Six horses killed in 10 days; most since 1986
CALGARY, Alberta––The 2019 Calgary Stampede ended on the night of July 14, 2019 with reportedly the second-highest attendance in the history of the event, and three more horses killed in the climactic last heat of the Rangeland Derby, the chuckwagon races that for almost a century have been the signature event of the rodeo.
The 2019 toll of six horses killed was the most since 2005, when 13 horses died, nine of them in a runaway during a trail riding event, and the most chuckwagon horses to die in any year since 12 died in 1986, the first year in which humane organizations documented the number of horse deaths.
No video; scene hidden
Video of the incident leading to the July 14, 2019 horse deaths was not immediately released by the Calgary Stampede organization. Eighteen hours later, none of the major Canadian television networks had obtained video.
More than three hours after Salmond’s horses were euthanized, ANIMALS 24-7 found no news reports of the deaths in an after-midnight search for Calgary Stampede closing night updates.
Reported Anis Heydari for CBC News the next day, “A horse from Evan Salmond’s wagon went down during a turn in Heat 8 of the Rangeland Derby. A tarp was brought out to cover the area where the incident occurred shortly afterward. According to a release from the Stampede, the right lead horse of Salmond’s wagon fractured his left hind cannon bone while running. Two other horses on the team then also suffered injuries.” All three were subsequently euthanized in the Calgary Stampede infield.
Second crash of the 2019 Stampede for driver Salmond
Salmond, 38, also lost a horse in the collision for which chuckwagon driver Chad Harden, 49, on July 12, 2019 drew a $10,000 fine and an unprecedented lifetime suspension from participation in the Calgary Stampede.
Harden allegedly caused a crash through “driver error” the previous evening, during the seventh heat of the 2019 Stampede series, that left one horse dead and three other horses with minor injuries.
Video showed that Harden, wearing a bright yellow shirt and driving a white wagon emblazoned with multiple red Canadian maple leaf emblems along the sides, cut the corner too closely, causing driver Danny Ringuette, 34, to swerve his team into the path of another Salmond’s team.
Salmond’s right front horse fell and was trampled by the rest of the team, the video indicated.
Salmond had replaced his entire team for the Rangeland Derby finale. None of the same horses were involved in both incidents leading to deaths.
Chuckwagon racing veterans
All three drivers were chuckwagon racing veterans. Harden, a third-generation driver with multiple major victories behind him, earlier won the first heat race of the 2019 Stampede. Harden, however, was also involved in a 2012 accident in which three horses were killed, after one horse suffered an aortic aneurism, causing his whole team to fall.
Harden, who also must pay Salmond $10,000 for the loss of his horse, will be allowed to petition for reinstatement after September 1, 2019, reported Sammy Hudes and Alanna Smith of the Edmonton Sun.
“In 2007, now-retired chuckwagon driver Kelly Sutherland was suspended the final day of racing at the Stampede after his ‘aggressive’ driving was blamed for a crash that seriously injured fellow driver Tyler Helmig and killed three of Gary Gorst’s horses,” Hudes and Smith recalled.
Three horse deaths this year
Three horses have now died during the 2019 Calgary Stampede, the most since 2015.
The first horse fatality of the July 2019 Calgary Stampede was caused by “a serious internal medical condition,” the Stampede organization said in a tersely worded July 9, 2019 prepared statement.
The horse, named Dylan, died just after the second heat race on evening of July 8, 2019. Realizing the horse was in distress, driver Troy Dorchester pulled up his team between the first and second turns.
The 14-year-old gelding “passed a veterinary exam prior to the races, and there is no indication the medical condition is specific to the chuckwagon race,” the Calgary Stampede statement said.
“Family favorite, a real good friend”
Dorchester, 47, a third generation Calgary Stampede competitor, told media that Dylan “was the family favorite, a real good friend.”
Dorchester is believed to be the heaviest person ever to ride or drive horses in competition.
Despite his evident girth, which then was less, Dorchester in 2012 became the only chuckwagon driver to win the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby, Calgary Stampede Aggregate Title, and the Ponoka Stampede in a single year.
In recent years Dorchester has not finished above seventh at Calgary, but has been noted for racing without drawing penalties, a relative rarity in chuckwagon racing, in both 2014 and 2017.
97 animal deaths since 1986
Chuckwagon racing, explained Pat Raia of The Horse, “pits four 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 horses carrying outriders.”
Not among the rodeo events recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, chuckwagon racing is nonetheless the longtime leading attraction at the Calgary Stampede.
