Animal treatment in rodeo

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Horse tripping is a controversial charreada event banned in nine US states.[1]

The welfare of animals in rodeo has been a topic of discussion for the industry, the public, and the law for decades. Protests were first raised in the 1870s, and, in the middle twentieth century, laws were enacted to curb events using animals.[2] The American Humane Association (AHA) has worked with the rodeo industry (specifically, the PRCA) to establish rules improving animal welfare in rodeo and the treatment of rodeo animals.

Today, animal cruelty complaints in rodeo are still very much alive. The PRCA (which governs about a third of the rodeos conducted in the United States annually) has provided rules for its members regarding animal welfare. Some local rodeos have banned the use of certain rodeo tack including flank straps and certain events such as steer tripping. Some charreada events staged in the United States saw a crack down in the early years of the twenty-first century.[3]


James Serpell stated in his In the Company of Animals:

"It is perhaps exaggerated to claim, as one author has, that the rodeo is 'the modern equivalent of the public hanging'. Nevertheless, these performances hinge on the violent subjugation of living animals, some of which are deliberately incited to frenzied violence by raking them with spurs, constricting the genital region with leather straps, or by thrusting an electric prod into the rectal area. At the same time they are often given bogus, malevolent names in order to deflect sympathy from their plight. Occasionally, they are maimed or killed, and many are forced to undergo the same terrifying ordeal several times a day. Yet the rodeo is presented to the American public as a harmless, red-blooded entertainment in which the cowboy – the epitome of wholesome, manly virtue – uses his courage and skill to overcome and subdue untamable, outlaw stock. Doubtless, the Romans employed similar fantasies to justify their activities in the Circus Maximus.[4]

Protests were first raised regarding animal welfare in the 1870s, and, beginning in the 1930s, some states enacted laws curtailing rodeo activities and other events involving animals.[2] In the 1950s, the then Rodeo Cowboys Association worked with the American Humane Association (AHA) to establish regulations protecting the welfare of rodeo animals that were acceptable to both organizations. These regulations appear in the PRCA's annually-updated rule book. Rodeo saw its greatest growth in the 1970s and with it a rise in animal cruelty complaints.[2] The PRCA and AHA have insinuated that these charges exist solely for the fund-raising purposes of other humane interest groups. The protests and complaints have made the PRCA realize that public education regarding rodeo and the welfare of animals needs to be undertaken if rodeo is to survive.[2]

In his "Author's Note" to Chasing the Rodeo (2005, 2006) author W.K. Stratton states, "Without question, rodeo exploits animals for the entertainment of humans, causing injury and death to hundreds of horses and cattle each year." Stratton notes that as many as a dozen head of steer and calves will die annually at a single large rodeo like the Calgary Stampede, and that many valuable roping horses have died over the years at the Pendleton Roundup which is conducted on slippery grass. He also points out that while PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) characterizes rodeo as "cruelty for a buck", conservative Matthew Scully, a special assistant to and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush as well as author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy calls rodeo "gratuitous abuse of animals". Stratton notes that he attended twenty plus rodeos and bullriding events in researching his book and saw "animals injured in the arena, some badly enough that they had to be destroyed."[5]

Independent assessments[edit]

Modern rodeos in the United States are closely regulated and have responded to accusations of animal cruelty by instituting a number of rules to guide how rodeo animals are to be managed.[6]

In 1994, a survey of 28 sanctioned rodeos was conducted by on-site independent veterinarians. Reviewing animal runs, the injury rate was documented 0.047% (16 animals in 33,991 runs.[7]

In 2000, a survey conducted by independent veterinarians at 57 PRCA rodeos found 0.053% (38 animal injuries in 71,743 animal exposures).[8]

A 2001 survey reported an injury rate of 0.056% in 21 PRCA rodeos (15 animals in 26,584 performances).[9]

A later PRCA survey of 60,971 animal performances at 198 rodeo performances and 73 sections of "slack" (competitions outside of the main competition events) indicated 27 animals were injured, i.e. 0.04%[6]

In Australian rodeos, similar injury rates occur. Basic injuries occur at a rate of 0.072% (one in 1,405), with injuries requiring veterinary attention at 0.036% (one injury each 2,810 times an animal is used in competition).[10]

Accusations of cruelty in US rodeos persist. The PRCA acknowledges they sanction only about 30% of all rodeos, another 50% are sanctioned by other organizations and 20% are completely unsanctioned.[6] Several animal rights and animal welfare organizations keep records of accidents and incidents of possible animal abuse.[11] They cite various specific incidents of injury to support their statements,[12] and also point to examples of long-term breakdown,[13] as well as reporting on injuries and deaths suffered by animals in non-rodeo events staged on the periphery of professional rodeo such as chuck wagon races and "Suicide Runs."[clarification needed] In terms of statistics on animal injury rate during rodeos, there appear to be no independent studies more recent than the 1994 study.

Groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) note incidents of animal injury, including an incident where a "bull [sic] suffered from a broken neck..."[14] According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), practice sessions are often the scene of more severe animal welfare abuses than competitions.[15]

Toronto Medical Officer[edit]

In 1990, when a major rodeo was planned for the Toronto Sky Dome, Ontario, Canada, the Toronto City Council requested the Toronto Medical Officer on Health to report on rodeo practices and whether "such practices could be deemed cruel to animals". The Medical Officer found pleasure not to be an element in an animal's experience in rodeo as electric prods, flank straps, sharpened sticks, spurs and other tack were used to provoke animals into reacting in such a way as to make certain events thrilling for spectators.[16]

The Medical Officer further noted that guidelines instituted to prevent animal abuse at sanctioned rodeos were paid little heed and calves suffered damage not readily visible such as bruised tracheal cartilage in roping events. All bucking events were found by the Medical Officer to rely on the application of irritants to make the animals "fly" from the chutes. The Medical Officer stated in his summary that in terms of a dictionary definition of cruelty, most rodeo events have the potential to cause injury, grief, or pain, and therefore can be considered cruel. Although the Medical Officer did not say that the legal definition of cruelty had been met, he implied that it had been "reached, if not crossed."[clarification needed][16]


E.J. Finocchio, DVM wrote the Rhode Island legislature urging a ban on calf roping: "As a large animal veterinarian for 20 years...I have witnessed first hand the instant death of calves after their spinal cords were severed from the abrupt stop at the end of a rope when traveling up to 30 mph. I have also witnessed and tended calves who became paralyzed...and whose tracheas were totally or partially severed...Slamming to the ground has caused rupture of several internal organs leading to a slow, agonizing death for some of these calves."[17]

C.J. Haber, a veterinarian with 30 years experience as a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat inspector notes, "The rodeo folk send their animals to the packing house where...I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the only areas where the skin was attached [to the body] was the head, neck, legs, and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times puncturing the lungs."[18]

Positions of animal groups[edit]

A steer after being roped.

The Calgary Humane Society (CHS)[edit]

"The Calgary Humane Society opposes the use of animals for any form of entertainment in which they are placed at risk of suffering undue stress, pain, injury or death.”[19]

Given its position on animals in entertainment, CHS opposes rodeo events like chuckwagon racing, calf-roping and steer wrestling that are the most often implicated in injury to animals.

While other organizations may wish to intervene through protest, or other means, CHS has found it can best protect the interests of the animals involved by working with organizations that put on such events. Over more than a decade of work with the Calgary Stampede, Calgary Humane Society has been instrumental in significant changes that have reduced injuries (for example, changes to the chuckwagon track that reduced stress fractures to the legs of horses; penalizing of calf-roping that yanked the calf backward) and eliminated certain high risk events (like wild cow milking).

CHS does its work by providing recommendations to the organizations, by following up on public complaints, and by having its Peace Officers attending these events to ensure the province’s Animal Protection Act (APA) is upheld.

Under Alberta and Canadian law, Calgary Humane Society’s primary role in attendance of the Calgary Stampede is to enforce the Animal Protection Act of Alberta.Calgary Humane Society Peace Officers attend every day of the Stampede to monitor and ensure the animals are being properly treated i.e., food, water, shelter and care. They are also immediately on scene of any accident involving an animal to ensure the animal is being treated promptly, efficiently and humanely, to document what happened, and to follow up with the unresolved cases.

CHS encourages concerned citizens to document their complaints and send them to the agencies and individuals listed in the attached document.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)[edit]

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) takes a position of opposition to all rodeos and rodeo events:

"The HSUS opposes rodeos as they are commonly organized, since they typically cause torment and stress to animals; expose them to pain, injury, or even death; and encourage an insensitivity to and acceptance of the inhumane treatment of animals in the name of sport. Accordingly, we oppose the use of devices such as electric prods, sharpened sticks, spurs, flank straps, and other rodeo equipment that cause animals to react violently, and we oppose bull riding, bronco riding, steer roping, calf roping, "wild horse racing," chuck wagon racing, steer tailing, and horse tripping."[20]

The Humane Society of the United States came into being in 1954 as an offshoot of the American Humane Association (AHA), and initially tackled legislation regarding humane slaughter, the protection of laboratory animals and other issues. In the 1970s, the organization began eyeing rodeo and its "psychologically damaging" effect on children.

