[First published on Vacay.ca]
HANNA, ALBERTA — Dr. Greg Evans pats Grated Coconut on the neck and nods. “This is the Wayne Gretzky of rodeo,” says the veterinarian who works at the Calgary Stampede Ranch, a 22,000-acre property that sprawls across the golden fields of southern Alberta and is home to 500 of the finest horses on the continent. Evans is in charge of taking care of Grated Coconut, a six-time world champion bucking stallion, and the other animals on the ranch, which sends the bulls, bucking broncos, chuckwagon-race thoroughbreds and other animals to the rodeo each year.
As Evans pets Grated Coconut, he marvels at the horse’s disposition. “You can’t go up to most bucking horses like this, especially ones that compete at the level that Grated Coconut did. But this one is special.”
Grated Coconut was retired in 2010 at a special ceremony. At 15, he will spend the rest of his life roaming the pasture near Drumheller in Alberta’s Badlands, breeding with several mares on the ranch and being spoiled with some of the best animal healthcare around. It’s star treatment that is well deserved for the thrills the horse brought to rodeo fans.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say the animals here get better care than many people’s children,” says Evans.
Whether it’s top-of-the-line medicine or even therapeutic massages, the horses and bulls receive it if the vets think they need it. Some even find a home away from the ranch. Champion bull rider Scott Schiffner now keeps two of the animals that he once rode to big paydays on his property. They’re so docile in retirement, he says, that his four-year-old daughter feeds them.
Despite such examples of adoration, the Stampede attracts heavy scrutiny each year from animal-rights groups. Last year, two horses died despite rules changes implemented to reduce risk of catastrophic injuries. In 2010, six horses were put down and more than 50 have perished since 1986, mostly in the chuckwagon races, which feature teams of horses leading conestoga-style wagons around the track at Stampede Park in a mayhem of hoofs, reins, and “yahs.” Tie-down roping, also known as calf roping, has fallen under even greater criticism because of what opponents say is the torment imposed on the animals.