A web page maintained by the Vancouver Humane Society, incorporating information obtained from the Calgary Humane Society and a variety of media sources, lists 67 chuckwagon horse deaths occurring during the Calgary Stampede from 1986 through 2018, along with the deaths in other Calgary Stampede events of 15 horses, plus 14 calves, bulls, and steers.
Chuckwagon racing saved failing fair
The Calgary Stampede introduced chuckwagon racing in 1923, in evident hopes that the possibility of violent accidents might boost faltering crowds.
Widely recognized as the oldest rodeo still in existence, the Calgary Stampede traces origin to an annual livestock show founded in 1886. Rodeo events as they are known today were not introduced to the Stampede, however, until 1908, more than a decade after the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo debuted in the U.S.
Exhibitions of roping and riding flopped with Calgary Stampede visitors, and failed again in 1912, and 1919, though the livestock shows of 1908, 1912, and 1919 were economically successful. By 1922, however, the Calgary livestock shows had lost money for several years in a row.
Inspired by Roman chariot racing
Attempts to promote rodeo in Calgary, led for 10 years by former rodeo performer Guy Weadick, might have ended then, had Weadick not borrowed inspiration from the chariot races described in the 1880 novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace.
Adapted into a stage play by Abraham Erlanger in 1895, Ben Hur toured as a traveling show featuring climactic chariot races until 1920, when Erlanger began work on the 1925 black-and-white film hit Ben Hur, featuring a chariot crash that killed several horses.
While the film was in production, dramatic performances based on the play remained popular in Alberta through 1922, as affirmed by coverage in the Lethbridge Daily Herald and Medicine Hat News. Both newspapers, and others in Alberta, from time to time published updates anticipating the release of the Ben Hur film.
Gambling prize money of $275 that chuckwagon racing based on Ben Hur-style chariot racing would also be a hit, Weadick drew attendance of 138,950 to the 1923 Calgary Stampede, followed by attendance of 167,000 in 1924.
Weadick was scarcely the first to promote races inspired by Roman chariot racing. The Pendleton Rodeo, in Oregon, introduced stagecoach racing in 1913, soon emulated by others. Oakland Tribune outdoor columnist Bill Hart on May 30, 1920 mentioned having seen chuckwagon racing as a rodeo event, but did not stipulate where or when.
Double bill with Ben Hur made the Stampede famous
Weadick was, however, easily the most successful, chiefly through directly linking the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races to Ben Hur.
After the Ben Hur film was released, screenings were often followed by screenings of a promotional documentary called The Calgary Stampede, a double bill that soon made the Stampede world famous. The Calgary Stampede crowd grew each year, peaking for the decade at 258,496 in 1928.
Held over 10 days each July, the Calgary Stampede now attracts upward of 1.2 million visitors per year.
The Calgary Humane Society officially “opposes the use of animals for any form of entertainment in which they are placed at risk of suffering undue stress, pain, injury or death,” according to the society web site.
But the Calgary Humane Society, on the record anyhow, has seldom criticized the Calgary Stampede.
Calgary Humane “maintains open dialogue”
“While other organizations may wish to intervene to change rodeo and the Stampede through protest or other advocacy means,” the Calgary Humane Society web site continues, “CHS has found it can best protect the interests of the animals involved by working with organizations putting on such events.”
The Calgary Humane Society web site also says that it does “random monitoring of the [Stampede] grounds, ensuring the province’s Animal Protection Act is upheld,” and “maintains an open dialogue with the Calgary Stampede Board regarding animal welfare.”
This appeared to bring some results in 2016, when as Emma McIntosh of the Calgary Herald wrote, “New safety measures at the Stampede’s chuckwagon races appear to have paid off, with no horses seriously hurt this year for the first time in more than a decade.
“A steady stream of rain made the track slick and muddy for the better part of the Calgary Stampede,” recalled McIntosh, “and a few horses took scary-looking falls. But none were killed or seriously hurt — standing in stark contrast to the four chuckwagon horse fatalities in 2015.”
But one chuckwagon horse was killed in 2017, and another in 2018.
Horses and/or cattle have now been killed at the Calgary Stampede in 28 of the past 33 years, with 1991, 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2016 the only years in which no reported fatalities occurred.
“There have also been two human fatalities at the chuckwagon races in this time frame,” the Vancouver Humane Society noted. “Outrider Eugene Jackson died on July 20, 1996 from head injuries suffered in a spill” nine days earlier. “Wagon driver Bill McEwen died July 11, 1999,” the Vancouver Humane Society added, “of head injuries received in a wagon crash” two days earlier.