Yee-haw! Today marks the start of the one of North America’s oldest and largest celebrations of smacking animals around: the Calgary Stampede.

This event, which takes place in Alberta, is expected to draw over one million visitors, including Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. What are these people flocking to watch? According to Calvary Stampede spokesperson Doug Fraser, 25,000 come to specifically watch calf roping. Calf roping is accurately described by SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) as “the most cowardly rodeo event.” This faux sport consists of macho cowboys roping baby cows that are usually about three or four months old. As the folks at SHARK explain, “the calf is roped so violently she becomes airborne before slamming into the ground. This process can break the calf’s neck, back or legs.” Tell the Calgary Stampede to ban calf roping.

Other intellectually stimulating highlights include steer wrestling and bronc riding. No word as to whether or not electric prods will be used for the latter event. There’s also chuckwagon racing, which has the dubious honor of being the Stampede’s deadliest event. According to the Vancouver Humane Society, nearly 50 chuckwagon horses have been killed at the Calgary Stampede since 1986, mainly due to crashes and the stress of the 10 day extravaganza.

Not surprisingly, there are those who take exception to the Alberta Abuse-a-thon. Jeremy Thomas has been protesting the rodeo for years. “Every year, animals are hurt, killed and scared out of their minds for the sake of entertainment. That’s what we want to see end.” More than 50 members of Parliament in Britain, where rodeos have been banned since 1934, signed a motion condemning rodeos, specifically calling on the Canadian government to take steps to stop the “immense cruelty” of events like the Calgary Stampede. Other opponents of rodeos include the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies,  the Humane Society of Canada, the ASPCA, PETA, the HSUS, the Royal New Zealand SPCA, and the Australian SPCA. Basically, anyone involved with the animal welfare movement is against rodeos.

Why still have events like the Calgary Stampede? One argument is economic: Lots of tourists means lots of money. Sadly, that’s no doubt true, and we all know concerns over cash trump concerns over cruelty every time. And, of course, there are those who will make fallacious arguments based on “culture” and “tradition.” Been there, heard that.

Really, I think the citizens of Calgary can crawl out of the 19th century and find new traditions and new ways to milk tourists for money. Maybe they can start by letting the oh-so-macho cowboys rope and wrestle each other for a change.

Hey, it’s a start.

Photo Credit: PETA