Human Crimes Against Animals, Part 27 - Rodeos
An Animal Rights Article from


Dave Bernazani

(U.S., Australia, Europe, Canada) – I always thought rodeos might be a bit rough on animals, but all in all it was mostly some “good ol’ boys” having fun. Was I wrong. Rife with abuse, broken legs, necks, high-voltage shocking and other forms of pain to make the animals buck.– rodeos are much more abusive to animals than they appear– or that organizers would want you to know. Just watch a video or two from SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) will show you the dark, dirty underbelly of electric prods, painful buck straps, beating and kicking of animals who refuse to “cooperate”, and other ugly facts about rodeos.

rodeo calf torture
Image from Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK)

Calf-roping, or “busting” as was so aptly named until they tried to make it sound better, is particularly cruel (more below), and so violent that it is usually held in the early mornings when most of the crowds are not there yet. Even some rodeo people don’t like it. The rodeo is not a charming piece of Americana but a spectacle of terrible animal cruelty. Even former participants will attest to the truth of this statement. Veterinarian Peggy Larson was once a bronco rider who has said, “without torture, there can be no rodeo.”

terrified rodeo horse
Image from Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK)

Horses and bulls buck because of tight “bucking straps” that pinch into their genitals where caustic ointments have first been applied. By the time they are released into the arena they are frantic to rid themselves of the strap. In rodeos, animals are tormented with electric prods and tail-twisting. Those that are lassoed at full speed, wrestled to the ground and dragged with ropes, can be injured and even killed. When a calf runs at speeds of up to 27 miles and hour, a lasso that pulls him up short and jerks him off his feet can break bones, cause paralysis by injuring the spinal cord, sever the trachea and kill the animal. Calf-roping is outlawed in some jurisdictions because of its inherent cruelty.

Who’s fighting it: SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness). IDA (In Defense of Animals,, MFA (Mercy For Animals), Animal Law Coalition, PETA, Animals Australia, (Australia) ARAN (Animal Rights Action Network- Ireland), PETA, HSUS, ALV, European Anti-Rodeo Coalition.


Rodeo proponents claim this “sport” should be preserved as an American tradition that harkens back to the frontier days of the Old West, when cowboys tamed wild beasts with brute strength and cunning. What they fail to acknowledge is that rodeos harm animals who are forced to participate in a competition that is essentially a display of human domination over other species. The modern “sport” of rodeo has strayed far from its origins in another exploitive part of American heritage, the cattle drive, when cows were rounded up and led long distances as a herd to their eventual slaughter. At least cowboys living and working on the range developed practical skills like roping and wrestling cattle in order to manage the herd, which would provide food for settlers who, in those days, would not even know what a vegetarian was.

Today’s “cowboys” are far removed from any purpose but deliberately hurting animals for prize money and to prove that they are “tough” enough to “break” supposedly wild animals. However, the majority of the animals used in rodeos——broncos, bulls, steers and calves——are completely domesticated and not naturally aggressive. Their wild behavior in rodeo events is artificially induced by painful or irritating provocation like tail twisting or shocks from electric prods. For example, rodeo proponents claim that broncos naturally buck, but this is patently false.

The reality is that horses won’t buck unless handlers tighten a leather “flank strap” just below the rib cage. If you’ve ever been pinched in the sensitive nerve area around your abdomen, you may understand why a horse would instinctively buck in a hopeless attempt to escape the pressure. The strap is pulled so tightly that horses used in rodeos frequently exhibit open sores on their flanks caused by agitation from the strap. While the flank strap itself causes pain, the wild bucking that it induces can cause severe injuries and even fatalities. Several American cities, including Pittsburgh, Pa., have in effect banned rodeos by outlawing the use of the flank strap because it is so cruel.

In the notorious calf-roping event, phony cowboys demonstrate their ability to rope and tie up four- to five-month-old baby calves in the shortest amount of time. The calves burst from the gate at speeds approaching thirty miles per hour to escape handlers who twist and yank their tails. Cowboys then lasso the calves around the neck, often snapping their heads back as they come to an abrupt halt. Sometimes they are jerked over backwards in what rodeo participants call a “jerkdown.” Competitors then slam the calves to the ground to stun them so they can tie their legs together. During these broadcasts on channels like ESPN, the camera always cuts away from the calf before he is thrown to the ground in order to spare the home audience the sight of such brutality. Even many cowboys agree that calf roping is inhumane. Keith Martin, the executive director of San Antonio Livestock Exposition, told the San Antonio Express-News, “Do I think it hurts the calf? Sure I do. I’m not stupid.”

Other rodeo events are just as cruel. In steer-wrestling, a “hazer” keeps the steer running in a straight line while a second mounted cowboy chases the steer, then grabs him by the horns and forcibly twists the steer’s neck and slams him to the ground.

In steer roping, the cowboy wannabe chases a speeding steer in horseback, then ropes him in such a way that the 500-600 pound animal flips over in the air and crashes to the ground on his back. Steer roping is so inherently cruel that it is usually held in only the most remote areas and at times of the day when the majority of rodeo attendees are unlikely to be present. Because of the aggressive nature of rodeo events, animals commonly suffer serious injuries, such as torn ligaments, broken bones, fractured horns, internal bleeding, and even severed spinal cords or tracheas. Veterinarian and USDA meat inspector C. G. Haber has witnessed the devastating impact of rodeos on animals. According to Dr. Haber, “The rodeo folks send their animals to the packing houses where……I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the only areas in which skin was attached [to the body] was the head, neck, legs and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times puncturing the lungs.”

No medical attention

All rodeos have ambulances and paramedics on-site to care for injured cowboys, yet despite the common injuries that befall animals in rodeos, Rhode Island is the only state in the country that mandates an on-site veterinarian at all rodeos. As a result, many animals suffering severe injuries die from lack of immediate medical attention. Because the vast majority of the animals in rodeos will eventually be slaughtered for human consumption, severely injured animals are typically not given pain-killing medication since their meat cannot be sold for human consumption if they’ve been given such drugs. This includes horses, whose flesh is exported to Europe and Japan for meat. Cows who have grown too large to be used for calf roping are sent to a feedlot to be fattened up for beef. Many animals who are severely injured during rodeo competitions are shipped directly to slaughterhouses.

Animals also suffer needlessly before and after rodeo events. They endure the stress of being forced to constantly travel in cramped trucks and trailers that are often improperly ventilated, and feeding and watering does not always occur regularly. According to PRCA rules, animals cannot “be confined or transported in vehicles for a period beyond 24 hours without being properly fed, watered and unloaded.” Even if this rule is strictly followed and enforced, animals can be kept wallowing in their own filth without food and water for as long as 24 hours and still be used in PCRA-endorsed rodeos.


Visit Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) for the most extensive collection of videos exposing the cruelties of rodeos.

Go to Human Crimes Against Animals, Part 28 - Seal Clubbing
Go to Human Crimes Against Animals - Introduction

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