For anyone involved in rodeo, ranching, farming, or anyone even remotely immersed in Western culture, the question of whether or not cowboys take good care of their animals seems rhetorical. There is an old cowboy saying that goes something to the effect of, “the horses eat and drink before the cowboys do,” but it isn’t just a cliché turn of phrase… it is a reality.
I was down at the Stampede rodeo grounds this week and it only affirmed what I have seen at rodeos across Alberta, the well-being of the animals comes first and foremost. A cowboy can be bruised, covered in dirt, and exhausted but you can rest assured that even after a tough run that athlete’s horse is going to be taken care of and given water long before the cowboy ever takes a break.
Even if you don’t know a thing about rodeo or chuckwagons, you can think of it in financial terms. Some rodeo animals are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more when we talk about breeding rights, and the folks who work in these industries are absolutely dependent on the well-being of the animals to earn their living, so even on the most utilitarian of levels, exceptional animal wellbeing simply makes sense.
Beyond that, it is essential to remember that many of the rodeo and chuckwagon horses you see when you attend the Calgary Stampede are former racehorses who have aged out of that field and found new life in the world of rodeo. They are essentially rescue horses who are receiving care comparable to that of professional human athletes in other sports.
I went behind the scenes at the rodeo grounds to talk to some of the people involved in the greatest outdoor show on earth, including some professional cowboys, chuckwagon drivers, and those working to keep animals happy and healthy. Their love for their animals, who they repeatedly called ‘family’, was very much worn on their sleeves and evident to anyone paying attention.
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