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 “tools of torment” used to produce these performances.

hotshot electric prodSuch 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 his neck, slams him into the ground, and ties his 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 rate is so high the Nevada State Veterinarian forbids it from the National Finals Rodeo, but this is easily bypassed by holding the event in other locations.
  • 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

bucking strap (flank strap) visible
Yellow "bucking strap" visible on horse. (Photo by a4gpa)

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 suffer agonizing deaths.

Animals are transported in overcrowded trucks and trailers, and they may be confined for as long as 24 hours without being properly fed or watered, according to the “rules” of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). And ropers may cripple as many as 3-4 animals a day while practicing for their “performance.”

Despite increased publicity about animal cruelty, the PRCA has not 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.

What Are the Rodeo Laws Among the States?

The federal Animal Welfare Act provides no protection to animals used in rodeos. Competitive events where animals participate as “livestock” are specifically exempted from the Act. Moreover, state anti-cruelty laws that protect companion animals do not protect rodeo animals. For example, if the calves used in calf-roping were replaced with puppies or kittens, the events would be illegal. Some states even exempt rodeos from their anti-cruelty statutes, while other states rely upon clearly inadequate PRCA regulations to judge whether animal cruelty has occurred in rodeos.

On the other hand, some areas have taken measures 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.
  • Rhode Island has banned tie-down roping and other practices.
  • Vancouver, Canada prohibits a number of rodeo activities central to a professional rodeo, and thus the prohibition effectively bans rodeos from the city.
  • Ohio has banned the use of flank straps.
  • Montgomery, N.J.; St. Charles, Ill,; Southampton, N.Y.; and the state of California have banned the use of electric prods while animals are in the chutes.
  • Baltimore County, Md. and Rhode Island have banned calf roping (other than breakaway roping). Baltimore also prohibits the use of devices that may cause physical injury or suffering.
  • California has banned bullfighting; a violation is a misdemeanor offense.
  • 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.

Some jurisdictions in which rodeos are nearly banned or strictly limited include Pittsburg, Pa., Leestown, Va., San Francisco, Pasadena, Calif., Napa County, Calif., Fort Wayne, Ind., St. Petersburg, Fla., and Greenburg, N.Y..

Internationally, rodeo is banned in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and many other countries prohibit certain events.

What You Can Do to Help

rodeo protest sign

  • 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.
  • Attend a city council meeting.
  • 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 rodeo shows.
  • Fight for state and federal laws that protect animals and raise the standards of care.

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