by Eric Mills, coordinator, Action for Animals, Oakland, California
“Cowboys, sensing—like gorillas—that their time has passed, cling ever more desperately to anachronistic styles, not willing to admit that the myth has degenerated, the traditions eroded to a point where attempting to sustain them falls somewhere between silliness and the outright ridiculous.”
––Larry McMurtry in the book Rodeo, with commentary and photos by Louise Serpa (Aperture Books, NYC, 1994)
“Women should not rodeo any more than men can have babies. Women were put on earth to reproduce, and are close to animals. Women’s liberation is on an equal to gay liberation—they are both ridiculous.”
––A Wyoming steer wrestler, in the book, Rodeo: An Anthropologist Looks at the Wild and
the Tame, by Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, University of Tennessee Press, 1982)
“The eighteen-year-old rodeo queen and her princess told me that rodeo people, including themselves, ‘hated Democrats, environmentalists, and gays.’ I was astonished that their political and social outlook could be reduced to such simple platitudes of hate. And why?”
––Joan Burbick, Rodeo Queens and the American Dream, Public Affairs, NYC, 2002)
“Cowboys for Christ”
Now that all the Nativity Scenes have been dismantled–replete with all the adoring farm animals—horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, et al—we can get back to business-as-usual: terrorizing and abusing these very same animals in rodeo arenas around the country.
There is even a group called Cowboys for Christ, which meets most Sundays before the rodeo for a prayer session. Can you spell “hypocrisy”?
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), based in Colorado Springs, claims there are some 5,000 rodeos held throughout the U.S. every year. The PRCA sanctions only about 600 of them. A smaller rodeo organization, the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA),
sanctions a smaller number, mostly in the Eastern U.S.
“Bogus from the git-go”
The PRCA has required on-site veterinary care at its sanctioned events only since 1996, after five animals were killed at the 1995 California Rodeo in Salinas (I was there). The IPRA—to its shame—has no such rule.
And why not, pray? Race tracks, horse shows, endurance rides all require on-site vets. So should all rodeos, and legislation is in order in every state to rectify this.
Most of rodeo is bogus from the git-go, having little to do with either agriculture or life on a working ranch. Real cowboys/girls never routinely rode bulls, or wrestled steers, or rode bareback, or barrel raced, or practiced calf roping (terrified babies) as a timed event.
Nor did they put flank straps on the horses and bulls, or work the animals over in the holding chutes with “hotshots,” kicks, slaps and tail-twisting. It’s all macho hype, an exercise in domination. And it needs to stop.
(Lest anyone imagine that rodeo did originate from actual ranch practices, see these histories of three of the oldest and most famous rodeos in Canada and the U.S.: Three more chuckwagon horses killed as Calgary Stampede 2019 ends, Did the Omak Suicide Race start with a horse massacre & the KKK?, and SHARK video shows dogs baiting bulls at Calif. Salinas Rodeo 2019. Ranch work had little to do with the beginnings of any of them.)
“I plain roped their heads off”
The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) outlawed rodeos back in 1934, followed by Germany and the Netherlands. How far behind can the U.S. be?
Rodeo injuries and deaths in the arena are commonplace, yet that is only the tip of the iceberg. One can only imagine the abuse taking place during the countless hours of unmonitored practice sessions, often on the same animals used repeatedly.
Wrote former PRCA publicist rodeo Gavin Ehringer, “As a calf roper once confided to me, ‘Yeah, I accidentally killed and injured lots of calves when I was learning. I mean, I plain roped their heads off till I really learned how to handle them and not hurt them.’” (“The Mud, the Blood and the Poop: A Rodeo Insider Takes You Behind the Chutes of America’s Cowboy Sport,” Colorado Springs Independent, 8/19/2004.)
“Fear is worse than pain”
World-renowned animal behaviorist Temple Grandin has written that, “The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals I think it’s worse than pain.”
Explained Royal SPCA of Australia senior scientific officer Di Evans earlier in January 2022 to David Claughton of ABC Rural, speaking from her 20 years of experience as a veterinarian, “Those calves, when they come out of that chute, are literally running for their lives.”
Evans mentioned that when calves were roped and forced to the ground, the whites of their eyes are visible as they bellow in fear.
“That is a very significant indicator that animals are suffering,” Evans said.
“Imagine if pet dogs were mistreated thusly.”
Be aware that rodeo animals are “prey” animals. As such, they fear for their very lives when roped, ridden, wrestled, chased, jumped on, dragged or otherwise handled roughly. They think/feel they’re about to die. That alone should be enough reason to end this abuse.
There is evidence that roping calves are injured every time they are roped, thrown and tied, though the injuries may not be apparent to the untrained eye. Just imagine if pet dogs were mistreated thusly. A few years back the PRCA—in a disingenuous attempt to deflect public criticism of the event, changed the name from “calf roping” to “tie-down roping.”
Only “breakaway calf roping” should be allowed.
“Steer roping” (aka “busting,” “jerking,” or “tripping”) remains the single most egregious event in all of rodeo. Consider this statement from Dr. T.K. Hardy, a Texas veterinarian and sometime-steer roper: “I keep 30 head of cattle around for practice…You can cripple three or four in an afternoon.” (Newsweek, 10/2/72).
“AVMA condones all of rodeo”
Worth noting here that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) condones all of rodeo, including steer roping. They need to hear from the general public on this.
Currently, only two states have comprehensive rodeo policies, California and Rhode Island. Every state should have such a policy. To its credit, Rhode Island outlawed both steer roping and tie-down calf roping back in 2001. Other states should follow suit.
Most state legislatures reconvene in January every year. Contact your state reps and urge them to introduce legislation addressing rodeo’s inherent cruelty:
1. Require on-site veterinary care at every rodeo and Mexican-style charreada. A dozen states have outlawed “horse tripping,” a focal event in charreada. Others should do likewise;
2. Ban blatantly brutal events such as steer busting, tie-down calf roping, steer wrestling, and the “steer tailing” event in charreada, in which contestants try to throw steers to the ground by their tails.
3. Ban cruel and non-sanctioned events such as “wild cow milking,” “mutton busting,” in which children ride sheep, “goat tying,” and all animal “scrambles.”
In recent decades, inexplicably, rodeo has pretty much gotten a free pass from the animal protection movement. Here’s hoping for a serious change in 2022.
“Rodeo has had its day”
Rodeo has had its day and now—like those Confederate statues—belongs in the dustbin of history.
Boycott all rodeos, their corporate sponsors, and their advertisers––and let the sponsors and advertisers know why. Follow the money!
Recommended reading, in addition to the books referenced above: Rodeo: An Animal History, by Susan Nance, University of Oklahoma Press, 2020.
And see the many YouTube videos on the subject. Action for Animals has one here: https://www.actionforanimals-oakland.com/.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness offers a selection including footage from most major rodeos held in the U.S. and Canada here: https://sharkonline.org/index.php/animal-cruelty/rodeo-cruelty.