The Vancouver Humane Society[edit]

"Vancouver Humane Society is opposed to rodeo because most rodeo events involve the use of fear, stress or pain to make animals perform." In Canada, the City of Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver have banned rodeos. For the most part, all animal welfare organizations in Canada oppose rodeo, including the Humane Society of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.[21][22]

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)[edit]

PETA criticizes the United States military in its annual expenditure of tax dollars to support the Professional Bull Riders (PBR), stating that American tax dollars are fueling "horrific and cruel rodeo events". PETA asserts that rodeo animals suffer fear and pain through the application of spurs, flank straps, prods, and tail-twisting.[23]

PETA has used some unorthodox methods to make its point. Moments after being crowned, Miss Rodeo America 2000 had a chocolate tofu 'cow pie' pushed in her face by a PETA member. PETA President, Ingrid Newkirk, said in a statement that Miss Rodeo America should relinquish her crown for promoting cruelty to animals. "Now that she's got pie on her face, we hope Miss Rodeo America will find a little compassion in her heart," Newkirk said. The pageant is held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo, an event PETA annually protests against, claiming the sport exploits animals.[24]

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)[edit]

The ASPCA has a policy statement on rodeo events that reads:

"The ASPCA is opposed to all rodeo events that involve cruel, painful, stressful and potentially harmful treatment of livestock, not only in performance but also in handling, transport and prodding to perform. The ASPCA recognizes the cruel treatment inflicted on many additional animals in the process of practicing to compete in rodeo events. Further, the ASPCA is opposed to children’s rodeo events such as goat tying, calf riding and sheep riding (“mutton busting”), which do not promote humane care and respect for animals."[25]

The American Humane Association (AHA)[edit]

The American Humane Association (AHA) used to campaign against rodeo through anti-rodeo literature but changed its strategy in the 1950s and began working with rodeo to establish rules to ensure the humane treatment of livestock. The rules are updated as needed and published annually in the PRCA's rule book. The AHA believes the exploitation of animals begins when "animals, people, and money" are mixed together, and what progress has been made is ascribed to a change in people's attitudes in general and the urban and college background of modern rodeo participants. Moral philosopher Peter Singer has criticized the AHA for collaborating with rodeo and thereby lending respectability to its cruelties.[26] The AHA has strict requirements for the treatment and use of animals in movie rodeo scenes. The use of electric prods and other artificial stimuli to make an animal perform are forbidden, for example.[27]

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia (RSPCA Australia)[edit]

The RSPCA Australia is opposed to rodeo. It has repeatedly called for rodeo to be banned,[28][29][30] and has funded media campaigns urging public boycott of prominent international rodeos.[31] Its policy statement reads:

"RSPCA Australia is opposed to rodeos because of the potential for significant injury, suffering or distress to the animals involved. The use of devices such as flank straps, spurs and electric prods contributes to the pain and suffering associated with this sport.

Where rodeos are permitted to be conducted, RSPCA Australia advocates the adoption of compulsory registration and licensing. Compliance with national standards for the management, housing and transport of rodeo animals must be made a condition of licensing."[32]



The PRCA admits it only oversees about a third of the actual rodeos that occur in the United States annually, and, according to their own public relations information, the organization has taken steps to improve the welfare of animals. The organization says that most rodeo animals enjoy what they're doing.[33] The PRCA's regulations and rules require, among other things, provisions for injured animals, veterinarians on site at PRCA sanctioned rodeos, and spurs with dulled, free-spinning rowels. Health regulations mandate vaccinations and blood testing of animals crossing state lines, and sick or injured animals are given appropriate veterinary care.[34]

In an article published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in its Journal dated January 2001, Dr. James Furman, a former rodeo rider and mixed practice practitioner, stated at the organization's Animal Welfare Forum that ranchers provide their stock health and other care. When grilled about the possible damage to a calf's neck when he is roped and jerked to a sudden stop, Dr. Furman responded by observing that rodeo men have changed calf roping techniques; where they once roped and flipped a calf on its back they now try to spin the standing calf around.

Charreada is amateur rodeo among Mexican Americans in the United States with family-owned arenas being operated for 200 teams in 12 states. Eight states have cracked down on several traditional events including horse-tripping, an event in which the front legs of a running mare are roped causing her to fall, and steer tailing in which a steer is flipped to the earth by grabbing his tail. Some Mexican Americans have expressed concerns their culture is being unfairly targeted and point to the deaths of Eight Belles and other race horses as evidence that Anglo sports involving animals see few restrictions.[3]

Rodeo sometimes appears in court. A PRCA stock contractor faced animal cruelty charges regarding the use of a prod at a California rodeo in 2002. Testimony revealed a rodeo judge and a veterinarian had been consulted before the rodeo about a chute-stalling horse, and an agreement had been reached that if the horse stalled, the prod would be applied to protect all involved. California law stipulates a prod cannot be used on an animal in a holding chute unless necessary to protect participants and spectators. The stock contractor was cleared of charges because the chute gate was open when the prod was used, and therefore it was not a holding chute.[35]


