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Stampede head says festival still safe

CALGARY - The so-called Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth had a rocky ride this year.

CALGARY - The so-called Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth had a rocky ride this year.

Six horses died during the Calgary Stampede's 10-day run. A piece of a midway ride suddenly came crashing down, injuring 10 people and sending six teenagers to hospital. Heavy rain and chunks of hail pounded the outdoor grounds.

But the president of the Stampede said Monday that it remains a leader in ethical animal care, any human activity carries some danger, and Calgarians can still be proud of how the show was run.

"There's a risk if you walk across the street ... There's risk in everything we do. So for individuals to think that you can engage in activities with no risk, not realistic," said David Chalack.

"I can tell you for sure, this is one of the safest venues for this type of festival anywhere."

Critics have called the animal death toll "depressingly predictable" and have urged people to boycott the rodeo until events where animals have died, such as the chuckwagons and steer wrestling, are ended.

Chalack said he has received many messages of support throughout the Stampede. He said that as a veterinarian, he knows animals can die in a variety of ways.

Two of the horses died of heart attacks. One was euthanized after it bucked so hard it broke its back. Another two were euthanized after leg and shoulder injuries.

A final death was classified as unknown, but Chalack said a necropsy later showed the animal had an abdominal aneurysm.

"The pathologist made a special note of saying how healthy this individual was," he said. "People have aneurysms, people have heart attacks, this horse unfortunately blew a vessel."

One young woman was injured when her horse had a heart attack while she was riding in the cattle penning competition. Chalack said she remains in hospital.

Chalack says he has spoken with the parents of one of the teens involved in the midway accident, and said he'd like to hear from any others.

He said he can't speak to compensation while the investigation is ongoing, but he'd like to offer the young people a better Stampede experience next year.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach spoke up in support of the Stampede at an economic event in Calgary on Monday.

The premier said he thought of his own children and grandchildren when he heard about the midway accident and sympathizes with the parents.

But he added he's confident the provincial amusement rides association will do a thorough investigation and figure out what went wrong.

"The Calgary Stampede has a tremendous future," he said.

Attendance at the fair was down about 40,000 from last year, but Chalack attributed that slump to one day of nasty weather.

He pointed to exit polls that said 94 per cent of people said they were happy with their experience, and said parents can have full confidence in the safety of future Stampedes.

"Every accident and every incident, you can learn something from. We are continually reviewing our processes, reviewing events," he said.

"The safety and well being of people who come to the park, all the animals that are here, over 7,500, all the participants and competitors, that is our number 1 priority."