Jordie Fike and his team of thoroughbreds are back home for some rest after a tough year for the GMC Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede.
“The chuckwagon community is still mourning,” Fike said. “We lost family members. It hurts.”
Six horses died over 10 days in incidents related to the chuckwagon races, compared to no deaths at in at least three other circuit stops this year.
Fike isn’t sure why that’s the case, but he acknowledged that for drivers, the stakes are very high at Stampede.
He hopes to share a competitor’s perspective on the Stampede’s safety review.
“Our sport has evolved a long way. If it needs more in the name of horse safety, the drivers are all for it,” Fike, a fourth-generation driver, said. “During a race, if you feel something is wrong, you just do your best to save your animals.
“There’s no race worth any life of a horse. They love to race but you’re not going to steer them into danger.”
It’s a view shared by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the national body representing Canada’s veterinarians.
“Thoroughbreds are very much bred to race,” CVMA council member Dr. Trevor Lawson said from the group’s annual conference in Toronto. “However, any animal put in a situation that maybe doesn’t provide ideal conditions could provide risk. Many thoroughbreds race uneventfully without harm.”
The CVMA accepts the humane use of animals in competition and sport, according to its official position statement.
“Risk of injury, suffering, illness, and distress must be mitigated during training, sport and competition and every opportunity must be provided for the expression of normal behaviour in the rest periods between training, sporting, and competition events,” part of the statement reads.
It has been consulted by Stampede in other safety investigations in the past and hopes to take part in this new study.
“There are a number of potential things that can lead to greater risk, like track conditions, as well as driver error,” Lawson added. “These are all items that need to be examined.
“Some of these, bear in mind, were not preventable.
“Animals can have medical conditions that can not necessarily be picked up on a pre-race veterinary examination. In at least one of the situations (at Stampede), that was the case.”
As protestors gathered in Edmonton Tuesday again calling for an end to the races, Fike is extending an invitation.
“I don’t want those people to like me,” Fike said. “I just want them to come spend a day with me.
“Come see how the horses and rodeo stock are treated, see the life they get.
“People don’t realize how many horses get to live longer because of our sport and because of rodeo.”
Lawson and Fike expect to see the chuckwagon races continue but hope to reduce risks as the pro chuckwagon circuit moves on to Strathmore for August 2.