Animal Defenders of Westchester

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

Stop Rodeos

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)

The Stunts

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 brave.

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. (4)

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)

Veterinarian Perspective

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 back. (14)

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 incident." (15)

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. 2001.

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," (CFCN-CTV), 13 Jul. 2001.

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. 2002.

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 May 2001.

22)"Lot of Bull," USA Today, 25 Jan. 1999, p. 3A.

23)Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, "PRCA Animal Welfare Rules," 2003.

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.


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.


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 skin.

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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