Are rodeos just harmless entertainment or do they cause animal suffering?
Each year more than 1,000 rodeos take place across Canada and the United States. The events include bull riding, bareback bronco riding, steer wrestling, team roping, calf roping, horse barrel racing, wild cow milking and several others. At some events, kids even ride sheep.
Who is in danger? Some people suggest that the only real danger in rodeos is to the cowboys who get hurt falling from bulls or getting their fingers caught in ropes. But what about the animals?
See how they run
Most rodeo events rely on cattle acting stressed and afraid. The harder the animals buck and the faster they run to escape the cowboys, the more exciting the event is to the audience. Cattle are among the most docile creatures on earth and so rodeo handlers use some special techniques to get them to "perform." Devices that irritate the animals may be used to make bulls and horses buck wildly. Look closely at the bull riding and you will see a flank strap around the waist of the bull. This strap is tightened as the bull leaves the stall causing him to buck wildly to try to get it off.
While some rodeo association rules recommend against the use of electric prods and rough handling methods to stress the animals, these guidelines are generally voluntary in nature. Some common handling practices include twisting animals' tails to make them run out of chutes faster, putting fingers up a calf's nose to control the animal, and using spurs to control an animal being ridden.
But do rodeo animals really get hurt? YES. The worst injuries happen to young animals such as calves and steer in the roping and wrestling events. Every year, hundreds of animals suffer sprains and bruises, broken limbs and broken necks. Sadly each year there are animal deaths attributed to rodeos as well.
Changes are coming
The BC SPCA recognizes the long tradition of cattle ranching in BC, and appreciates that there is an interest in showcasing the handling skills of cowboys. Rodeo professionals and stock breeders often make the case that their animals are treated extremely well outside of rodeo events. While this may be the case, events such as calf roping and steer wrestling impose an unacceptably high risk of injury to the animals, and that the potential for pain and fear experienced by the animals for the purpose of entertainment is unjustified.
Instead, the BC SPCA supports the concept of showcasing low-stress cattle handling skills, such as those taught by Dr. Temple Grandin and Alberta rancher Dylan Biggs and horse riding events which showcase the close connection between rider and animal without causing unnecessary stress on livestock. Click here for the BC SPCA's position statement on rodeos.
In recent years, some rodeos have made an effort to modify or exclude some events to limit the pain and injuries suffered by the animals. These changes point toward the future of agricultural exhibitions involving animals. In 2007, the Cloverdale Rodeo Association agreed to remove four events from its roster -- calf roping, team-roping, steer wrestling and wild-cow milking -- after serious concerns were raised by animal welfare organizations and the public. The Society urges other rodeo competitions to consider removing these events in the same fashion as the Cloverdale Rodeo.
Three ways you can make a difference
One: Do not attend rodeos with events that jeopardize the welfare and safety of animals.
Two: Write a letter to your local rodeo association, their sponsors and your municipality, politely asking them to consider safer, more humane practices.
Three: Spread the word about rodeos by emailing your friends and family with a link to this page.