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It’s time to ban calf-roping at the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede, like all rodeos, is a cruel spectacle of animal abuse. Fear, pain and stress are used to coerce animals into performing for the entertainment of human beings – a barbaric concept. Yet here in Canada, in the 21st century, we offer this as a tourist attraction and as a symbol of our culture.
Perhaps the most inhumane of all rodeo events, calf-roping remains a big part of the Stampede. The Vancouver Humane Society is calling for a ban on calf-roping at rodeos across Canada and is asking the Calgary Stampede to show the way by dropping this event. In 2009 and 2010, VHS’s campaign against calf-roping drew massive public and media attention. Now it’s time for the Stampede to listen to Canadians who oppose abusing animals for entertainment.
Calf-roping, also known as tie-down roping (rodeo promoters changed the name to make it more palatable to the public), is probably the least popular rodeo event, even among avid rodeo fans. There is often a gasp from the crowds when the calf, just three to four months old, is brought to a sudden, jerking halt at the end of the rope.
The event starts with the calf contained in a steel-barred “chute” at the side of the arena. The calf is goaded, prodded and often has its tail twisted to ensure it will burst out of the chute at full speed (up to 27 miles per hour). The terrified calf is then chased by a mounted rider who must lasso the calf, jump of his horse, pick up the calf, slam it to the ground and tie three of its feet together. The event is timed and the rider who does it fastest wins.
Calves are sometimes injured or killed because of the sudden physical impact of the roping. The time pressure of the event and the prize money at stake can lead to poor roping, harsh handling and mistakes by riders – all of which put the calf at risk of injury. But it is not just the risk of injury that is the problem with calf-roping. It’s the fear.
All cattle are “prey” animals and research has shown they are particularly sensitive to fear. Dr. Temple Grandin, the distinguished animal behaviourist, has written that fear is “so bad” for animals it can be worse than pain. There can be little doubt that a three-month-old calf, goaded and chased into an arena with a shouting crowd is suffering even before the rope pulls him off his feet. How can tormenting an animal in this way be acceptable as entertainment? Treating a dog this way would result in cruelty charges. Sadly, farm animals in Canada have no such legal protection – apparently even when they are used for mere entertainment.
The myth of rodeo’s old west heritage
Rodeo promoters will say that calf-roping and other rodeo events are part of the culture of the old west. But when real cowboys roped calves on the range there was no pressure from a stopwatch or big prize money. It was done as gently as possible to ensure the animal was not injured. The myth of rodeo’s old west “heritage” has been used with other events. Real cowboys did not ride bulls (Why would they?) or wrestle steers (invented for rodeo in the 1930s) or have chuckwagon races (invented for rodeo in 1923). Rodeo has almost nothing to do with the culture of the old west. It is merely sensational entertainment – and it causes animals to suffer for the most trivial of purposes.