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Canada Chuckwagon driver given record fine over horse death

Chuckwagon racers warm-up before competing in the Calgary Stampede on July 11, 2011 in Calgary.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Calgary Stampede levied its largest fine ever against a driver Saturday, after a chuckwagon race collision led to the death of a horse.

The chuckwagon safety commission fined driver Cliff Cunningham after investigating the Friday-night incident which saw an injured horse put down.

Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser said an initial fine of $2,500 was upped to $12,500 after the commission reviewed video of the crash and spoke with the drivers involved.

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"It was the judgment of the commission that the cause of the collision was clearly a case of driver error," Mr. Fraser said.

"The commission wanted to send a strong message that action has consequences."

Mr. Fraser also said the commission ruled that the horse broke its leg in the crash.

Both teams involved in the collision finished the race on Friday, but a Stampede veterinarian discovered one of driver Jim Knight's horses had a broken leg and the animal had to be euthanized.

Much of the fine – $10,000 – will go towards Mr. Knight to compensate him for the loss of his horse.

It was the second horse to die during the chuckwagon races at the Stampede this year.

A week ago, one of Mr. Cunningham's horses had to be destroyed after suffering a broken leg during a chuckwagon race on the Stampede's first night of competition.

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Mr. Fraser said in that case, a review concluded the horse suffered a "catastrophic" injury that was not the result of driver error or a collision.

In 2010, six horses had to be put down during the Calgary Stampede.

Mr. Fraser said in Friday's collision, Mr. Cunningham admitted right away that he was at fault, and that there are no hard feelings between the two drivers over the incident.

Mr. Fraser said he was with the two drivers in a room shortly before the announcement of the fine was made.

"Cliff was sorry. He admitted his mistake. Jim, I think, was very, very forgiving, stating that accidents do happen. And although this was a case of driver error, Jim has no hard feelings with Cliff," he said.

"The two are pretty good friends in the long run."

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Both Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Knight were scheduled to race again Saturday night.

Stampede officials, in order to cut down on the number of deaths, instituted an overhaul of animal care standards at the event this year.

They include microchipping horses to track how often they are used and cutting the number of outriders in the chuckwagon races to two from four.

Despite the Stampede's actions though, animal welfare organizations have complained that the rodeo is simply cruelty masquerading as entertainment.

The Vancouver Humane Society, which has noted more than 50 chuckwagon horses have died since 1986, repeated its call for the immediate suspension of the Stampede chuckwagon races following Friday's horse death.

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