Calgary Stampede Rodeo: A Tradition of Torture

At the 2024 Calgary Stampede, over one million attendees are expected to participate in the festivities. Since becoming an annual event in 1923, the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” has featured parties, concerts, stage shows, and shopping, as well as cruel and archaic rodeo events like chuckwagon racing and bull riding. While for many the Stampede is a fun celebration of Western heritage, the reality of rodeo events at the Stampede is far more distressing—and deadly—for the animals forced to participate every year.

The Calgary Stampede Is Cruel to Animals

The Calgary Stampede is a spectacle of violence, causing immense suffering to animals for human entertainment. Sensitive calves are lassoed and wrestled to the ground in inhumane roping events. Horses and bulls are jabbed with metal spurs and have cruel flank straps fastened around them in archaic bucking events. These unwilling animal participants experience pain, fear, injury, and sometimes death.

Chuckwagon races are the deadliest event, where teams of three horses are forced to pull a wagon at high speed around a track. Also known as the “half-mile of hell”, horses often crash into each other, become entangled, or otherwise fall—sustaining serious injuries. 

These animals are not willing participants or athletes, as they’re often referred to—they’re forced into participating and will be whipped, prodded, kicked, or otherwise punished if they don’t.

Illegal Animal Abuse at the Stampede

The Vancouver Humane Society began tracking animal deaths at the Stampede in 1986. Since then, over 100 cows and horses have been tragically killed in rodeos. Horses often suffer heart attacks or break legs, and calves can break bones as they are violently thrown during roping events. The majority of horses are euthanized after an injury rather than being given time to heal. 

Under Albertan and Canadian law, it’s illegal to inflict distress and suffering onto animals—and that includes for entertainment.

For years, Animal Justice has been calling on the Calgary Humane Society (CHS) to investigate and prosecute illegal rodeo cruelty at the Stampede, including in 2019, the ‘deadliest stampede in a decade’ where six horses lost their lives.

In 2022, Animal Justice filed a legal complaint with the CHS after shocking video footage emerged showing a horse being repeatedly hit in the face during a bronc riding event. That year Animal Justice also called for charges after a horse was killed during a chuckwagon race. Just last year, Animal Justice again called for cruelty charges when a horse was killed after being forced to compete in the deadly chuckwagon races. 

Virtually every year, animals die at the Stampede–yet no rodeo event or participant has faced prosecution in Canada since 1950. Rodeos should no longer be given a free pass to inflict distress and death upon animals.

Tell WestJet to Stop Sponsoring Stampede Cruelty

WestJet has a two-decade long partnership with the Stampede, sponsoring many of its rodeo events over the years, including this year’s bull riding competitions. 

WestJet positions itself as a progressive airline with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. Yet the company continues to support this spectacle of trauma and violence, which causes immense suffering to animals, and directly contradicts its commitment to ethical business practices.

Join us in asking WestJet to stop supporting rodeo abuse at the Calgary Stampede! 

Banner image: Jo-Anne McArthur | We Animals Media