Rodeo: Sport or Cruelty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the National Finals Rodeo draws the attention of many in rural areas, here’s one from the archives.

Rodeo not only is a sport but it’s a sport where the human is at the disadvantage. The amount of misinformation put forth by activists only harms their claim when common sense and illustrating it shows it to be false.

For example – the myth that animals buck because the ‘belt’ is too tight on their genitals. For mares the bucking strap is nowhere near their genitals and for geldings or stallions it is secured in front of it. Old books on livestock husbandry – those before widespread use of chutes and other devices to hold cattle in one place – show ways to run a rope around the area about where the bucking strap runs and when crossed around the body the right way it is restraint. Meaning the animal CAN NOT MOVE. Now if these bucking straps were that tight that the animal cannot move – well they could do no more than stand there so that nullifies that argument. The comparison to humans is another – put a belt on as tight as you can possibly pull it and go out and jump your – well we’ll make it easy – jump a 4′ obstacle.

Some books present that it’s cruel because the broncs have the steel bit jammed in their mouth and are mistreated because of it. I can guarantee that author has not been to a rodeo. NO *BRONC* has a bit in their mouth! Bareback horses are loose and saddle broncs have a halter with a rope rein. No bit, no hackamore, nothing to pull or injure the horse.

One of the most targeted of rodeos is the Salinas rodeo in California. Some years ago I attended and got a press pass. I was looking for the great story that would be a headline – camera in hand I went to the pens. I saw no cuts, broken bones, untreated injuries of any kind. All animals had all the hay they could eat, plenty of water in full water tanks. There were all these claims of abuse of animals at this rodeo – but what I *saw* to document was that they were better cared for than many in pastures across the country. Their feet were in good shape, they were in good condition. Not even indication of tooth issues could I find watching the eat.

I went up to the chutes – this was the place ‘torture’ existed right? I watched the bareback horses come in and each went from the gate in due time, no injuries incurred. Saddle broncs came in and I got closer. Close enough to rub the white face of a big bay bronc who was standing with one foot resting, as calmly as if he was in his own pasture. Horses that are stressed are tense, all feet braced in fear ready to get away. That wasn’t what was seen or photographed! His demeanor changed once saddled and leaving the gate as he became decidedly unfriendly about having someone on his back then once bucked off there was no need for further attitude. He came back to the gate, down the alley and returned to that big bale of hay and water.

Calves and steers all appeared in good shape also with no visible soreness noticed.

Are there injuries in rodeo? Of course there are! There’s injuries to thousands of dogs in their back yards too. There’s dogs who hang themselves on their collars but no one is looking to ban dogs from wearing collars.

There is much criticism of the use of cattle prods, but none of using electric fencing. I, personally, have been zapped by both. It’s perhaps a farm thing – but getting buzzed by hotshots in ‘hot shot tag’ was at one time apparently fun until the batteries wore out and it was needed to move cattle. These aren’t stun guns! It’s mildly uncomfortable and if you don’t know it’s coming startling. People do it with a variety of gadgets. Cattle don’t like it so move – which is usually the reaction wanted. They also learn that a hot wire fence feels the same so do not touch those if they can help it.

PRCA has guidelines to insure humane treatment. Stock contractors with valuable bulls and broncs are not going to let them get injured. Excessive force does no good nor does getting short tempered. There is no human that can make a bull stand still when he doesn’t want to. There is also no human that can make a bull or bronc buck hard enough to be competitive if they don’t want to do it.

It’s said the animals don’t have a choice but that simply is not true. A bull that saunters out of the chute on a regular basis that doesn’t buck no longer gets to go to rodeos – he DOES have a choice. Calves or steers that don’t run straight don’t stay in the herd long.

Then there’s broncs. These are horses that, if not for the rodeo, would have been killed. They had a second career because they had a choice and that was to buck riders off! There’s Classic Velvet, a quarter horse who is one of the greatest bareback horses of all time – many tried riding him and he wouldn’t quit bucking. That was used. Big Chill is an ex-competitor on the English show circuit that is extremely gentle on the ground but if he wouldn’t buck he’d still be sporting an English saddle! High Tide was a descendent of Man O War. Legendary bronc Midnight began his career in the 1920s after bucking off his owner when a car backfired.

Trails End, 1959 bucking horse of the year, was supposed to be a work horse, save for refusing to be ridden. He was sent to be a pack horse but got loose in the fall and wouldn’t be caught until spring. The pack being on him so long wore sores, and he would no longer allow a pack on him.

It’s well documented in other studies that abused horses don’t live long. When the respected bucking horse High Chaparral died peacefully in his stall he was 27 years old.High Tide was 38 years old and long retired when he died. Come Apart, another top level bucking horse, was almost 30 when he was bitten by a rattlesnake in the jugular vein after retirement. Skoal Sippin Velvet, another top bareback horse, was 26 when he died.

Bodacious was a charbray called the most dangerous bull in the world. He was retired at age 7 and at home an infection being treated with medications resulted in damage to his kidneys. He died at age 12. Red Rock, one of the most famous bulls in rodeo history, was 18 when he died. Tornado’s career was 14 years…putting him well over his teens.

Many horses not involved in rodeo do not live this long, and this is an indication of the quality of care these animals get. Ask how many 15 year old bulls are around in the dairy or beef barns. No industry is perfect, including “rescues” but cruelty is not something that is standard. The animals themselves indicate that.