Animal Rights in a Modern World.

By: R. Ellen Jones

My earliest memories of horses are at a race track and so is my very first “bad” memory of a horse. After winning a race, myself at 5 watched as a horse dropped dead of a heart attack. I still remember the forklift taking him off the track as his driver, trainer, owner and breeder watched in disbelief. I also remember my grandfather explaining to me that the horse died doing what he loved and telling me of a horse of his (a favourite) who broke his leg during a race. At 97 years old he still talks about Dale B.

So you’ll have to excuse me but if one more PETA loving, city dwelling and most likely vegan animal rights activist starts screaming bloody murder and cruelty over the Calgary Stampede, rodeo events, equine sporting events or -heaven help us - farm animals, I might become an activist in my own right and begin to boycott them!

My annoyance at the recent outrage over horses being put down at the Calgary Stampede after the very controversial chuck wagon races has nothing to do with the fact that it is an obvious tragedy — but rather who is outraged. The people calling the sport atrocious have most likely never set foot in a chuck wagon racer’s stable, they have never spoken to a competitor and they have no idea apart from the fact that an animal has been put down at a high profile event whether or not the sport is too dangerous for the horses or not. Simply put, they are not qualified to have an opinion.

Let me be clear. If you are reading this from your loft apartment in downtown anywhere you have no business telling me what I’m doing with my horses or cattle is wrong anymore than I have any business judging the sport of chuckwagon racing. There is zero chance you have any type of educated opinion in the matter and I don’t care what type of degree or letters you carry after your name.

Have you ever met a bucking horse or a bucking bull? What about the calves you cry over being roped? Have you ever tried to doctor one of those with your own hands? Come to think of it have you ever met a farmer who raises any of these critters? At least tell me you’ve spoken to a veterinarian who doctors these animals and have sought educated information before drawing your own conclusions…

On Tuesday, a national animal-rights organization called Animal Justice called on the Calgary Humane Society to prosecute “inhumane rodeo practices” at the Calgary Stampede.
The group says chuckwagon racing is so dangerous that more than 50 horses have been killed during the event at the Stampede since 1986.
“The democratically enacted laws of Alberta unequivocally state that it is illegal to cause or permit animals to be unreasonably in distress,” says Anna Pippus, director of farmed animal advocacy with Animal Justice.
~Excerpt taken from the National Post

Inhumane rodeo practices? REALLY?! And please somebody tell me what is unreasonable distress? Breaking a leg is most definitely distress however quite reasonable (I’d be distressed if I broke my leg) — or are you referring to the sport itself as causing distress? Had the horses not been injured would there be cause for concern? Did the competitors force the horses to work on broken or seriously injured limbs against the advice of a veterinarian?

It was determined that two people were responsible for the crash at the stampede which resulted in this terrible accident (and penalties are being enforced) but let’s for a minute put the loss of 50 horses in 30 years into perspective: The New York Times has reported that 24 horses per week die at racetracks across America. The most dangerous Olympic sport is considered eventing which in one year between 2007 and 2008 claimed the lives of 12 riders. In the period between 1997 and 2008, 37 riders have lost their lives in the sport. Horse deaths are harder to pinpoint but in the year 2007–2008 at least 19 horses lost their life to the sport of eventing.

Equine sport is dangerous. It’s always been dangerous. We work with 1000 pound animals which have their own minds and if they wanted to could kill us just as soon as look at us. Horses are strong for certain but also very fragile. Legs break and lives end because as owners we know the best act of love is to end their suffering.

Ranch work is dangerous and has always been dangerous. We work with animals on the land bigger than our horses and need to take care of them. We as the human in the equation must take responsibility to do things as safely, humanely and as ethically as possible basing our decisions on what we know about horse behaviour, livestock and husbandry practices and what we learn from working closely with our veterinarians. We live this life every day and I promise you we are not a bunch of sadists inflicting delebrate cruelty on animals — we do what we do for the love of animals.

I am writing today to remind people of the deep seeded love and respect equestrians, farmers, breeders and horse sport enthusiasts have for their animals. It is something which is so often overlooked by people who don’t know enough about the animals they race to defend or who are far too quick to judge situations they know nothing about.

I am deeply against cruelty which by definition means I am against inflicting pain and suffering on any living thing. I’m also irritated when ignorance speaks as it did from the Animal Justice group. Animals get hurt and it is a tragedy when they have to be put down but ask yourself how they lived. Did they live daily in distress, hating their job? Was their life full of pain and suffering? Were they forced to run or be beaten until bloody?

Horses forced to compete rarely excel. The drive which makes them great comes from within. As in any industry there are those who paint an ugly image of a sport or activity which the rest of us must work to dispel. Painting an industry with one brush is an extreme act of ignorance.

Take one of the single most iconic Canadian horses which ever lived - Big Ben. This horse and rider pair won just about everything and tackled all obstacles in their way. But it wasn’t always sunshine and roses. Big Ben suffered not one but 2 boughts of life threatening colic which ended in 2 surgeries.

An example of the invasive colic surgery.

Upon his apparent recovery he went back into training as many human athletes would. On his way to a competition at 16 years of age his trailer was hit by another vehicle resulting in both human and equine deaths. Big Ben was stitched up and went on to compete and win in Calgary.

An example of a trailer accident.

Is it cruelty to make competition possible for this horse in spite of his health issues? Should he have ever been made to get in a trailer again, or does it show perseverance of the equine spirit and the love of the sport? At the age of 23 Big Ben, then retired, died of his 3rd colic. He is remembered in the Canadian Sports Legends Hall of Fame along with only one other horse, Northern Dancer.

We in the equine industry have had the privilege of feeling a horse’s love of their job. I’ve felt a horse move underneath me while tracking a cow on its own, ears forward, in sync and it’s magical. Make no mistake that my horse could break it’s leg or seriously injure itself any time I put my foot in the stirrup. I also understand that I could become seriously injured everytime I set foot in my paddock or mount my horse for a ride. I’ll do my best to prevent that from happening but it’s a risk I’m willing to take for that type of partnership.

Seeking humane treatment for animals is not something one can judge sitting in the stands of a horse event or in ones loft apartment. This is something which comes from hands on experience, getting out of ivory towers and picking up a shovel, getting your hands dirty and interacting with the people, animals and lifestyle which you judge.

Tom and Bill Dorrance were 2 of the best horsemen and cowboys the world has ever known.

My 97 year old grandfather loved a horse who broke his leg after a race so much so that 50 years later he still talks about him with admiration and a deep sense of respect. Maybe, just maybe, we the owners of the horses, the food producers of this country and the lovers of equine sport done right know a little more than you do.

I’ll let Mike Rowe take it from here — within the first 5 minutes he learns the best animal rights lesson I’ve ever heard recounted and for the record, when I was in Australia we did it the same way…

Mike Rowe learns a valuable lesson in “humane” practices.
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