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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Hot-Shot Use at CFD Challenged

Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, August 6, 2006:

WTE investigation into questionable use of 5,000-volt prod shows gaps in enforcement of PRCA regulations

By Cara Eastwood
[email protected]

CHEYENNE - During the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo on July 28, the mood in the chutes during the bareback riding was the normal, fast-paced tension. Cowboys bounced up and down, warming up their legs. Some squatted, hats in hand, saying short prayers before mounting their horses.

All seemed ordinary as the first few horses were released into the arena until stock contractor Chad Burch appeared, and CFD public relations staff immediately grew tense. They asked the media in the chutes to back off from standing where they had been, directly at the head of each of the horses.

Burch Rodeo of Rozet had 44 horses in that day's performance, and Chad Burch himself acted as "header" for many of the cowboys who rode his animals. He stood at each horse's head and made sure it was aimed out of the chute before the gate swung open.

But Burch relied on more than the horses' breeding to encourage them to explode into the arena. Before each horse was released, Burch positioned a handheld Hot-Shot cattle prod near its head and neck. The small device is the size of an electric razor and delivers 5,000 to 6,000 volts of electricity at low amperage.

According to PRCA rules, "In the riding events, use of prods and similar devices is prohibited. The only exception is a known chute-stalling animal, only with the contestant's and contractor's approval, and shall be administered only by a qualified member."

The rules also state that "standard electric prods may be used only when necessary and may only touch the animal on the hip or shoulder area."

But in the tense moments before each cowboy and horse burst into the arena, Burch brandished the device clearly in view of the judge in the chute, CFD volunteers and members of the public sitting several feet away.

Instead of waiting to see if a horse would stall, Burch appeared to be using the tool before the animals left the chute. To media standing directly next to Burch, it seemed like he was using the tool or trying to use it on every animal to encourage it to burst into the arena.

The judge in the chute later estimated that Burch discharged the device on about one-third of his horses that day, although Burch admitted to only using it once.

During an interview at the July 29 CFD Rodeo, Burch insisted his use of the tool is legal. But when he heard there were photographs of him using the Hot-Shot on animals in the chutes, he said, "You can't show anybody those pictures. I could get into a lot of trouble."

So if his use of the tool was legal, just what was Burch worried about? And if there was misuse at the rodeo, what is CFD's responsibility to see that PRCA rules are followed?

Responsibility for violations

Outgoing CFD General Chairman Ken McCann said the PRCA rules on animal welfare are specific and added that he was surprised to hear of any problems at a CFD Rodeo.

"Our show is wide open - there are video cameras and photographers," McCann said. "It's not like we're operating in a vacuum."

The nation's premier outdoor rodeo has a huge staff of volunteers and PRCA officials and visitors spread around the arena. McCann said the last thing CFD officials want is to have animal welfare violations on-site.

"I'm appalled by it," he said.

Stock contractor Harry Vold provides the stock for CFD rodeos, and McCann said Burch Rodeo must have been operating as a subcontractor.

"I've known Harry for 37 years, and he just doesn't do business like that," McCann said. "These animal athletes are brought in specifically for our show, and it's just not the way we do business."

Contestants Committee chairman Jim Mueller oversees the volunteers who work with rodeo contestants and livestock at every CFD Rodeo. Keeping track of the activities of the subcontractors isn't easy, he said.

"We try to watch that situation," he said, "but the problem we run into is we have so many contractors here."

During this year's rodeo, he heard concerns from several of his committee members about Burch and his behavior.

"If my people see it, they can tell the PRCA, and they can fine him," he said. "They're the only people that have any hold over him."

Mueller said he is saddened by the situation, but said he and the PRCA are doing everything they can to resolve it.

John Davis, director of rodeo administration for the PRCA, oversees rodeo judges around the nation and said PRCA members who overuse the Hot-Shot are a small percentage of the whole.

"It's something that the whole program is aware of," he said. "We try to be strict, because by no means do we want that out there that we're mistreating animals."

