Stampede leads the way

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Ahead of the Heard

You have to hand it to the public relations masters at the Calgary Stampede organization – they are good, really good. The Stampede for many years has been a lightning rod for animal rights zealots trying to cash in (literally) on the Stampede image. On schedule when the Stampede starts, they begin their demonstrations, letter writing and columns in newspapers and general fearmongering to ride on the coattails of the event. It’s all part of the annual donation drive of these groups. Rather than pick a public fight the Stampede PR braintrust decided on a low-key course that totally focussed on improvements to animal welfare and handling at their iconic rodeo and chuck wagon events. That’s much to the annoyance of media manipulating zealots.

Let’s face it, there isn’t much point in trying to rationalize or justify an event where animals are put in uncomfortable situations where they might be injured or killed. The zealots will always win just by reeling off the casualty statistics. I expect the Stampede took the decision years ago to focus on making their events safer and not try to change the past. Because they are the undisputed big gorilla in the North American rodeo and chuck wagon business they can do what they want and no cowboy organization will criticize them or declare them in violation of the standards. This is actually a very good position for the Stampede, because they are able to experiment to make animal events better and safer.

One of the interesting Stampede decisions this year was to require that in the calf-roping event (the Stampede prefers to call it tie-down roping to make it sound less ominous I guess) the calf is to remain standing once it has been roped and not jerked down to the ground by the rope. From a city-slicker perspective it was that violent jerking action on an innocent cute calf that was so upsetting to tenderfoot eyes. You could clearly hear the rodeo audience gasp when the jerk down action occurred. Clearly this was a negative response, and in the Calgary Stampede feel-good promotion business negative is bad, very bad for their image, hence the change.

Rodeo calf-roping purists felt the new rule was unfair, inconvenient, untraditional and unneeded. That was noted but everyone knew who would rule the day. As it turned out the contestants were able to cope with the new rule, and best of all, the audience response was positive in that there was virtually no gasp of sympathy for the calf. Chalk one up for the Stampede, the reality was that if this event could not be changed in a positive manner it may well have been eliminated from the Stampede rodeo agenda in the future.

You can expect that if this rule is not already in force at other rodeos across the continent – it soon will be. The Stampede also changed some rules for the chuck wagon races, they went from 4 outriders to 2 which reduces congestion at the start of the race where horse collisions are most likely. They also put ID chips into the horses so that they can be positively tracked by veterinarians to enforce rest times and observe health conditions. As positive as this ongoing safety trend is, two horses still had to be euthanized because of accidents.

As one might expect fewer animal injuries and deaths at the Stampede is bad news for the animal rights groups. Their fund-raising campaigns thrive on the more accidents and deaths the better for donations from traumatized donors. A stretch of no injuries would be disastrous for them, which may be what the Stampede intends by accident or design.

Animal rights zealots do stretch their PR campaigns to absurd lengths to get media attention. During the recent visit by the Royal couple to the Stampede, the zealots along with a compliant British media kept pointing out that rodeo and bull riding was outlawed in England in 1934, therefore Prince William should disassociate himself from the event. Which causes one to ponder why would there be a rodeo in England anyway, clearly it’s not part of their cultural tradition. You don’t hear of any Spanish style bull fighting events in England either.

Curious though, England does condone steeple-chase type horse racing. It’s a type of race rarely seen in North America. In England such races invariably see injury and death to horses and riders alike on an annual basis. Perhaps it should be banned over there, or would that be stepping on their cultural tradition. The British media would be outraged I am sure with such a suggestion.

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