Doc West: The Tuf Cooper Debacle

tufcooper

ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE ELSTON

Question: Tuf Cooper invited back to compete at the world’s richest rodeo after last year’s fiasco is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. As, for that matter, is the invitation. These rodeo cowboys need to understand it’s a new world, one where abuse of animals is simply no longer sanctioned. Period. Cooper’s apparent disregard of the intense scrutiny events like the Calgary Stampede are under, should have been, in my opinion, addressed in a longer suspension. If Cooper wants to whip his horses, he can just stay in Texas as far as I’m concerned. Don’t you agree, Doc? 

Answer: Let’s set the record straight – characterizing Tuf Cooper’s ‘over and undering’ his horse with the end of a tie down rope as “abuse” is akin to portraying Justin Trudeau’s now infamous “elbowgate” as the greatest MMA beat-down of all time. Yes, yes, to a West Coast “progressive” it’s a capital offense. Pamela Anderson might write a letter in protest (or try to write a letter. . . or, have someone write a letter for her). But ask any horse trainer worth his salt, any horse trainer worth his salt, and they will all say something like, “you have to get after one every now and then”. Physical correction (within acceptable parameters) is part of horse training and yes, it is part of horsemanship. Forget the warm and fuzzy movies, forget the charlatans, and suave peddlers, forget the money you wasted on nonsense “natural horsemanship” videos – the hard stark truth is horses sometimes require physical correction.

You can’t talk to a horse, you can’t reason with them, they are free from logic as we humans understand it. Horses don’t understand your soft coos, ladies, and they don’t give a hoot about your hollering, fellas. Horses are herd animals that work on pressure and release. Physical pressure and physical release. What Tuf did was not abuse, he applied pressure to his horse in order to obtain a response.  ‎

That being said it wasn’t the place for it. Most “cowboy hat with a whistle” types sitting in the club seats at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, don’t break, train or even own their own horses. Some of them don’t eat meat, others bicycle to work, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say most don’t own a pair of boots – leather or rubber. They see horses as pets – to be cuddled and spoken softly to like their cat, Jerry, on Thursday Greys Anatomy night. So naturally, when people see a big bad cowboy “whip” his horse they spit out their beer and squawk. No one expects to see animals injured, or hit, or even die – because in the minds of the viewing public, those things never happen. That is the reality of the Calgary Stampede, and frankly it’s the reality of modern rodeo; rural culture – all sanitized, distilled, corrupted, packaged and finally displayed in spectacular fashion to all the city folk safe in the fold of a comfortable urban venue. It’s a marriage of opposites – culture, ideas and philosophies – bringing the country to the city, and as with all challenging relationships, both partners need to compromise enough to make it work, but not so much as to lose what made the marriage worth it in the first place.

The Stampede board, committees and directors need to realize that their job is not to simply bend to the whim of Hollywood activists and PETA zealots. They have a responsibility to stand firm, to educate and explain ethical, yet practical realities of animal husbandry. However, in this case even ordinary folks may have cringed a little, because Tuf’s display was cringe-worthy after all, which brings me to my final point. The cowboys also have a responsibility to realize that they are no longer competing in Terrell, East Texas – they are on an international stage with millions of viewers. Certain sensibilities need to prevail. In other words, think a bit. That means you too, Cooper. Just because your mamma named you “Tuf,” doesn’t mean you can’t use your head a bit more, and the end of your rope a little bit less.

Stampede’s Newest Western Facility

Photo courtesy Calgary Stampede

Photo courtesy Calgary Stampede

Calgary – Horses, cowboys and rural residents now have a custom-built, year-round home right in the heart of Calgary on Stampede Park.

The Calgary Stampede has officially opened the Agrium Western Event Centre – Canada’s premiere western event and agriculture education showcase. The building opened on Saturday, June 21, amid much fanfare of a community open house and a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured federal Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification Michelle Rempel and Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Verlyn Olson.

The ultra-modern 150,000 sq. ft. building features an extra-large 2,500-seat specialized arena for equine and western events, a multi-purpose exhibit hall, and a grand rotunda entry that double as a week-day classroom for a unique educational program on sustainable agriculture. The Agrium Centre becomes the new focal point of horse and agriculture-related activities at Stampede Park. Visitors will experience it first during the Stampede July 4 to 13, and with more experiences this year when a series of new horse shows and competitions fill the building throughout the fall season.

“The Calgary Stampede is a world-class event, attracting millions of visitors from all over the world,” Minister Olson said when addressing the crowd on Saturday. “As the largest facility of its kind in Canada, the new Agrium Western Event Centre will be an incredible venue for education, entertainment and to showcase our agriculture industry.”

The Government of Canada and Government of Alberta each contributed $25 million towards the Agrium Centre as part of a series of recent agriculture infrastructure enhancements at Stampede Park that, together, cost $61.5 million. Agrium contributed as title sponsor of the building.

“We are thrilled that our partners shared in our vision of creating a world-class, year-round venue that connects urban and rural,” said Bob Thompson, President and Board chair of the Calgary Stampede. “This provides a gathering place for agriculture industries and associations, offers economic benefit to Calgary businesses, and ensures city residents have a regular connection to agriculture, horses and livestock all through the year.”

Agrium’s President and CEO Chuck Magro also spoke at the Agrium Centre’s grand opening, underlining how the building houses a unique global education program created by the Stampede and Agrium. “We’re thrilled to be part of making the Agrium Western Event Centre a reality at the Calgary Stampede,” said Magro. “This is a place to celebrate agriculture and to learn about sustainable farming practices, through the Journey 2050 program, as we work to feed 9 billion people globally by 2050.”

Journey 2050 coaches grade seven students to explore how the world will feed itself sustainably in the year 2050. Up to 70 students will gather at the building’s rotunda each weekday to experience an interactive inquiry-based personal and computer program that shows the results and impacts of their virtual farming choices.

Guests of the grand opening event marveled at the building’s size and the great sight-lines from the open concourse and seating areas. The behind-the-scenes features of the building were a hit with horse-owners who recognize the animal-friendly features built into every aspect of the handling, warm-up and performance areas.

“We are bringing the Arabian Horse Association’s Western Canadian show to Calgary because of this building,” Arabian Association representative Allison Mostowich told the crowd. “Our first priority is always our horses, and we can tell from the way this building was designed, animals are the Stampede’s top priority as well. We’re looking forward to being the first big event here after the Stampede (July 21-26).”

A current listing of the horse shows, competitions and championship events being hosted this year at the Agrium Centre are on the website. Many are new to Calgary, with three major events being created with this new facility’s capabilities in mind.