Calgary Stampede tightens race rules

SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

The Calgary Stampede is expected to announce sweeping changes to its chuckwagon races in the coming weeks.

In a bid to push its safety-first mandate, the Stampede is requiring each chuckwagon team to identify which horses will be racing.

Those horses will be checked by a veterinarian before and after each race.

Horses will also be limited to four consecutive nights of racing before given a forced night off.

The moves are earning kudos from at least one animal advocate.

Calgary

Humane Society spokeswoman Desiree Arsenault said the changes are inching in the right direction.

"It's an improvement," Arsenault said.

"It's being done to increase the welfare of the animals on the track.

"And by limiting the number of races, it will hopefully reduce the number of injuries over the 10 days of Stampede." The biggest alteration fans will immediately notice is the plan to go down to two outriders per wagon from the existing four.

While it will save chuckwagon drivers approximately $10,000 per year in horse hauling and feeding costs, it will not be a popular one.

The outriders are livid.

Chanse Vigen, who won a record-tying fifth world outriding championship last season, said the move hurt the sport. "I think it's terrible," Vigen said. "It's going to kill those young guys because no one's going to give them a shot now.

"And if you don't have that stream of youth coming in, you're going to run out of guys when the old outriders move on or become drivers."

If the announced changes were in the name of safety, outrider Vigen

isn't buying it. "We've had one horse go down for as long as I can remember," Vigen said.

"And it was with a guy who was 150 pounds with a dirty diaper on its back. That could have happened out in the pasture.

"I know the Stampede is trying to appease the animal rights activists, but this won't help.

"If anything, things are safer with us out there when things go wrong." Calgary Stampede senior manager Keith Marrington would not comment.

Not all area rodeos are following suit, however.

The Ponoka Stampede would remain as the lone four-outrider show. Ponoka Stampede director Blair Vold said there are no immediate plans to make any changes.

"We understand that there will be changes going down the road and we have to be able to adjust for these guys," Vold said. "But our board is pretty traditional."

scott.fisher@sunmedia.ca


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