Animal rights group asks Kevin Costner not to lead Calgary Stampede parade

An animal rights group says it has sent a letter to Kevin Costner urging him to step away from the Calgary Stampede.

The Hollywood actor was named parade marshal for this year’s event.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, says in a news release that the Stampede rodeo’s chuckwagon races have reportedly caused the deaths of more than 70 horses — including half a dozen in 2019, when the Stampede last held the races.

The Stampede’s executive said at that time it would do a thorough review of the safety of chuckwagon racing.

New rules were instituted in 2011, requiring veterinarians to inspect animals arriving at the Stampede and before every race. A mandatory rest day after every four days was brought in and changes on the track were also made.

The Stampede has always said the safety of animals and people is its No. 1 priority.

In an email statement to CBC News on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Stampede said, “As always, we welcome PETA for a direct discussion regarding our animal care practices.” 

Chuckwagon races have long been one of the Calgary Stampede’s signature events. They have also been a source of controversy for animal rights groups concerned about the welfare of the horses involved. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The “chucks,” as they are informally called, were cancelled for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are to go ahead this year.

“During these reckless and dangerous races, teams of horses are forced to pull wagons around a track at breakneck speeds,” PETA writes in the letter to Costner.

“Throughout the ordeal, they can be seen foaming at the mouth with their eyes rolling back in their heads. Many have sustained broken legs or backs or suffered heart attacks.”

PETA is asking Costner, who has starred in movies shot in the Calgary area, to dissociate himself from the event.

“Year after year, this reckless rodeo runs gentle horses to death,” senior vice-president Lisa Lange said in the release Thursday. “PETA is calling on Kevin Costner to cut ties with the Calgary Stampede before it costs more animals’ lives.”

The Calgary Stampede Showband marches down Ninth Avenue S.W. in 2019. The Stampede parade is often attended by hundreds of thousands of people. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Animal welfare groups, including the Vancouver and Calgary humane societies and Animal Justice, have long urged that the races and other rodeo events be stopped because they amount to animal cruelty.

Animal Justice is a national organization that works to improve legal protection for animals.

Chuckwagon races are a nightly spectacle during the 10-day Stampede. Crowds as horse-drawn wagons thunder around a dirt track accompanied by outriders.

This year’s Stampede runs from July 8 to July 17.

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