in a barn for three years. These horses are looked after better than anything or anyone for that fact. We didn't get to eat our meals, shower or sleep 'til the horses were all looked after and tucked in for the night. If it wasn't for the chucks giving these horses a second chance … the horse market and auction markets would be way overpopulated."

Keith Ward: "I am a former rodeo contestant, and still watch and attend the Stampede. I know the care taken in rodeo to prevent animal injury, and how well the bucking horses and stock are looked after in most cases. I won't say all cases because the wild card in any of this is how professional the humans are. I have seen some idiots with hotshots poking cattle in the chutes, etc. But my experience is they are the exception, and any cowboy worth his salt will call them out on it.

"However, I find myself in agreement with a call to ban chuckwagon racing, and all horse racing, in fact. Too many young horses that are not fully developed yet, too many injuries or deaths. Too many discarded racehorses that won't find a quality life after racing. Some do, but most don't. After watching the wreck last night, Harden should be banned from the sport completely. My two cents."

Dawn MacNeill: "Every year we say, 'Wonder how many horses are going to die this year,' so that their owner can be in a race like the ol' cowboys did in the olden days. Quite pathetic really. 'Betcha they'd love to still have gunfights and showdowns and duels. Sad for the animals, very sad."

Mark Petersen: "You people have zero understanding how it hurts the farmer/rancher when their animals die and not just in the pocketbook but with years of care and shoveling and training and feeding and attention. They have everything invested in their animals. You try it."

Arien Packnoski: Isn't traditionalism just damaging to human society? Change where change is needed. Slavery…. The Stampede…. Religion….

Ray Wangen: "I grew up around rodeo and can understand the arguments for and against — but there is no reasonable argument for the chucks. I've been calling for them to be banned for years. There is no possible way to make a race that includes 32 horses, 20 people, four hitches and high speed safe — none. As a horseman myself, this race absolutely disgusts me."

Don Rausch: "All of these chuckwagon horses are rescued from having to go to Fort Macleod and then to dinner tables" [referring to Alberta's horse meat industry].

Taylor Godspeed: "Sad that there are people so eager to ban a cultural event they don't understand."

Melanie Ross: "It's not just about entertainment. It's heritage. It's tradition. It's family. Many of those drivers support local charities funding dozens of things like the food bank, etc. You talk like they do it for pure, sick pleasure. Not the case. These men and women who do this aren't monsters. Chucks are steeped in tradition and family values. It's tragic, for sure. However, making this out to be barbaric, etc., is overstepping."

Ferrier Nolan Cameron shoes a chuckwagon horse in the barns at the 2019 Calgary Stampede. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Donna Linn: "I love the rodeo events but this is a dangerous, dangerous sport. And unfortunately the animals don't get a say in their participation."

Kim Pike: "Put an end to all sports then. All horse racing, including jumpers, sled dog races, dog agility races. What about sports that kill humans, like car races? Or are humans that much less value?"

Suki McNally: "This is inhumane and as much of a sport as bear baiting. Time to end it."

Shawn Strachan: "I have trained, and now a breeder of thoroughbred horses. They are beautiful animals and bred for speed and endurance. The problem with the chuckwagons is the horses come from the race track. So horses that can't make it or have injuries sustained in racing — this is mostly due to racing horses as two-year-olds, prior to them being fully developed — I would guess a lot of the horses do have previous injuries, so [are] more prone to further injury.

"When a horse is harnessed with others, they are unable to stop the momentum. If they are re-injured, [that's] further injury that could result in having to be put down. The driver may say 'their horses are like their children' but as long as there is money and status on the line, that trumps everything. It's a business."

Renee Titterton: "Three dead horses already? Sorry, but I can't approve of this type of 'entertainment.' I am a 'horse person' … not a member of PETA, just a regular Canadian who loves animals and abhors their mistreatment."

Paul Peacock: "A horse needlessly died in a preventable accident. That's the story, folks. Let's focus on what can be done to prevent the accidents. I am not in favour of a ban on the event but would like to see if there is anything that can be done to prevent the accidents. Electronic alarms when the teams get too close?"

Natashya Sherbot-Stronach: "I am a clinical psychologist and horse owner. I also come from a farming background.… I am also an animal rights advocate. I am extremely upset about the recent deaths and would like to see the chucks completely eliminated along with other rodeo events. I do believe that the public who pays for tickets to attend these events are extremely desensitized to the suffering of animals. They have not made the connection that when they buy a ticket, they are essentially paying for the risk of horse death."


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