Rodeo Facts: The Case Against Rodeos

Rodeo is popular throughout the western United States and is the official state sport of Wyoming, South Dakota, and Texas. While “entertaining” the audience, animals are physically provoked in order to make the cowboys appear more impressive. However, spectators may be unaware of the suffering that the animals endure as the price of entertainment.

“Tools of Torment”

In order to elicit certain behaviors from the animals, rodeos use various tools to make animals appear more aggressive than they really are.

Such tools include the “hotshot,” an electric prod used on the animal while captive in the chute. The intense pain scares the animal into displaying abnormally dramatic reactions. Other tools include metal spurs and “bucking straps” that burn the animal’s abdomen and groin area and cause him to “buck” and can lead to back and leg injuries.

The Events

Calf Roping: a mounted rider yanks a calf into the air by her neck, slams her into the ground, and ties her legs together. During this performance, calves may cry out (if they can breathe), defecate from fear and stress, and suffer neck injuries and death.

Steer Busting: a rider ropes a steer with such force the steer flips in the air. The injury and death rates are so high that the Nevada State Veterinarian has condemned the practice.

Steer Wrestling: in this event the steer endures a high level of stress and can suffer ripped tendons, sprains and bruising, and even a broken neck.

Bull Riding and Saddle Bronc Riding: bucking straps, electric prods, and spurs are used to hurt the animal and aggravate him into reacting more roughly than he would naturally.

Injury, Pain, and Death

Rodeos mean constant trauma for the animals forced to participate. They suffer broken ribs, backs, and legs, torn tails, punctured lungs, internal organ damage, ripped tendons, torn ligaments, snapped necks, and agonizing deaths.

Animals are often transported over long distances in hot and overcrowded trucks and trailers. The official rules of the PRCA permit them to be confined during transport for as long as 24 hours without being fed or watered. The injuries are not confined to the rodeos themselves. For instance, during practice sessions, a calf may be roped repeatedly, until the calf suffers injuries that require her replacement.

Despite increased publicity about animal cruelty, the PRCA has not improved animal safety. The penalties for violating regulations are not severe enough to deter abuse and are miniscule in comparison with the large rodeo cash prizes at stake.

Does the Law Protect Animals Used in Rodeos?

The federal Animal Welfare Act exempts rodeos from the protections it provides to animals. Some states exempt rodeos from their anti-cruelty statutes, while other states defer to clearly inadequate PRCA regulations to judge whether animal cruelty has occurred in rodeos.

On the other hand, some states have taken measures to protect animals used in rodeos:

  • California bans the use of electric prods while animals are in the holding chutes, unless necessary to protect participants or spectators. A licensed veterinarian must either be present at all times or on-call and able to arrive at the rodeo within one hour after a determination has been made that there is an injury requiring veterinary treatment. The veterinarian must submit a brief report of any injury requiring veterinary treatment to the Veterinary Medical Board within 48 hours of the conclusion of the rodeo.
  • Rhode Island has banned tie-down roping and other practices but allows breakaway calf roping, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team riding, barrel racing, team roping, wild horse racing, chuckwagon racing, quarter horse races, mounted flag races, trail riding events, and obstacle course and pole bending events. Anyone conducting a rodeo must notify the local animal control officer in advance of the event. A licensed veterinarian with complete authority over the treatment and use of injured rodeo animals must be present during the event.
  • Nevada has banned horse tripping.
  • Ohio has banned the use of twisted wire, unpadded bucking straps, unpadded flank straps, and prods.
  • Wisconsin prohibits the use of certain tools of torment, including a bristle bur, tack bur, electric prod, or prod with nails, tacks, and sharp points.

In addition, several cities and local governments have taken steps to protect animals used in rodeos:

  • Pittsburgh, Pa. prohibits electric prods or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs, and sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels. Rodeos must allow humane agents to access any areas where animals are present. A licensed veterinarian with complete authority over the treatment of rodeo animals must be present for the entirety of any rodeo or related activities.
  • Montgomery, N.J. prohibits prods such as pointed sticks at all times, as well as sharpened spurs or rowels. Rodeos must provide access to certified animal control officers to enforce compliance with animal protection ordinances. Rodeos must notify the state SPCA that an officer may attend and monitor the rodeo.
  • Charles, Ill. has banned the use of electric prods while an animal is in the holding shoot unless necessary to protect participants and spectators.
  • Southampton, N.Y. has banned the use of electric prods or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs, sharpened spurs, bull hooks and bullwhips, or any device that is likely to cause physical injury, pain, or suffering. An animal may not be made to perform any act that is inherently dangerous, unnatural, or likely to injure the animal. An animal must have proof of required vaccinations or a valid certificate of health from a licensed veterinarian. Animals must be free of any outward signs of injury, illness, or disease for the term of the display or exhibit.
  • Baltimore County, Md. prohibits electrical prods or shocking devices at rodeos except for the herding or managing of livestock. The County has also banned bullfighting. A state-approved veterinarian must attend every rodeo or similar event.
  • Some jurisdictions in which rodeos are nearly banned or strictly limited include:
    • Pittsburgh, Pa. prohibits any practice or technique or any device that is likely to cause physical injury, torment, or suffering in animals used in rodeos, effectively banning rodeos from the city.
    • San Francisco, Calif. requires rodeos to obtain a permit. The City allows only “humane rodeo events” and specifically prohibits “events such as greased pig contests” and events that “utilize cattle prods, unfleeced flank straps for cattle or flank straps without sheepskin for horses.”
    • Pasadena, Calif. has banned rodeos on public property.
    • Fort Wayne, Ind., prohibits any event or concession that involves contests between humans and non-human animals, unless the city issues a permit following a review of the safety, well-being, and comfort of the participating animals and public.
    • Greenburgh, N.Y. has banned rodeos on any town property.
  • Internationally, rodeo is banned in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Many other countries prohibit certain events.
  • Vancouver, Canada prohibits a number of rodeo activities central to a professional rodeo, including calf or goat roping or tie-down roping, horse tripping, steer busting, steer wrestling, the use of shocking devices such as electric prods, the use of bucking straps, and the use sticks, whips, spurs, and wire tie-downs. These prohibitions effectively ban rodeos from the city.

What Is ALDF Doing to Protect Animals Used in Rodeos?

ALDF has sued California Rodeo Salinas, the state’s largest rodeo, on behalf of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), an international non-profit organization that is dedicated to protecting animals from neglect, abuse, and cruelty.

The suit alleges that California Rodeo Salinas engages in unlawful business practices by regularly failing to report animal injuries to the California Veterinary Medical Board as required by state law.

SHARK has documented a pattern of consistent and repeated underreporting of animal injuries at California Rodeo Salinas. Over a recent two-year period, for instance, SHARK documented ten times the number of injuries requiring veterinary treatment than the defendants reported.

Check this space for updates on this pending litigation.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Do not attend rodeo events.
  • Ask local authorities to verify that proper rodeo permits have been obtained.
  • Demonstrate and distribute leaflets at the gates of the events.
  • Write letters to sponsors of the events and boycott their businesses.
  • Contact your local law enforcement agency or humane society and ask them to ensure rodeos follow local and state laws regarding the humane treatment of animals.
  • Educate family and friends about the animal welfare problems and safety concerns related to rodeo events.
  • Lobby your representatives to institute a state or local ban on calf roping (this is an event in which cruelty is most easily documented). Since most rodeo circuits require calf roping, eliminating it can result in the overall elimination of rodeos.
  • Fight for state and federal laws that protect animals and raise the standards of care.

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