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This article was published 17/7/2012 (2644 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After the horrifying spectacle of horse deaths at the Calgary Stampede last week, a smaller, gentler rodeo gets underway in southern Manitoba today.
The Calgary Stampede draws a crowd of 1.4 million. The Manitoba Stampede in Morris will host up to 25,000.
At the big Alberta event, nine horses have been killed since 2010. At the Morris stampede, there have been no animal deaths in recent memory.
But that doesn't mean it's a kinder event than Calgary, animal welfare advocates say.
"Most rodeo events are stressful to the animals and are likely to cause pain, injury, or even death," said Olivier Berreville, the scientific adviser for Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals.
Chuckwagon racing, calf roping and steer wrestling can be deadly but seemingly less brutal kiddie events such as pig scrambles and 'mutton bustin' are equally as traumatic to the animals, said Berreville, who spent his childhood on a farm, has a doctorate in biology and lives on an acreage outside Winnipeg.
In the case of mutton bustin', sheep are separated from their flock, causing intense distress, he said. Then, their fleece is grabbed at and gripped by frantic children.
That's cruel handling and violates guidelines for Manitoba producers, Berreville said.
The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Sheep says "sheep should never be caught by grabbing their fleece."
And, under the Criminal Code, anyone who wilfully causes or allows unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal commits an offence, yet rodeo events are considered legal, he said.
Police attend the Manitoba Stampede — to participate, not investigate. The RCMP's famous Musical Ride gallops into town on the weekend.
With police performing and the provincial government sponsoring the event, it's difficult to do more than raise awareness that animals used for entertainment can and do suffer, Berreville said.
The Winnipeg Humane Society said it prefers advocacy to activism, and won't demonstrate at the Manitoba Stampede.
"Protests don't work," said Bill McDonald, chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
"I see virtually no value in going to the Morris stampede and protesting," he said. "I'd rather sit down with them and talk about safety and low-risk measures."
He's glad Manitoba Stampede chuckwagon races are safer, with ponies and no outriders on horseback. Three horses died in Calgary last week after one pulling a chuckwagon burst an artery and collapsed and two outriders crashed into the wagon.
"I have to give credit to the Manitoba Stampede," McDonald said. "It has a pretty good safety record."
The humane society's only beef with the rodeo is the calf roping event. The society wants it banned, McDonald said. Kiddie events such as mutton bustin' are grooming the next generation but the humane society can't dictate what is and is not humane entertainment, McDonald said.
"You can't ban what people want but you can make it safer."
The president of the Manitoba Stampede said events are safer than they were 25 years ago when he first got involved.
"We're constantly changing and tinkering with the rules, in calf roping in particular," said Tim Lewis. The jerk-down rule, for example, automatically disqualifies a rider if a calf is roped and pulled backward, head-over-heels, he said.
If the Manitoba Stampede had no regard for the care and safety of the animals involved, people wouldn't participate or attend, Lewis said.
If animals were suffering in the kiddie events, producers wouldn't lend their pigs for the pig scramble and the petting zoo wouldn't lend its sheep for the mutton bustin,' Lewis said.
The stampede, which kicks off this evening and runs until Sunday, is about having fun and preserving tradition.
"We're just basically recreating some of the things that happened on the ranches," he said.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Updated on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 9:37 AM CDT: Berreville's name corrected