Calgary Stampede horse deaths anger animal rights activists

Sat Jul 14, 2012 12:50am EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The debate between cowboy tradition and animal rights at the Calgary Stampede was reignited late Thursday when three horses were killed and a fourth seriously injured during a chuckwagon race at the huge annual rodeo and exhibition of Western Canadian culture

Chuckwagon racing, the marquee event of Calgary's famous 10-day festival, is inspired by pioneering cowboys' practice of breaking camp and racing away. The thrilling sport is a Stampede symbol but it has claimed dozens of animals over the years.

In the event, teams of horses pull covered wagons with wood-spoke wheels around a track after making their way through a tight figure-eight. Each team has two outriders who have to finish the race with the wagon.

Thursday's crash occurred in the evening Rangeland Derby competition -- one of the Stampede's biggest crowd draws -- when one of the lead horses pulling a covered wagon went down on the back stretch of the racetrack, pulling the rest of the team into the dirt. Another horse being ridden behind the rig collided with it.

Two of the horses, part of the team of driver Chad Harden, were euthanized on the track. Harden and the outrider were not seriously injured.

Stampede officials said the lead horse may have died of natural causes during the race, triggering the crash. A post-mortem was being performed on that horse.

"We are continuing to review the video and talk to the people who were involved in the incident," Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser said. "We're going to try and fully understand what happened last night so we can prevent it from happening again."

Harden, a veteran driver on the chuckwagon circuit, tearfully told reporters that the deaths were "devastating for our whole family".   Continued...

Chad Harden races his wagon in the Rangeland Derby Chuckwagon event during the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alberta July 13, 2012. REUTERS/Todd Korol