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Rodeos were first introduced to Canada in the early 1900s with the entertaining American “Wild West Show.” It included bull riding, calf roping, and steer racing – a competitive “sporting event” that mimicked the chores required in the settling of the West in North America. The “Wild West Show” became the first North American show where people paid to watch the events that were once a part of every day life for settlers.

The competition, featuring concentrated human strength and precision against an animal and against time, quickly became popular across North America and continue to provide entertainment today. They are marketed as events that give us a glimpse back through time and enable us to appreciate our heritage. Many still believe they resemble the life of settlers from over 100 years ago. However, in reality these events today are very different from the chores performed by the early Westerners.

The animals used in rodeo events are not usually as aggressive as they appear to be. Events such as bull riding, calf roping and steer wrestling require that animals be provoked in order to behave as necessary for the rodeo show. Several inhumane devices are used to force these animals into the aggressive behaviour. CFHS is particularly concerned with the following activities:

Bull Riding – Contrary to popular belief, bulls do not usually buck as displayed in rodeos. Flank straps are tightened around the groin to cause the bucking, and result in severe sores. Spurs dig into the bull’s flesh and electric prods are used to encourage aggressive behaviour.

Steer Wrestling – This event requires two riders who must work as a team to throw the steer to the ground in 30 seconds. The first rider keeps the steer running in a straight line. The second grabs the horns of the steer as he leaps from his horse and twists its neck to bring him down. While the steer may not appear to be hurt, it can suffer painful strains to muscles and tendons as well as stress, broken necks, spinal damage, and other injuries from being chased and thrown to the ground.

Chuckwagon Racing – This event involves teams of horses pulling an iron wagon and racing each other around a track. Barrelled obstacles must be avoided and the stove and tent inside the wagon must not be lost. The event is based on those wagon riders who used to race each other back to town with their chuck wagons used for carrying food and cooking equipment on the prairies. In the rodeo, horses often suffer injuries as they are placed under great stress. Some are lame before the race begins, and the teams sometimes collide causing severe injury and sometimes death.

Since 1986 more than 50 horses have died in chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede including 3 in 2012. The Stampede has introduced measures to improve the race, however, as this most recent tragedy demonstrates it most likely cannot be made humane and therefore, for the welfare of the horses, it should be eliminated. After 3 horses died on the track at the 2012 Stampede officials allowed the race to continue and Cliff Cunningham went on to win the event. According to the Canadian Press, ironically, he was fined $12,500 in 2011 for a chuckwagon race collision that lead to the death of a horse.

Calf Roping – In this event, a performer on horseback ropes a calf and throws it to the ground, sometimes dragging it through the dust. For more information see Calf Roping.

Because of these practices, many animals used in rodeos suffer injuries such as internal bruising; haemorrhaging; broken and fractured bones; torn tendons, ligaments and muscles; and sometimes paralysis and death. Although trained veterinarians are present at these rodeos, they can do nothing to prevent the injuries.

Some have justified this practice by saying that many of these animals are on their way to the slaughterhouses, but there is no reason they should face cruel injuries or painful death on their way.

The CFHS opposes rodeo events that are likely to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. To read CFHS’ policy on rodeos, click here.

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