Chuckwagon Horse Dies at Calgary Stampede

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A ruptured aneurysm is being blamed for a horse's death during a training session for the chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede currently underway in Alberta, Canada.

The Calgary Stampede's GMC Rangeland Derby chuckwagon race pits four teams of horse-drawn wagons against each other in a series of elimination races over several days; traditionally, each team consists of four wagon horses and four outrider horses.

In recent years, several horses have died in the chuckwagon races. In 2011, stampede management announced new rules intended to increase safety for both equine and human chuckwagon race participants, including veterinary inspections to determine whether horses are fit to compete. Those deemed unfit are scratched from the event, while those deemed fit to compete also undergo post-race veterinary inspections. The rules also mandate that no horse can run in the event more than three consecutive days, and all horses used in the chuckwagon races must have at least one rest day in every four.

A necropsy and pathology tests are also performed on every animal that dies at the stampede, said Calgary Stampede spokeswoman Bonni Clark.

In a written statement, Kurt Kadatz, Calgary Stampede director of corporate communications, said a wagon horse collapsed and died after completing a morning training run on July 8. The 12-year-old Thoroughbred was acquired from another chuckwagon driver after its career as a racehorse ended, Kadatz said.

A necropsy revealed that the horse experienced a ruptured aneurysm, Kadatz's said.

In a video statement Gordon Atkins, DVM, senior instructor of large livestock veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary, said a parasite caused the ruptured aneurysm.

“In horses it is very common that they have parasites that migrate thought the blood vessels as part of their lifecycles,” Atkins said. “When they migrate they can cause damage to the lining of the vessels, and that damage can cause a ballooning or a weakening of the vessels. That weakening causes the rupture.”

There is no way to prevent or predict such a rupture, he said.

The horse’s death renewed some animal advocates' belief that the chuckwagon races should be suspended pending further review.

“It’s clear that right now this event is fundamentally unsafe and should be suspended until a thorough review can take place,” said Peter Fricker, spokesman for the Vancouver Humane Society.

Stampede events and procedures are under constant review, Clark said.

The Calgary Stampede continues through July 13.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a professional journalist who has covered horse industry and equestrian topics for a number of publications. Her background includes riding, showing, and training Saddlebred horses.

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