In response to animal welfare and animal cruelty concerns, a number of laws have passed regulating rodeo. In the United Kingdom the Protection of Animals Act 1934 effectively made rodeo, as it was then practiced, illegal in England, Scotland and Wales.[36] In September 2000, California became the first American state to prohibit the use of prods on any animal in a chute.[37]

Stringent regulations have virtually eliminated rodeo in Rhode Island, a state which also stipulates that any individual convicted of animal cruelty in a rodeo cannot participate as a rodeo contestant. While there is no record in any state of anyone being convicted of cruelty to animals during the course of a rodeo, several states—Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—all exempt rodeo from its anticruelty laws, making such convictions impossible. Eleven of the states immunize rodeo events from the provisions of the law, while Utah excludes rodeo animals from the definition of 'animal' in its anitcruelty laws. Idaho has declared exhibitions that are commonly considered acceptable cannot be charged with cruelty to animals.[38]

After a video aired on NBC showing a bull breaking its leg in a 1991 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania rodeo, the city banned controversial rodeo tack, specifically electric prods or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs, and sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels.[39][40] Pittsburgh also requires humane officers be provided access to any and all areas where animals may go–specifically pens, chutes, and injury pens.[41]

Fort Wayne, Indiana does not allow anyone to conduct a rodeo within the city limits.[42] In 1998, Woodstock, Illinois made fighting or wrestling with any animal illegal, thus ending steer wrestling.[43] Ohio has restricted some rodeo practices, having outlawed unpadded flank and bucking straps and the use of electric prods on cattle and horses. Rodeo was banned in the United Kingdom in 1934 when Parliament passed the Protection of Animals Act. Baltimore, Maryland, Southampton, New York, and Pompano Beach, Florida have enacted legislation banning certain rodeo tack including bullwhips. St. Petersburg, Florida has banned rodeo within the city limits—the only complete ban on rodeo in the United States.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Horse Tripping Ban a Tough Sell in Some States". Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Westermeier: 436
  3. ^ a b Brown
  4. ^ Serpell: 225
  5. ^ Stratton: 300–302
  6. ^ a b c Animal Welfare: The Care and Treatment of Professional Rodeo Livestock. PRCA[dead link][dead link]
  7. ^ Sellnow, L. (January 1, 2002). "Rodeo horses". The Horse. 
  8. ^ Schonholtz, C. (January 16, 2012). "Professional rodeo horses are bred to buck". National Animal Interest Alliance. Retrieved May 28, 2012. 
  9. ^ AVMA (January 15, 2001). "Welfare of animals integral part of professional rodeos". American Veterinary Medical Association. 
  10. ^ Welfare of animals integral part of professional rodeos. "Animals in rodeo". Australian Professional Rodeo Association. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 
  11. ^ SHARK Archived 2011-11-10 at the Wayback Machine.Animal Abuse Inherent in Rodeo. Retrieved 6 February 2008.
  12. ^ Renate Robey, “Horse Euthanized After Show Accident,” Denver Post 16 January 1999.
  13. ^ Steve Lipsher, “Veterinarian Calls Rodeos Brutal to Stock,” Denver Post 20 January 1991.
  14. ^ Rodeo: Cruelty for a Buck. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  15. ^ ASPCA Archived 2008-11-23 at the Wayback Machine. "Animals in Entertainment: 5.4 Rodeo" 27 June 2007.
  16. ^ a b Armstrong: 489
  17. ^ Regan: 152
  18. ^ Regan: 153
  19. ^ CHS
  20. ^ HSUS
  21. ^ "Rodeo: animal abuse for the sake of entertainment". Vancouver Humane Society. Archived from the original on 18 March 2009. Retrieved April 1, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Rodeos A Brutal Violent Spectacle Says The HSC". The Humane Society of Canada. Retrieved April 1, 2009. 
  23. ^ Aguilar: 157
  24. ^ AP
  25. ^ ASPCA
  26. ^ Fredricksson: 169
  27. ^ AHA
  28. ^
  29. ^ Royall, Ian (2007-03-22). "RSPCA backs rodeo ban". Herald Sun. 
  30. ^ RSPCA moves on rodeos Tasmania News - The Mercury - The Voice of Tasmania
  31. ^
  32. ^ RSPCA Policy C07 Rodeos, RSPCA Australia, accessed February 15, 2013
  33. ^ name="Serpell: 225"
  34. ^ PRCA
  35. ^ Schonholtz: Animal
  36. ^ Garner Robert (1993) Animals, Politics and Morality Manchester, UK, Manchester University Press, p.88, ISBN 0-7190-3574-0
  37. ^ Curnutt: 268
  38. ^ Curnett: 272
  39. ^ Curnutt 272
  40. ^ PETA
  41. ^ PETA
  42. ^ PETA
  43. ^ Curnutt: 273
  44. ^ Curnutt: 272


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