The purpose of my paper is to uncover if horses and bulls are forced to buck and determine if they experience cruelty while at a rodeo. Rodeo’s are under rising pressure to rationalize what other people see as animal abuse. A huge division splits the most extreme parties, the rodeo contestants and supporters and the animal rights groups. There is no doubt that animals get injured in rodeo. They also get injured in the wild and essentially everywhere there is physical contact. What we need to understand is that an animal getting injured is not parallel to cruelty.
Rodeo’s date back to the late 1860’s when cowboys/ranch hands met unofficially to compete with one another and to show off their cowboy skills. Today rodeo’s are popular across Canada and the United States and are making head way in Australia and New Zealand. In North America there are approximately 2000 rodeos held each year. Rodeo events fall into two main categories; timed events and roughstock events. My paper focuses on the roughstock side of rodeo. Roughstock events consist of saddlebronc and bareback riding and bull riding. In bareback and saddlebronc riding a cowboy rides a bucking horse with either a saddle or a leather handhold. He is only allowed to use one hand and is disqualified if he does not mark the horse out (spurs must be over the point of the horses shoulders first jump out of the chute). The cowboy is also disqualified if he touches any part of the animal with his free hand. In bull riding cowboys use a bull rope which is wrapped around the bull just behind the shoulders. The rider can again only use one hand and is disqualified if he touches any part of the bull with his free hand. Stock contractors are also a very important part of rodeo. They work behind the scenes to provide livestock, supply equipment and ensure that each cowboy on their bucking stock leaves the chutes appropriately
Groups like P.E.T.A and SH.A.R.K are opposed to rodeo and deem that rodeos take animals that are generally domesticated passive animals and aggravate them into being violent and belligerent. They judge that horses and bulls are bruised and battered and are harmed in the chute. They have also concluded that equipment used on the animals such as spurs, flank straps and prods are painful and vulgar. This group of representatives expresses that the rules set out by the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) are worthless; they are rarely enforced, and when they are, the fines imposed on the cowboys are so small as to be meaningless in comparison to the big prize money being vied for . Some animal rights citizens hypothesize that animals are treated as objects and not with the respect that they deserve. Animals are always frightened or in pain and undergo punishment, emotional and physical suffering during hauling.
Stock contractors, competitors and supporters of rodeo above all agree that animals should be treated humanely and with respect. The PRCA protects all animals involved in rodeo with rules exclusively designed to prohibit mistreatment or cruelty. A few of the rules that uphold against animal mistreatment are:
• No locked rowels, or rowels that will lock on spurs may be used on bareback horses or saddle bronc horses. Spurs must be dulled.
• A rodeo committee shall insure that a veterinarian is resent for every performance and section of slack
• No stock shall be confined or transported in vehicles for a period beyond 24 hours without being properly fed, watered and unloaded
• Bull riders may wear dull, loosely locked rowels.
Every year contestants of a variety of rodeo associations come together to honor the best performing bulls and horses in roughstock events. The animals are respected and honored for their ability and try to have a good performance at every rodeo they attend. The presentation of animals involved in rodeo is a matter of gratification to the owners and riders.
Are horses and bulls forced to buck in rodeos or do they do it because they like to?
Rodeo contestants aggravate and frighten animals into actions that make them seem to be completely out of control. Without the use of flank straps, spurs and Hot-Shot devices there would be no rodeos.
Flank straps are cinched around the very susceptible groin and lumbar nerve tissues. He bucks in a vain attempt to eliminate his pain. They make him appear “wild” to the public! . Sometimes burs or other irritants are used to make the animals buck harder due to the severe wounds and irritation to their skin which leaves them bloody and raw.
“Hot-Shots” are electrical devices that can shock the horses with up to 8000 volts of electricity. The purpose of this tool is to enrage the animal to the point where they come exploding out of the chute to escape the pain.
Other methods of distress include tail twisting, kicking, spurring and jabbing. These are done customarily to assure that the animals come blowing out of the chute and are perceived as savages of the sport.
Harry Vold of the Vold Rodeo Company has been in the stock contractor business since the 1950s. Some of the company’s accomplishments include winning the P.R.C.A’s Stock Contractor of the Year eleven times and having had several animals win the Bucking Stock of the Year award.
Most of the animals that the Vold Company owns have been born and raised on the ranch. Bucking stock won’t buck unless they want to. According to Harry Vold there is no way to force an animal to buck, you could torture it in any way you want and it still wont buck if it doesn’t want to. Vold Rodeo Company has a very elite breeding program which has been intended to supply Harry with a steady stream of buckers. They breed stallions and bulls that buck to mares and cows that also buck. Just because of this breeding regimen, it doesn’t guarantee successful buckers out of every set of parents. Many of the horses born at the Vold Rodeo Company Ranch aren’t interested in bucking and are sold as regular riding horses.
There are some key components that bucking stock possesses which not every horse and bull will have. They need to have athleticism (strength and ability), heart, an attitude and a very unique personality. The great animals that love to buck have attitudes and personalities just like people. Some are strong willed and rebellious and some are friendly and love attention. There are a number of horses and bulls on the rodeo circuit today that are friendly and kind enough to let children sit on them out in the field but as soon as they get in the chute they know its game time and savor the chance of throwing a cowboy on the ground. “If you look closely, you’ll see this. When the cowboy is bouncing around, the horse feels that and will buck harder” says Mrs. Vold.
