Horse Deaths and Midway Accident Maim Calgary Stampede

9 Aug

This couple enjoy a dance during Western Nights at the Calgary Stampede

The July 9-18 Calgary (Alta.) Stampede was down 3.5 percent to 1,145,394 from last year’s 1,186,636 because of weather, but other problems overshadowed the event, including a midway accident that injured 10 riders and the death of six horses in separate incidents.

On July 16, 10 people were hurt and two sent to the hospital after an accident on the Scorpion that took place around 9 p.m., said Mike Williams, CEO of Jackson, Miss.-based North American Midway Entertainment. The two people who went to the hospital have been released.

“One of the car carriers, which carries a set of multiple cars, came detached from one of the main sweep arms,” Williams said. “It skidded off the platform on the ride and came to rest partially off and on the Scorpion platform.”

The cause of the accident is under investigation, Williams said. “The province of Alberta has the ride in one of their warehouses where the team of engineers are doing the investigation into the cause of the incident.”

Williams noted that the incident “is unprecedented at North American Midway Entertainment” and that the ride has played, among other locales, the Eastern States Exposition (the Big E) in West Springfield, Mass., the Miami-Dade County Fair, the South Carolina State Fair in Columbia and the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.

The ride had been inspected prior to the start of the Calgary Stampede as well as in all the other provinces and states it had played prior to the accident, Williams said.

Doug Fraser, the Stampede’s media relations manager, said he could not comment on the accident because of the ongoing investigation, which is being handled by the Alberta Elevating Devices and Amusement Rides Association.

As for the horses, they all died in separate incidents during the Stampede. Three died of heart attacks, one during morning training, one after the chuckwagon races and one during a Western cattle-penning event.
One horse died of an abdominal aneurysm and two had to be euthanized after breaking bones.

“It was unusual this year,” Fraser said. “It’s very upsetting and unusual, but it should be noted that the six deaths were a result of totally different circumstances and that none of the deaths were the result of an on track accident.”

Morris Airey, director of animal protection services for the Alberta SPCA, said two SPCA officers are involved with the inspection of animals at the Stampede, and are still reviewing the situations surrounding the deaths of the six horses. 

“Seeing as how they were unrelated events, it makes it more difficult to pinpoint the causes or reasons, but we are looking at reports coming from the Stampede board and our own investigation to look at ways of changing the rules or preventing a recurrence,” Airey said. 

“We don’t take an outright opposition to the event,” Airey said. “In the past, we have worked with the Stampede and officials there to make substantial changes to the event. We feel we have been beneficial in preventing injury to the stock. This year was particularly bad. Six animals died in a two-day period, and it did put a lot of focus on the Stampede.”

The attendance decline was the result of rain that prompted the cancellation of one night of chuckwagon races, Fraser said.

“We had bad weather from Saturday to Tuesday,” he said. “The first Saturday, the weather was bad, but attendance varied and at one point on Monday, we were actually ahead and we had a great family day on Sunday.”

Amber Swedgan, director of communications and media relations for NAME, said Tuesday’s weather really hurt the carnival and that overall, revenues were down 4 percent from last year. Pay-one-price presale wristbands, available at area Safeway grocery stores and valid on weekdays, cost $36, Swedgan said. Otherwise, ride coupons cost $1 for one, $20 for 22, $50 for 55 and $20 for 30 coupons on Kids’ Day. Midway games were down 2 percent and food was down 3 percent, she added.

Admission to the Stampede was the same as last year at $14 Canadian, or about $13.80 U.S., for adults; and $7 for children 12 and under and free for children 7 and under.

“We felt we were able to hold the line and offer the best value for our visitors,” Fraser said.

Next year’s dates are July 8-17. — Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article, Mike Williams, (601) 842-6573; Doug Fraser, (403) 261-0242; Amber Swedgan, (601) 383-5533.

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