Dead horses

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Lots of animal news these days. The latest episode is a, surprise, surprise, crash in the chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede:

Three horses are dead. The driver whose team caused the crash when one of his horses dropped was sobbing as he spoke to reporters. It was “devastating” losing the horse, and a second horse from his team.

Calgary’s mayor called it “an awful tragedy” but he’s confident the stampede has “among the best animal care protocols in the world for this kind of event.”

“This kind of event” is the key phrase. Maybe “this kind of event” is just bad. Fifty horses have died in the chuckwagon race since 1986. That’s about two a year. So every year, when the fun cowboy festival ramps up, two horses are looking at their last days.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. Many of the horses in the race are ex-racing horses. In a sense, they’ve been given a second-lease on life because they can be retasked for this event.

And I’ve previously written favorably about the Iditarod, a grueling sled dog race that averages two dead dogs each time the race is run:

Tricky. A couple of options spring immediately to my mind. The first is that perhaps my approval of the Iditarod was misplaced. Why should a couple of dogs die just so these people can race?

The second option is to look for a fundamental difference between the two events. And while still teetering about whether I still think the Iditarod is justified, I can see there’s a significant, albeit not huge, difference between them, namely this: the dogs are doing what they like to do – except presumably the one so exhausted it dies – while the horses, even the uninjured ones, are almost certainly in a state of near-panic during the race.

In other words – and here’s where I go for drama – the chuckwagon race is a horse horror movie, ending in death, while the Iditarod is very dangerous but also the very essence of what sled dogs live for and enjoy. For a human equivalent, it’s like the difference between being forced to play Russian roulette at gunpoint, and being a mountaineer choosing to climb a deadly peak.

Mind you, the dogs don’t get to choose. So like I said, tricky. My gut says they’re different but maybe not. Maybe they’re both unacceptable. Your thoughts?

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