Rodeo Fact Sheet
Rodeos are promoted as rough and tough exercises of
human skill and courage in conquering the fierce, untamed beasts of the Wild
West. In reality, rodeos are nothing more than manipulative displays of
human domination over animals, thinly disguised as entertainment. What began
in the 1800s as a skill contest among cowboys has become a show motivated by
greed and big profits. (1)
Standard rodeo events include calf roping, steer
wrestling, bareback horse and bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer
wrestling, steer roping, and barrel racing. (2) The animals used in rodeos
are captive performers. Most are relatively tame but understandably
distrustful of human beings 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 to make the cowboys look
The Tools That Cause Pain
Electric prods, spurs, and bucking straps are used to
irritate and enrage animals used in rodeos. The flank or "bucking" strap or
rope used to make horses and bulls buck is tightly cinched around their
abdomens, which causes the animals to "buck vigorously to try to rid
themselves of the torment," (3) which is what the rodeo promoters want the
animals to do in order to put on a good show for the crowds.
The flank strap, when paired with spurring, causes the
animals to buck even more violently, often resulting in serious injuries.
Former animal control officers have found burrs and
other irritants placed under the flank strap. (5) In addition, the flank
strap can cause open wounds and burns from when the hair is rubbed off and
the skin is chafed raw. (6)
Cows and horses are often prodded with an electrical
"hotshot" while in the chute to rile them, causing intense pain to the
animals. Peggy Larson, D.V.M., a veterinarian who in her youth was a
bareback bronc rider said, "Bovines are more susceptible to electrical
current than other animals. Perhaps because they have a huge 'electrolyte'
vat, the rumen [one of their stomachs]." (7)
The late Dr. C.G. Haber, a veterinarian who spent 30
years as a federal meat inspector, worked in slaughterhouses and saw many
animals discarded from rodeos and sold for slaughter. He described the
animals as being so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the
skin was attached to the flesh were the head, neck, legs, and belly. He
described seeing animals "with 6-8 ribs broken from the spine, and at times
puncturing the lungs." Haber saw animals with "as much as 2-3 gallons of
free blood accumulated under the detached skin." (8) These injuries are a
result of animals' being thrown in calf-roping events or being jumped on
from atop horses during steer wrestling.
Rodeo promoters argue that they must treat their
animals well in order to keep them healthy and usable. But this assertion is
belied by a statement that Dr. T.K. Hardy, a Texas veterinarian and sometime
steer-roper, made to Newsweek: "I keep 30 head of cattle around for
practice, at $200 a head. You can cripple 3 or 4 in an afternoon . it gets
to be a pretty expensive hobby." (9) Unfortunately, there is a steady supply
of newly discarded animals available to rodeo producers when other animals
have been worn out or fatally injured.
Injuries and Deaths
Although rodeo cowboys voluntarily risk injury by
participating in events, 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 vet would see her. (10) Sadly, incidents such as this are
not uncommon at rodeos. For example, by the end of the 2001, nine-day
Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada, six animals were dead, including a
horse who died of an aneurism and another who suffered a broken leg and had
to be euthanized. (11)
The following year, at the same event, six more animals
died: five horses in the chuckwagon competition and a calf in the roping
event. (12) At the "prestigious" National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, a bull
fell and fractured his spine seconds after leaving the chute. (13) The year
before, a bucking horse was euthanized after he flipped over and broke his
An article in Extra! magazine stated, "[T]he TV
audience had no clue about what happened: The camera cut just before the
horse flipped over, and none of the announcers said one word about the
During the National Western Stock Show, a horse crashed
into a wall and broke his neck, while still another horse broke his back
after being forced to buck. (16) Dr. Cordell Leif told the Denver Post,
"Bucking horses often develop back problems from the repeated poundings they
take from the cowboys. There's also a real leg injury where a tendon breaks
down. Horses don't normally jump up and down." (17)
Calves roped while running routinely have their necks
snapped back by the lasso, often resulting in neck injuries. (18) Even Bud
Kerby, owner and operator of Bar T Rodeos Inc., agrees that calf roping is
inhumane. He told the St. George Spectrum that he "wouldn't mind seeing calf
roping phased out." (19) At the Connecticut Make-A-Wish Rodeo, one steer's
neck was forcefully twisted until it broke. (20)
Sometimes animals break loose from their pens and
escape, only to be shot by police untrained in capturing livestock. (21,22)
Rodeo association rules are not effective in preventing
injuries and are not strictly enforced, nor are penalties severe enough to
deter abusive treatment. For example, "[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." These are
small fines in comparison to the large purses that are at stake. Rules allow
the animals to be confined or transported in vehicles for up to 24 hours
without being properly fed, watered, or unloaded. (23)
Spurn the Spurs
If a rodeo comes to your town, protest to local
authorities, write letters to sponsors, leaflet at the gate, or hold a
demonstration. Contact PETA for posters and fliers.
