Bucking for the days when rodeos are history
By MICHOL RANTSCHLER
March 22, 2004
The first rodeo competition is thought to have been
held in Cheyenne, Wyo., more than a hundred years ago. With all the hoopla
surrounding RodeoHouston -- the world's largest -- and
news that general attendance set a new record this year, the event seems
poised to flourish for at least another hundred.
But don't count on it.
Animal advocates across the board are determined to see
that this American tradition, at least as we know it today, becomes American
From the controversial People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals to mainstream organizations such as the Humane Society of the
United States, animal-interest groups are working to end the use of animals
in circuses and rodeos. Their investigative work and media savvy have caused
others to take notice, and the cause is picking up support.
A referendum to ban the display of wild or exotic
animals is on the ballot this year in Denver. If it's successful, the city
will be the largest in the United States to pass such a measure.
The zoo, aquarium and rodeo were excluded
from the proposed ban, but circuses with animals and other types of
menageries would be prohibited from setting up there.
A number of localities have similar laws that prohibit
both circuses and rodeos. Others have laws on animal welfare pertaining to
the rodeo that go beyond those named by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys
Association/ProRodeo, the rules by which RodeoHouston is required to adhere.
Some cities and states now disallow calf roping, considered the most
injurious event for the animals.
Others prohibit the use of certain devices such as
electric prods, used to shock and agitate animals before they are released
from the chute, and flank straps, which, along with the riders' spurs,
provoke the bulls and horses to buck aggressively.
While rodeo shows are categorized as family
entertainment, they aren't harmless fun for everyone involved. During one
weekend in 1998 at the Houston rodeo, a steer was killed after its neck was
broken during the steer wrestling competition, and two calves suffered
broken legs during roping events. While that was a particularly bad couple
of days for rodeo animals, at least a few injuries at every rodeo are almost
guaranteed, and deaths are not uncommon.
What's so appealing about a show centered upon grown
men conquering terrified 10-week-old calves and their ordinarily docile
Several years back, Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman
suggested that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo drop some of the more
brutal events and change its name to the Houston Livestock Show and Country
Music Festival. He recognized then, and it holds true today, that the
musical performances, not the animal events, bring in the masses.
In 2004, the animal crusade in Houston is stronger than
Houston has two organized animal-rights groups based
here, numerous animal welfare/protection organizations and a
vegan/animal-rights radio show working to raise awareness about the plight
Activists have demonstrated at some of the rodeo shows
this year, waving signs that read "Animal Abuse is Not Entertainment and
Buck the Rodeo!" and "The Animals Lose Every Time" at buses entering Reliant
Although general attendance was up this year, paid
attendance was lower. Possible explanations for the dip are that the Super
Bowl overshadowed the rodeo and concern over mad cow disease, although the
increased attendance reaped by the Spring Break Stampede, with most students
out of school last week, should have more than compensated for that.
Perhaps what we're witnessing is the birth of a more
humane Houston, whose residents are starting to see their city's signature
event less as an amusing sport than a condonation of animal cruelty.
Rantschler is a senior journalism major at the
University of Houston.
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