Your Questions About the Calgary Stampede and Animals
Approximately 7,500 animals take part in the annual Calgary Stampede, from horses, cattle, and sheep to pigs, donkeys, goats and poultry. Most don’t spend the entire time at Stampede. Their owners and caregivers move them in an out, with some like the rodeo staying just a few hours.
Yes, rules are in place to ensure the safety of all animals. The Calgary Stampede is committed to providing the best and safest conditions possible for the animals that participate in our annual event. All exhibitors, competitors, volunteers and employees are required to follow
our Animal Care Code of Conduct as well as specific rules and guidelines for each competition and exhibition.
The Calgary Stampede believes in constant evolution and improvement when it comes to safety and animal care. We look to the advice of experts and the latest in science to better understand animal behaviour, response and performance related to western events. Throughout the year we consult with professional veterinary advisors, industry experts, world-class researchers and many other experts in livestock care, health and handling.
A large team of veterinarians are on site 24 hours a day throughout the Calgary Stampede should an owner require care for their animal. In addition, observational veterinary inspections take place and veterinarians are present at competitions and circulate throughout the barns and exhibition spaces. Animal owners can also bring in their own veterinarians if they wish and students from the University of Calgary’s School of Veterinary medicine study animal behavior throughout the Stampede.
All of the animals that participate in the Stampede are owned by people in the Agriculture industry, with the exception of some of the bucking horses and bulls which are part of the Calgary Stampede’s Born to Buck program. While at Stampede, the owners of the animals are primarily responsible for providing care and nourishment with the support of Calgary Stampede volunteers and employees.
There is drug testing for animals that participate in several different events at the Calgary Stampede. Horses that compete in Chuckwagon Racing, Barrel Racing and the Heavy Horse Pull are subject to drug testing, as are the steers in the Steer Classic. Our drug testing policies are in place to protect the health of the animals and the integrity of the competition. We are mainly looking for performance enhancing substances, and painkillers that might mask an animal’s pain or discomfort.
Just like people, animals may initially be startled by the sound of the fireworks, but generally settle as they continue. Additionally, we make sure that both people and animals are well outside of our fireworks perimeter in the Grandstand infield to keep them safe.
If at any time an animal appears to be uncomfortable or unsettled in its stall or pen at Stampede Park, it is assessed by its owner and if needed, a veterinarian and an animal behavioural specialist. They would determine whether the animal should return home, rather than stay at Stampede Park.
It is a horse’s nature to buck. Like any other athlete, some are naturally better at it than others. Unlike a saddle horse that’s trained to carry a rider, a bucking horse is raised to buck them off. Similarly, a bull’s natural reaction to a rider on its back, is to buck.
Rodeo animals are high-performance athletes. The bucking horses and bulls have been bred and raised to participate in the sport of rodeo, and receive rodeo specific training. The timed event animals are also experienced in the sport, and have been introduced to the arena to ensure they are familiar and comfortable with their surroundings. The horses ridden in Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping are highly trained athletes in their own right, and travel with their owners, the competitors, from rodeo to rodeo.
A flank strap is a leather strap padded with synthetic sheepskin that is fastened around a horse’s flank as a cue to buck. Bucking bulls wear a rope flank strap. As an animal leaves the chutes with a rider on its back, the flank strap is pulled snug. As it bucks the strap loosens with the motion of the animal. The animal is trained to know that when the flank strap is in place, it’s time to buck.
A common misperception is that the flank strap hurts the animal or that it contains something sharp or hot to cause it to buck, but it is soft and padded. Another misbelief is that the strap is wrapped around the animal’s testicles, which is not the case. Many horses are female, and most of the males are geldings. As for stallions and bulls, it’s anatomically impossible.
The animals arrive at Stampede Park for the daily rodeo every morning around 10 a.m. They are given a veterinary inspection upon arrival and left to relax before the afternoon rodeo. Some of the animals leave before the rodeo even ends, as they are clear to head home with their owner once their event is over.
Most bucking horses and bulls will not compete more than once over the 10 days of the Calgary Stampede. A select few of the best animals will buck twice, but require multiple rest days in between.
The Calgary Stampede owns many of the bucking horses and some of the bulls that participate in the rodeo, but the others are owned by other stock contractors. The horses that take part in Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping belong to individual competitors.
Just like human rodeo competitors, the animals that participate in the rodeo head home once they’ve competed. Calgary Stampede animals live on the 22,000 acre Calgary Stampede Ranch near Hanna, Alberta. They live in a natural herd environment on the gently rolling grassland of the ranch, with regular care from a team of people responsible for their health and wellbeing.
Approximately 500 horses live on the Calgary Stampede Ranch. About 200 of them are active bucking horses, with 50 of those considered the best-of-the-best. The rest of the herd is made up of everything from newborns and yearlings, to retired veterans.
There are rules surrounding the handling of animals for all of our events, including those that involve calves and steers. We begin with giving the animals a veterinary inspection approximately a month before the Stampede, to ensure they are healthy and will be the appropriate weight for competition. They are required to be experienced rodeo animals, and the competitors must follow very specific guidelines when handling them or face financial fines and even disqualification. And while the Calgary Stampede includes longstanding traditions, we believe in constant evolution and improvement when it comes to animal care. As a result, you will see different rules used at the Stampede than at many other rodeos, and we openly share new ideas and initiatives with other rodeos, fairs and exhibitions for greater industry alignment when it comes to animal care.
With each of the 27 chuckwagon drivers bringing 15-18 horses to the Calgary Stampede, there are approximately 400-500 chuckwagon horses at Stampede for the duration of the 10-day event. That’s a lot of hay, oats and poop!
This is what we call Fitness to Compete. Each and every horse is given a full veterinary inspection upon arrival at Stampede Park, and again each evening when the drivers choose which horses will race. Their health inspections, rest days and drug testing is all tracked through a microchip implanted in the horses’ necks. If at any time a veterinarian determines a horse is not fit to compete, the horse is removed from competition.
As with any high-performance athlete, chuckwagon horses warm up before a race and cool down afterward. Nutrition is extremely important, with each horse given a special feeding program by their owners, the drivers. Any equine athlete requiring medical care has access to it almost immediately, with a team of veterinarians on hand for racing. Horses also receive other specialized care such as chiropractic and massage.
Chuckwagon horses are all thoroughbred racehorses, many with successful first careers on the racetrack. Once retired from the racetrack, these horses find long and successful second careers as wagon horses. Competitive chuckwagon horses can range in age from 4-5 years old, to their late teens.
As with any sport that involves people or animals, there is an element of risk involved in chuckwagon racing. As a responsible community organization, the Calgary Stampede is committed to providing the best and safest conditions possible to avoid any preventable accidents or injuries to all involved. We acknowledge that we are dealing with living animals and incidents will happen despite our best efforts to reduce risk. Any occurrence is felt deeply by our organization, stakeholders and competitors.
A chuckwagon can reach speeds of close to 65 km/per hour. That’s some serious horsepower!