Check state and local laws to find out what types of
activities involving animals are and are not legal in your area. For
example, after a spectator videotaped a bull breaking his leg during a rodeo
event, a Pittsburgh law prohibiting bucking straps, electric prods, and
sharpened or fixed spurs in effect banned rodeos altogether, since most
rodeos currently touring the country use the flank straps prohibited by the
law. (24) Another successful means of banning rodeos is to institute a state
or local ban on calf roping, the event in which cruelty is most easily
documented. Since many rodeo circuits require calf roping, its elimination
can result in the overall elimination of rodeo shows.
1)Ronda Quaid, "A Tip of the Hat to the Vaqueros," Coastline, 1996.
2)Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, "The Sport," 2002.
3)Hattie Klotz, "Bucking Bronco Dies in Corel Center Rodeo," The
Ottawa Citizen, 9 Aug. 1999.
4)Dr. Peggy Larson, D.V.M., M.S., J.D., E-mail to PETA, 15 Nov.
5)Ingrid Newkirk, Former animal control officer, Eyewitness account.
6)Chris Heidenrich, "Animal-Rights Group Protests Rodeo," Daily
Herald, 17 Jul. 1998.
8)Humane Society of the United States, Interview with C.G. Haber,
D.V.M. (Rossburg, Ohio), 1979.
9)Eric Mills, "Rodeo: American Tragedy or Legalized Cruelty?" The
Animals' Agenda, Mar. 1990, p. 27.
11)"Another Horse Dies at Stampede," CFCNplus.ca (CFCN-CTV), 13 Jul.
12)"Stampede Animal Deaths Worry Humane Society," CBC News Online,
15 Jul. 2002.
13)Rob Miech, "Bucking Bull Is Euthanized," Las Vegas Sun, 13 Dec.
14)Jeff Wolfe, "Horse Destroyed After Breaking Back," Las Vegas
Review-Journal, 10 Dec. 2001.
15)Karen Charman, "Riding, Roping-and Editing," Extra!, May/June
2002, p. 25.
16)Renate Robey, "Horse Euthanized After Show Accident," Denver
Post, 16 Jan. 1999.
17)Steve Lipsher, "Veterinarian Calls Rodeos Brutal to Stock,"
Denver Post, 20 Jan. 1991.
19)Patrice St. Germain, "PETA: Rodeo Cruel to Animals; Rodeo Fans
Say Animals Treated Well," St. George Spectrum, 15 Sep. 2001.
20)Lynn Fredericksen, "Charity Says It's Done With Rodeos," New
Haven Register, 4 Jun. 1998.
21)Escaped Bull Killed at Soccer Fields in Illinois," USA Today, 1
22)"Lot of Bull," USA Today, 25 Jan. 1999, p. 3A.
23)Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, "PRCA Animal Welfare
24)Timothy McNulty, "City Council Prodded to Ease Rules and Bring
Back Rodeos," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 18 Jun. 2002.
PETA, along with every other national animal protection
organization in the United States, is working to put an end to the rodeo-an
abusive spectacle that has no place in a civilized society.
Rodeo promoters say that the animals are wild and
rough, but without the use of spurs, tail-twisting, and bucking straps
cinched tightly around their abdomen and groin, these frightened and often
docile animals wouldn't even buck. They are terrorized into action when men
shove electric prods into them, twist their necks, yank them by their tails
or legs, slam them to the ground, or otherwise batter them. The fact that
most of these innocent animals are eventually destined for the
slaughterhouse in no way justifies compounding their agony along the way.
THE PRCA: ALL BULL
Complaints about rodeos are forwarded to the
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), which sends the complainant a
"soothing" letter saying that PRCA's "humane rules" protect the animals.
Actually, these rules 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.
BODIES BATTERED OUTSIDE AND INSIDE
Often, the animals' injuries are internal. Dr. C.G.
Haber, a veterinarian who worked for 30 years as a meat inspector in
slaughterhouses, saw scores of animals discarded from rodeos and sent to
slaughter. Toughened as he was to animal suffering, the condition of animals
from rodeos sickened him. He described them as "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," he said, "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
Bullfights are merciful compared to rodeos. It's high
time this cruel sport be outlawed in the United States."
Tell Corporate Sponsors to Buck the Rodeo
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