Morris Stampede Opens After Calgary Controversy

“You can have a

catastrophe happen to any horse at any time.”

– DR. KEN JOHNSON

The Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition, which celebrates its 47th anniversary in Morris this week, expects to avoid the controversy which annually dogs its larger counterpart in Calgary.

Unlike the Calgary Stampede, which regularly experiences dead and injured animals during its 10-day span, the Morris event rarely sees deaths and injuries, organizers say.

“I can’t recall the last fatality here in Morris. It’s been a number of years,” said Tim Lewis, the event’s director and past president.

Dr. Ken Johnson, head veterinarian at the Morris stampede since 1980, says the event has the “occasional injury and less-than-occasional fatality” among the 600 to 700 animals competing at the event.

Every year, Johnson is on-site all through the rodeo competition, as required by Canadian Professional Rodeo Association regulations, and also during the chuckwagon races, which isn’t mandatory.

The Morris fairgrounds also has an ambulance on hand for competitors.

But most of the time, it’s not necessary. Johnson said deaths are “exceedingly rare” in the rodeo event and “uncommon” in the chuckwagon races.

“We’re prepared for them every year and they don’t happen.”

Injuries to horses, if they do occur, are often fractures to legs, shoulders or hips. Johnson said a horse injured in this fashion usually has to be euthanized because it cannot stand.

“We can cast some fractures, we can fix some, but under most instances they are fractured beyond repair.”

Johnson rates the animal care and welfare at the Morris stampede as “good to excellent.”

The Morr is event, which runs July 22-25, ranks among

the top 15 rodeos in the country sanctioned by the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. Last year it drew over 25,000 people, pulled in gross revenues of $460,000 and had a total purse of $80,000.

The Morris show opened four days after the Calgary Stampede closed, following one of its worst records for dead and injured animals in recent years.

As of July 16, six horses had died of injuries or heart attacks. Four animals died in 2009. The record number of deaths was 12 in 1986.

Lewis called this year’s numbers very unusual.

“It’s so unusual to see that number of animals being hurt and particularly fatalities,” he said.

Calgary’s experience periodically draws calls from animal welfare groups to have rodeos banned on grounds of cruelty to animals.

Johnson said rodeos are no more cruel or dangerous than everyday life itself. He said horses on pastures can step into gopher holes, break legs and have to be euthanized.

“You can have a catastrophe happen to any horse at any time.”

But Bill McDonald, Winnipeg Humane Society CEO, called rodeos inherently inhumane.

“It’s just entertainment and animals are getting killed for entertainment.”

McDonald and other animal welfare officials are especially critical of calf roping, which they say exposes the animal to fear and stress.

“When you get a young calf bolting out of a chute into an arena with thousands of people about and being chased by a human on horseback, that is stressful and that calf is in fear,” McDonald said.

“For children to sit in a rodeo stand and watch a calf being chased down, lassoed, yanked off its feet, abruptly slammed into the ground and then its feet tied is not something we want to be teaching our young people in the way of treatment of animals.”

McDonald acknowledged roping calves on ranches is a standard management practice. But he called that “a working situation” and “totally different than doing it for entertainment.” [email protected]

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