The Calgary Stampede – a spectacle of animal abuse

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur



TAKE ACTION: Ask Air Canada to stop sponsoring the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race. Send a message to them here.


It’s time to ban calf-roping and steer-wrestling at the Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede, like all rodeos, is a cruel spectacle of animal abuse. Fear, pain and stress are used to coerce animals into performing for the entertainment of human beings – a barbaric concept. Yet here in Canada, in the 21st century, we offer this as a tourist attraction and as a symbol of our culture.

Perhaps the most inhumane of all rodeo events, calf-roping and steer-wrestling remain a big part of the Stampede. We’re asking compassionate Canadians to urge the Stampede to drop these events. It’s time for the Stampede to listen to Canadians who oppose abusing animals for entertainment.

Calf-roping is a cruel rodeo event at the Calgary Stampede.What is calf-roping?

Calf-roping, also known as tie-down roping (rodeo promoters changed the name to make it more palatable to the public), is probably the least popular rodeo event, even among avid rodeo fans. There is often a gasp from the crowds when the calf, just three to four months old, is brought to a sudden, jerking halt at the end of the rope.

The event starts with the calf contained in a steel-barred “chute” at the side of the arena. The calf is goaded, prodded and often has its tail twisted to ensure it will burst out of the chute at full speed (up to 27 miles per hour). The terrified calf is then chased by a mounted rider who must lasso the calf, jump of his horse, pick up the calf, slam it to the ground and tie three of its feet together. The event is timed and the rider who does it fastest wins.

Calves are sometimes injured or killed because of the sudden physical impact of the roping. The time pressure of the event and the prize money at stake can lead to poor roping, harsh handling and mistakes by riders – all of which put the calf at risk of injury. But it is not just the risk of injury that is the problem with calf-roping. It’s the fear.



Steer-wrestling involves a mounted rodeo competitor jumping onto a running steer and twisting its neck until the animal is literally bent to the ground. Steers died in this event at the Stampede in 2013 and 2014, their necks being broken. Steer-wrestling has nothing to do with real ranch work and was invented for rodeo in the 1930s. It is just a cruel circus event using livestock.






calfcruelty2The cruelty of fear

All cattle are “prey” animals and research has shown they are particularly sensitive to fear. Dr. Temple Grandin, the distinguished animal behaviourist, has written that fear is “so bad” for animals it can be worse than pain. There can be little doubt that a three-month-old calf, goaded and chased into an arena with a shouting crowd is suffering even before the rope pulls him off his feet. How can tormenting an animal in this way be acceptable as entertainment? Treating a dog this way would result in cruelty charges. Sadly, farm animals in Canada have no such legal protection – apparently even when they are used for mere entertainment.


The chuckwagon race

More than 60 horses have died at the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race since 1986, many from collisions between wagons.  We think the race is too dangerous and puts hoses at undue risk of injury.  We have urged the Stampede to suspend the race and set up a panel of independent equine experts, veterinarians and animal welfare experts to determine if the race can be made safer. They have refused to do so.


The myth of rodeo’s old west heritage

Rodeo promoters will say that calf-roping and other rodeo events are part of the culture of the old west. But when real cowboys roped calves on the range there was no pressure from a stopwatch or big prize money. It was done as gently as possible to ensure the animal was not injured. The myth of rodeo’s old west “heritage” has been used with other events. Real cowboys did not ride bulls (Why would they?) or wrestle steers (invented for rodeo in the 1930s) or have chuckwagon races (invented for rodeo in 1923). Rodeo has almost nothing to do with the culture of the old west. It is merely sensational entertainment – and it causes animals to suffer for the most trivial of purposes.

The Cloverdale Rodeo – a precedent

In 2007, the Cloverdale Rodeo in Surrey, B.C., dropped four major events from its program after years of pressure from VHS and other animal protection groups. The events (team-roping, wild cow-milking, steer-wrestling and calf-roping) are the mainstays of rodeo – or so it was thought.
To the surprise of many, the rodeo and country fair has attracted record crowds since 2008 without the roping events. It was clear that the real attraction in Cloverdale is the country fair, not the rodeo. It was also apparent that making the rodeo more humane had no negative impact on attendance. If the Calgary Stampede and other Canadian rodeos followed suit they would likely find a similar reaction from the public. Certainly, the public would not miss calf-roping.

More information on rodeos

Deaths at the Calgary Stampede -1986 to July 2018

Rodeo gallery of shame

Contact the Stampede to tell them you want an end to calf-roping:

Warren Connell
Chief Executive Officer
Calgary Stampede
Box 1060
Station M
Calgary, Alberta
T2P 2K8
Tel: 403 261 0101 (local)  or: 1 800 661 1260 (North America toll free)
Fax: 403 265 7197

Email Stampede:

Comment via the Stampede website.

You can also urge CBC Sports to stop television coverage of the Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon races.  Write to:

Trevor Pilling
Head of Programming, CBC Sports
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6



Write letters to the editor or comment online:

When you see media coverage of the Calgary Stampede or other rodeos, send a letter to the editor, use online comment features, call feedback lines or call radio talk shows. Add your voice to the case against calf-roping!

Thanks to the “We Animals” project for use of photos: