COMMENTARY: Calgary Stampede has an opportunity to do chuckwagons right

The 2019 edition of the Calgary Stampede is in the books.

Many would like to focus on and feed off the energy that “the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” generated in our city. Unfortunately, the deaths of six chuckwagon horses have taken the wind right out of the canvasses and re-opened the annual debate over the future of the sport.

On one side, you have Stampede officials and drivers saying they take safety and the animals’ health seriously. You hear the usual arguments from chuckwagon enthusiasts that the horses are doing what they love and racing is better than the alternative, like being sent for slaughter.

On the other side, you have animal rights activists who think the horses are facing slaughter for simply being a part of the Rangeland Derby. Their death is imminent thanks to too many mistakes made by everyone involved, they say.

This happens every year. Although this year might be different as the Stampede is promising a wide-ranging review of operations.

What that entails is anyone’s guess, but I have a few thoughts.

Firstly, the review needs to be made as public as possible. In this era of transparency, the Stampede would do itself a lot of good by being open about the process from start to finish.

I agree that each individual incident needs to be judged on its own merits, but the overall conclusions should be clear for everyone to see.

Secondly, be quick and decisive about any changes needing to be made. Whether it’s reducing the number of rigs on the track during a race from four to three or putting limits on how often horses can race over the ten days, give the drivers plenty of time to prepare for next year, but also let the public know actions speak louder than words.

And finally, don’t put the blinders on. Those in the stands on Sunday were saddened and shocked by what happened in front of their own eyes and there was a muted feeling during the final heat, almost as if to say “Please don’t let anyone crash again.”

That’s not a good feeling and certainly not a good look.

Don’t get me wrong — there is an inherent risk with everything we do, including the chuckwagons. But if they are going to continue — which we know they will — then every effort needs to be made to make sure those risks are minimized for everyone involved.

Especially the horses.

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