calgary stampede
A group of equine welfare advocates is calling for a boycott of the Calgary Stampede’s Rangeland Derby after two horses died competing in this year’s event.

The annual Calgary Stampede features rodeo-style competitions and livestock exhibitions, including the GMC Rangeland Derby chuckwagon race. The event pits teams of horse-drawn wagons against each other in a series of elimination races over several days. Traditionally, each team consists of four wagon horses and four outrider horses. This year, 36 chuckwagon drivers supported by outriders and 216 horses were slated to take part in the event.

A written statement from the Calgary Stampede said the first horse death at this year’s event, which began July 5 and runs through July 14, occurred July 8 when a 14-year-old gelding developed a serious internal medical condition which required veterinary and later died due to that condition.

“At this time there in no indication that this medical condition is specific to chuckwagon racing,”  the statement said, adding that necropsy results are pending.

The second horse fatality occurred July 10 when a horse sustained an injury during a chuckwagon race. A subsequent veterinary examination revealed that the animal sustained a fracture of the left front radius. The horse was euthanized due to the injury.

Both of those horses had passed a thorough veterinary examinations prior the the races, the statement said.

Following the second death, the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) called for a boycott of the event and on Stampede administrators to suspend racing until a blue-ribbon panel could review the event and determine how it can be made safer for the animals involved.

“The public needs to send a message to the Stampede that these deaths are unacceptable,” said VHS spokesman Peter Fricker. “The chuckwagon race clearly puts horses at undue risk of injury and death.”

Kristina Barnes, communications manager for Western Events and Agriculture at the Calgary Stampede, was unavailable for comment.

In recent years, several horses have died in Calgary Stampede events. In 2011, Stampede management announced new rules intended to increase safety for both equine and human chuckwagon race participants, including veterinary inspections to determine whether horses are fit to compete. Those deemed unfit are scratched from the event, while those deemed fit to compete also undergo post-race veterinary inspections.

The rules also say no horse can run in the event more than three consecutive days, and all horses used in chuckwagon races must rest at least one day in every four. A necropsy and pathology tests are generally performed on every animal that dies at the stampede.