If a horse or bull meets these criteria then they are tested (horses around the age of 3 and bulls around the age of 1). Tests are done by placing a “dummy” on their backs for one to three seconds to see how they perform. If they like bucking then they slowly leave the dummy on for longer times until they get to eight seconds to gain the animals confidence.
The 1981-1982 Bareback Horse of the Year “Classic Velvet” is a perfect example of a horse that just liked to buck and didn’t want to do anything else. With the bloodlines of a working cow horse and brothers and sisters making their mark in the show ring “Classic” went against what was normal for this line of horses and made his mark as one of the greatest bareback horses of all times. “Classic Velvet” was owned by the Flying U Rodeo Company along with his brother who was used as a pick-up horse and is now teaching the youngest members of the Flying U to rope.
The infamous Red Rock is an ideal model of a great bucking bull. Every bull rider has wanted a chance to ride Red Rock. Why? Because they all knew that Red Rock would give it 100% when he came out of the chute and wouldn’t come after them when they got bucked off. John Growney is quoted in a 1987 interview as saying “He has so much character in him. He has all the character of a well-mannered person. At the ranch we put kids on his back. He’s a friend. A good soul. He just loves to buck cowboys off. He’s smart and knows what hand a guy’s got down on his back. More than likely he won’t turn back into a guy’s hand. He’s gonna set you up and get you loose before he goes to spinning.” For four years in a row Red Rock was chosen to attend the National Finals Rodeo and was awarded the Bucking bull of the Year in 1987. At the end of the finals that year, Red Rock was retired from competition.
Rodeo associations stipulate that the flank strap must be covered in an appropriate material such as sheep skin or neoprene. The flank strap must also include a quick release clip. The soft (lined) side of the strap is positioned over the flank of the animal. Dr. Ian Gollin who practices large animal veterinarian from NWS “…it is impossible to position these straps to interfere with the horse’s genitalia.”. In a presentation to a 1989 Symposium on recreational animal welfare, Dr. Gollin also stated that rodeo stock are selected because of their propensity to buck when saddled or mounted by a rider. It is untrue to suggest that they buck only in response to a kick strap (flank strap) around the flank. It is also untrue to suggest that kick straps are pulled so tightly that they cause pain or restrict the free movement of the animal – such a procedure would inhibit the animal’s bucking prowess not enhance it.”
Ty Murray is a nine time world champion bull rider. He is now sits on the board of directors for the P.B.R (Professional Bull Riders) compares the flank strap to the discomfort caused by a tight belt. If the belt causes a little discomfort then you are going to move around more but if the belt causes too much pain then you are going to sit as still as possible. A horse or bull wont buck if the flank strap is pulled too tightly.
There are rules in place dealing with the use of prods and Hot-Shots on rodeo animals. Under no circumstances can the device be used on an animal in the arena, nor can they be used where an animal is unable to move in response to the mechanism (ie. in the chute). These tools are intended to generate a stored high voltage charge with very little amperage. Amperage, not voltage cause burns and serious shock. Hot-Shots have been tested to insure that the mild shock produced can’t cause animal injury.
Spurs are one of the most strictly observed areas of rodeo rules. The only spurs allowed must have blunt, free spinning rowels. The A.P.R.A (Australian Professional Rodeo Association) stipulates that rowels must be at least three millimeters thick and at least two centimeters in diameter to avoid bruising or cutting an animal. The spurring action witnessed in bareback and saddle bronc riding allows the loose rowels to roll easily over the horses hide. Dr D.C. Lund from Alberta states that “The animals thicker hides offer increased resistance to cutting or bruising.” In bull riding the rowels can be partially or fully locked because of the fact that more grip is needed on the bulls loose hide and because there isn’t the need of the spurring motion like there is in bareback and saddle bronc.
Tail twisting and other methods of moving animals are sometimes used to move animals into the chutes or onto the trucks. When you twist an animals tail it causes a tiny nerve in their spine to feel discomfort so naturally the animal will move away from it.
Do They Experience Pain?
Rodeo is an industry driven by profit. Farm animals are cheap to acquire and easily replaceable if one gets sick, injured, worn out or killed in an event. Often animal injuries are internal. Dr. C.G. Haber worked in a slaughter house for thirty years as a meat inspector he has described rodeo animals as being “so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached (to the flesh) were the head, neck, leg, and belly…I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times, puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as two to three gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin”
Rodeo goers like to tell people that bulls and horses are tough skinned and impervious to pain. Skin of cattle is sensitive enough to detect a fly biting them. Animals that buck are also injured from traumatic compound fractures to their legs due to the hard ground they are forced to buck on.
Stock contractors victimize and abuse animals for profit. Horses and bulls are forced to act wild, run and buck through fear, pain and suffering. Animals are kept in very stressful situations especially when being hauled. Animals are kept in trailers for days without food or water.