The PRCA rulebook is really thick for a small percentage of people, Davis said. Many of the rules are common sense.

Rodeo judges are trained to watch for violations and fouls as they rate the roughstock rides, he said.

Davis refused to name the judge who was in the chute that day, but he said the judge saw the Hot-Shot in Burch's hand. He said the judge didn't think Burch's use was in violation of the rules, although "he wasn't sure if he was asking those contestants every time (he used the Hot-Shot."

Sometimes contractors will get cowboys' approval to Hot-Shot a horse before they head to the chutes once they know which animal they've drawn.

The chute judge thought Burch used the device on about one-third of his horses, Davis said, even though Burch stated that his company doesn't have any horses that stall.

Horses that don't want to leave the chute will probably not remain for long in rodeo, Davis added.

"Who knows why they refuse to leave the chute?," Davis said. "Some of them are the best animals. There is stock that goes to the National Finals that are known chute-stalling animals."

The rules allow the prod to be used on a stalling horse before the gate is completely open because it's safer for the animal and the cowboy, Davis said.

But prods are no longer allowed to be used in bull riding, he added.

"If you do, it's a fine and an automatic option of a re-ride," he said. "You just don't get bulls that stall."

Penalties for misuse

Cindy Schonholtz, the PRCA's animal welfare representative, said PRCA fines range from a $25 fine to suspension or expulsion from the association.

"It depends on the violation and how serious it is," she said.

Violations range in severity from Class 1 to Class 3. The fine for improper use of a cattle prod is $250 for the first offense, and the fine doubles for the subsequent violation.

Schonholtz said she doesn't think it's the "norm" for the prod to be used on all horses before they have had a chance to stall in the chute, but she added that a stalled horse presents a grave danger to the cowboy on its back.

Use of the Hot-Shot at least "gets everyone out of the chute safe," she said.

To encourage stalling horses to leave the chute, Burch said he has other options available to him.

"I could hit them with a stick or poke them - I could poke holes in 'em, but that would hurt 'em. Or, I could just touch 'em with the Hot-Shot."

PRCA rules stipulate that an electric prod can only be used on a stalled animal "with the contestant's and contractor's approval, and shall be administered only by a qualified member."

Rodeo cowboys have differing opinions on the value of this rule, sometimes referred to as the "Hot-Shot rule."

Jamie Willert of Kadoka, S.D., said that stock contractors always ask for his consent before using the Hot-Shot on horses. But cowboys sometimes have their reasons for saying no, he said.

"If you draw a piece of junk, you say no, and you can get a re-ride," Willert said. When horses stall in the chutes, contractors must get another horse for the cowboy to use in the re-ride.

Saddle bronc rider Rod Hay of Wildwood, Alberta, Canada, said when he started rodeoing in the 1980s, contractors used the device much more freely and often without asking permission.

"They always used to just do it," he said. "It was just the way it was."

He said he likes when contractors use the device because it keeps the horse from hesitating.

"Sometimes they'll be hesitant to leap, but it's way better for them to Hot-Shot 'em," he said.

Although the only approved spots to use the device are on the hindquarters or the shoulders, Hay said contractors have different ideas about where it's most effective.

"Sometimes in the butt, sometimes in the belly," he said.

Burch said he often ignores the Hot-Shot rule.

"I think you waive your right to the Hot-Shot rule when you get on one of our critters," he said.

Burch emphasized that every horse in his lineup leaves the chutes quickly or else.

"I'm ready (with the Hot-Shot) for each critter," he said. "Some people might call me a little hard-headed."

Burch Rodeo benefits from having horses that explode from the chutes: A horse that stalls is valued at only about $1,000, while a prized bucking horse that never stalls can fetch $25,000, Burch said.

Burch said he never has been fined for his use of the Hot-Shot, but recently a cowboy got angry when he used the Hot-Shot on a horse without approval.

