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Manitoba Stampede takes heat from protestors

In the wake of horse deaths at the Calgary Stampede, animal rights advocates organized to question the ethics of the rodeo event

The Manitoba Stampede faced protests, both at the front gate and online, following six animal deaths at the Calgary Stampede.

Video also circulated online of clean up following the death of a heifer during a team penning competition on Saturday.

Activist organization Manitoba Animal Save shared the video, which shows a tractor hauling away a large form covered with a tarp. The person filming is told it’s a cow beneath the tarp.

About a dozen members of Manitoba Animal Save protested outside the main gate on Friday evening.

“Six horses have been murdered at the Calgary Stampede due to the Chuckwagon races, which also take place at the Morris Stampede and Rodeo,” the organization said on its Facebook page, prior to the protest. “This is a peaceful protest and educational opportunity to create dialogue with the public.”

Manitoba Animal Save did not respond to a request for comment.

Why it matters: Animal rights activists and rodeos have been at odds for years, but social media allows for scrutiny to spread. Rodeo organizers and competitors may need to examine how they communicate with those outside the community in order to promote mutual understanding.

This is not the first time the stampede in Morris has seen protestors. Rodeo chairman Mike Bellisle said in years past they’ve seen peaceful protestors from time to time. A protester once also chained themselves in a “very dangerous position” in the arena years ago.

Protesters with Manitoba Animal Save hold signs outside the main gate of the Manitoba Stampede on Friday evening.
photo: Manitoba Animal Save

Animal rights groups and rodeos have had a rocky relationship for many years. This year’s Calgary Stampede saw six horses die, most in the chuckwagon races according to media reports. This ties it for the second-deadliest year of the decade according to records kept by the Vancouver Humane Society.

The Manitoba Co-operator was not able to independently verify these numbers.

Local rodeo safety

In an interview prior to the Stampede, Bellisle said that to his knowledge no horses have died due to competition at the Manitoba Stampede. The chuckwagon races at the Manitoba Stampede are “pony chuckwagon” races, which feature smaller horses and wagons than those at the Calgary event.

A chariot racer and his horses leap from the start line on Saturday evening.
photo: Geralyn Wichers

The animals receive daily vet checks and aren’t allowed to compete if they’re found to be sick, sore or lame, said Bellisle. He said these rules have been in place “from day one.”

Events may be cancelled if arena conditions become unsafe — too muddy, for instance, Bellisle said.

“I bubble wrap my horse as much as I can,” said Karyssa Hiebert, a barrel racer on the Heartland Rodeo circuit in Manitoba. She said when she travels, she wraps the horse’s legs and covers it with a therapeutic blanket that promotes blood circulation. The horse also receives regular massages and chiropractic treatment.

“They’re athletes. They’re just like us,” she said. They have to be in good shape and feel good to compete.

Still, she said, horses get hurt. Some of these injuries happen in the pasture while the horse is running and playing with the other animals.

Good people at odds

“We want to do what’s right,” said Bellisle. He added that activists (a term he said he avoids due to negative connotations) and rodeo competitors share many of the same values and might find common ground “if people from all sides would simply sit down and talk.”

However, for animal activists, simply keeping the animals from injury may not be enough.

“We are opposed to all forms of animal exploitation,” said Vicki Van Linden, a director of animal activist organization Animal Alliance of Canada. She said that ultimately she’d like to see rodeos phased out entirely as rodeo animals can’t choose if they will compete, and would not naturally engage in these types of activities.

“It’s reasonable to ask people to recognize that practices that cause injury and death on a regular basis cannot be seen as ethical,” she said.

However, Van Linden said she recognizes the deep tradition of rodeo and sees the conflict as “good people being at odds with each other.”

“All people really value our own traditions, but traditions can change and adapt,” said Van Linden.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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