Harry Vold compares finding buckers to putting together a football team “…you put together the very best guys, and they go through a try-out period to determine who the best of the best are. You search all over the country to find them. Finding good stock doesn’t just happen; you have to look for them” Outstanding bucking stock is very rare and quite valuable. On average, good bucking horses sell for around $20 000 US with bucking bulls selling as high as $75 000 to $100 000 US per bull. These animals receive beyond optimal veterinary care, feed and transportation. With investments well over one million dollars stock contractors cant help but ensure that their animals live like bovine royalty. Mr. Rosser who is also a stock contractor breeds their animals like racehorses, only the best with the best. The most time that a bull will spend in an arena over a whole year is no more than eight minutes. A rodeo bull will usually still be bucking at ten years of age compared to a herd breeding bull that is lucky if he is still alive at six years of age. Over a bucking bulls entire life they will spend around an hour and a half actually bucking. The rest of the animals life is spent in the fields where they are kept on a very high quality feed regime.
In 1994 a survey of the A.P.R.A was conducted and concluded that there was an overall injury rate of 0.072%. This equals less than one injury for every 1405 times being used. This includes transport, yarding and competition. This percentage only relates to the roughstock events and doesn’t include calf roping, steer wrestling or barrel racing. The rate of injury for rodeo animals is a minute fraction of farm animal injuries. In 1997 a P.R.C.A reported that out of the 33 991 animals that entered the arena only 16 were injured, this relates to less than one in 2000. The veterinarians participating in this study reported that all animals were in good condition and were well cared for at the rodeo grounds. The P.R.C.A also dictates that all contestant animals must be inspected before competing and any animals that are ill or injured must be excluded from performing.
Studies carried out at numerous universities indicate that rodeo animals live a life with little to no stress. These studies are confirmed by observations of behavior of animals in the yards and in the trailers after performing at rodeos. Animal peak performance can only be achieved with proper care and good health. Stock contractors especially have a vested interest in keeping animals fit and healthy, millions of dollars would not be invested just to mistreat and abuse animals worth so much.
In conclusion I would firstly like to state that while some people have grown up around rodeos and livestock their entire life, there are other people who may be quick to judge about how animals are treated within rodeos. Because of the nature of the two parties and no way of really studying either sides without visual proof and knowledge of how these animals live this paper does mainly consist of arguments using very emotional words that are intended to grab people and tug their heart strings in order to bring them to one side of the fence or the other.
There is no doubt that animals are injured in rodeo but the P.R.C.A set about their rules to ensure that the utmost safety and welfare that is humanly possible is given to the animals involved in rodeo. Stock contractors and most individuals involved in rodeo want only the best for the animals they work with. Cowboys and cowgirls participate because they have a deep interest and love for animals, if there was mistreatment and unnecessary injury occurring then they wouldn’t participate.
Animals Issues Coordinator Sheila Lehrke for the P.R.C.A explains rodeo and the use of animals very well:
While many of us have grown up around cattle and horses and understand both the abilities and limitations of the bovine and equine species, some people who attend a rodeo have not been around animals larger than cats and dogs. There are more misconceptions about animals as a growing number of people lead lives not connected to a rural lifestyle. Consequently, the responsibility to communicate rodeo’s positive use of animals grows with each coming year. Cattle and horses are uniquely suited to rodeo. It’s a natural fit that grew from the knowledge of working ranch cowboys who literally lived with cattle and horses and knew everything about them—who learned that roping was the best way to catch and hold a calf or steer on open range—who knew that some horses were easy to train and other impossible. There is an exchange of services and benefits between rodeo people and rodeo animals with the best service dependent on the best benefits. Animal owners, contestants and spectators receive the best service from animals in peak condition; animals benefit when serviced with the best possible care. Our animals benefit as well in ways other than good care. Rodeo is a new lease on life for some horses that may not be beautiful enough for the show ring, fast enough for the race track, or reliable enough for a pleasure ride. Horses that may not make the grade in any other discipline can find a comfortable niche, and possibly star status, kicking up their heels in rodeo. The lives of many bulls have likewise been extended and enhanced because of a propensity to toss cowboys around like rag dolls. While in the case of both bucking horses and bucking bulls, spectacular animals have been bred in the hopes of producing similarly spectacular performers, rodeo continues to be an outlet for animals that might be considered unwanted or surplus in other areas. Since minimum and maximum weight requirements limit the length of time calves and steers are used; their lives are not extended by rodeo, but they receive the same good care as the other animals while they are in rodeo—such good conditioning that special daily grain mixtures can provide weight gain of two pounds a day in calves. Also, it should be noted, physical attributes of these animals allow their use without harm; for instance, the flexibility of a steers neck in its ability to turn its head to its back, and the thick, muscular structure of a calf’s neck. The rodeo environment, in which animals are closely monitored, further lends itself in ways advantageous for the animal. The dirt of an arena that is worked for good footing also provides a cushion for both the contestants and the animals in a fall. Equipment is inspected to meet strict standards of safety and comfort. Rodeo has evolved into its own special blend of ranch skills, keen competition, and show biz but has never gotten away from its core understanding of two species of animals nor its reliance on cattle and horses for a treasured way of life.