"When they turn out backwards, it makes me mad - I have to remind 'em," Burch said. "Sometimes (horses) are like kids, and they don't want to do what I'm asking 'em to do."

Use of a Hot-Shot is a quick reminder, he said.

Although he's supposed to ask the cowboy before using the tool, Burch said he holds it out in the open so the cowboys can see that he intends to use it.

"If common sense plays a part, I won't ever be fined for it," he said.

Electric prods and more

Steve Hindi of the Illinois-based group SHARK, SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, says Burch is probably right: He might not ever be fined for his use of the Hot-Shot, even if it is in violation of PRCA rules.

"We caught them using it at Cheyenne (Frontier Days) last year," Hindi said. "It happens all the time."

Hindi's group goes to rodeos and collects video and still photographic proof of PRCA animal welfare violations and submits them to the organization and to local governments in hopes of getting perpetrators prosecuted.

"I would say (Hot-Shot violations) are the most easily proven, but supposedly they don't allow jerk downs (of calves) or tail twisting either, but it happens," Hindi said.

And although the tool is approved for use by the PRCA, the product's manufacturer doesn't recommend its use on horses.

"We recommended the Hot-Shot for use on cattle and hogs for commercial movement," said marketing director Jim Bartell. "We don't condone it for use on horses, because cattle and hogs have thicker skin. We've never done any testing on horses."

Hindi said the PRCA doesn't reveal statistics on how many fines are levied against rule violators every year, so it's hard to tell how effective the association's enforcement is of its own animal welfare rules.

"They say they only use (electric prods) on the chute-stallers," Hindi said. "We say, 'Leave the chute-stallers at home.' We're being told that they're born to buck, so if they're born to buck, they shouldn't be able to wait to get out of the chute."

Hindi characterizes the PRCA's animal welfare rules as nothing more than public relations.

"It's a mess," he said. "It's so completely opposite of what they present - all this Americana and stuff about cowboys being truthful. It's all crap."

Local wild horse advocate Jeannine Stallings said she's not surprised by the allegations that electric prods were being used illegally at CFD.

"I hate rodeo and think it's an absolute orgy of animal abuse," she said recently from her home in Cheyenne. "We need to find a meeting of the minds, because I don't care how carefully they feed them or how they load them, those animals aren't there by choice."

Stallings said the behavior might be in violation of Title 6 of city code that states, "No person shall permit, induce or encourage any animal to perform through the use of chemical, mechanical, electrical or manual devices in a manner likely to cause physical injury, suffering or trauma to the animal."

Managing public opinion

"What the public sees is their reality," Schonholtz said, adding that the PRCA is well aware that attendance depends on overall public support of rodeo.

In her position at PRCA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., Schonholtz spends the majority of her time with questions that come from animal rights groups.

After years of protests, the organization developed a 20-page report on animal welfare that stipulates rules on animal transportation, handling, housing, weight limitations and approved equipment that can be used by cowboys.

"The animal welfare program itself has been around for 25 years," she said. "There's been one person designated to handle that for about 14 years."

Teaching the public that animal welfare is important to the PRCA also is a huge part of Schonholtz's job.

"It's such a big part of our business," she said. "Showing the public healthy, well cared-for animals is important so they leave with the right impression that we do care for our animals."

When new stock contractors come into the association, they're on probation for a year, she said.

"All of our members sign a form when they pay their dues. It's up to the member to read the rules," she added.

Rodeo advocacy group Friends of Rodeo helps rodeo committees defend the sport against animal rights groups.

From its Web site, the group makes several suggestions:

Rodeo equipment is used to cue and control animals. It must be used in a proper manner. Learn how to be a skillful animal handler before you get to the rodeo.

Never strike or poke an animal with equipment.

Don't overuse the electric cattle prod. Never hold the prod on the animal and buzz it continually. Holding a prod on an animal that is moving in the desired direction is not productive and does not teach the animal how to respond in the future.

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