Microchips Will Monitor Horse Health at Calgary Stampede

More than 500 horses expected to compete in the chuckwagon races at the 2011 Calgary Stampede will receive microchip implants that will allow veterinarians to monitor the animals' health before and after each race.

The annual Calgary Stampede features rodeo-style competitions and livestock exhibitions. The 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 has consisted of four wagon horses and four horses carrying outriders.

Some animal welfare groups have long criticized the chuckwagon races on grounds that the events put horses under extreme stress and risk for injury and death. Last year, a total of six horses died in separate Stampede rodeo events. Of those, four Thoroughbred horses died in connection with the chuckwagon races.

In February, the Stampede adopted new rules intended to improve safety of both equine and human race participants, including mandatory veterinary inspections for horses used in chuckwagon races upon arrival, prior to each race, and after each race among other rule changes.

On June 23 Stampede officials announced that microchips will be implanted in all horses participating in chuckwagon races. The implants will enable veterinarians to monitor the horses' condition during performance and rest days, and will also provide data about medical treatment or therapies the horses receive during their stay at the Stampede.

Desiree Arsenault, communications manager for the Calgary Humane Society, said the organization requested that Stampede officials use implants to monitor equine health during chuckwagon race events back in 2003.

"We're happy they've chosen to do it," Arsenault said. "We feel the implants will improve the accuracy of horses' medical history and that having more accurate records will reduce injuries."

However Vancouver Humane Society Spokesman Peter Fricker said the new rules and implant plan don't do enough to ensure animal welfare during the event.

"We welcome any improvements to animal welfare, but these changes don't address the fundamental animal welfare issue that concerns us - that animals are subjected to fear pain and stress for the sake of entertainment," Fricker said.

The Calgary Stampede will take place July 8-17 in Alberta, Canada.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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