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Rodeos are promoted as rough-and-tough exercises of human skill and courage in conquering the fierce, untamed beasts of the Wild West. Participants are praised for their courageous conquering of these “wild” animals, when in reality, rodeos are nothing more than cruel displays of human dominance over young, terrified, and imprisoned animals. The rodeo industry, motivated by greed and big profits, exploits and injures (sometimes fatally) vulnerable animals.
Standard rodeo events include calf roping, steer wrestling, bareback horse and bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer roping, and barrel racing. The animals used in rodeos are captive performers, forced to participate through the infliction of extreme pain. Most of these animals are relatively tame but understandably distrustful of humans because of the harsh treatment that they have received. Many of these animals are not aggressive by nature—they are physically provoked into displaying “wild” behavior in order to make the cowboys look brave.
Electric prods, spurs, and bucking straps are all tools of the trade used to irritate and enrage animals in rodeos. The irritation and pain cause the animals to buck violently, which is what the rodeo promoters want them to do in order to put on a good show for the crowds. The use of bucking straps combined with spurring, for example, often causes the animals to buck so violently that they severely injure themselves. Cows and horses are often prodded with an electrical “hotshot” while in the chute to rile them, causing intense pain to the trapped animals.
While tickets to a rodeo may vary in price, animals always end up paying the ultimate price at the rodeo—often with the loss of their own lives. Rodeo cowboys voluntarily risk injury by participating in events, but the animals they use have no such choice. Because speed is a factor in many rodeo events, the risk of accidents is high. A terrified, screaming young horse burst from the chutes at the Can-Am Rodeo and, within five seconds, slammed into a fence and broke her neck. Bystanders knew that she was dead when they heard her neck crack, yet the announcer told the crowd that everything would “be all right” because a veterinarian would see her.1
Rodeo association rules are not effective in preventing injuries and are not strictly enforced, and penalties are not severe enough to deter abusive treatment. For example, one rule states that “[i]f a member abuses an animal by any unnecessary non-competitive or competitive action, he may be disqualified for the remainder of the rodeo and fined $250 for the first offense, with that fine progressively doubling with each offense thereafter.”2 These are small fines in comparison to the large purses that are at stake. Rules allow the animals to be confined to or transported in vehicles for up to 24 hours without being properly fed, watered, or unloaded.
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2Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, “PRCA Rules Governing the Care and Treatment of Livestock at PRCA Sanctioned Rodeos,” Palm Springs WestFest, accessed 2 Dec. 2010.
3Hattie Klotz, “Bucking Bronco Dies in Corel Center Rodeo,” The Ottawa Citizen 9 Aug. 1999.
4Dr. Peggy Larson, D.V.M., M.S., J.D., e-mail to PETA, 15 Nov. 2001.
5Chris Heidenrich, “Animal-Rights Group Protests Rodeo,” Daily Herald 17 Jul. 1998.
6The Humane Society of the United States, interview with C.G. Haber, D.V.M., Rossburg, Ohio, 1979.
7Steve Lipsher, “Veterinarian Calls Rodeos Brutal to Stock,” Denver Post 20 Jan. 1991.
8Patrice St. Germain, “PETA: Rodeo Cruel to Animals; Rodeo Fans Say Animals Treated Well,” St. George Spectrum 15 Sept. 2001.
9Houston Chronicle, “Steer Suffers Broken Neck During Top Wrestling Run,” 17 Mar. 2006.