"If it gets to the point where people think rodeo is inhumane or cruel, they quit coming, and then we're out of business."
-Tom Hirsig, CEO, Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo
Click the play button to watch the entire documentary short, Bucking Tradition
“Cowboys, sensing—like gorillas—that their time has passed, cling ever more desperately to anachronistic styles, not willing to admit that the myth has degenerated, and the traditions eroded to a point where attempting to sustain them falls somewhere between silliness and the outright ridiculous.”
- Larry McMurtry, in the book, Rodeo
Time for Change
With the cancellation of orca shows and captive breeding at SeaWorld, and the demise of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the world is clearly ready for a compassionate change on a global level.
Russ Fields, of the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Board of Directors, recently claimed in an interview that animals don't feel fear. The science says otherwise, and understanding of animal sentience has grown significantly in recent years. World-renowned animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin has stated that “the single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid.”
Despite the concern of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), that rodeo is about to suffer the same fate as the circus, the ASPCA, PETA, and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association have all denounced the rodeo as cruel to animals. And organizations such as SHARK, Anti-Rodeo Action New Zealand, and Animal Liberation Queensland are working to end rodeo in countries where competition frequently occurs.
“Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society…Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life we will have learned to live well ourselves.”
- Cesar Chavez, in a letter to Eric Mills of Action for Animals
Rodeo Is Not Ranching
“No one on a working ranch would ever have any reason (or desire) to ride a bull, Brahma or otherwise. No one would ever be required to race a horse around three triangularly placed barrels, an activity that quickly ruins the horse for more productive activity. Bull riding and barrel racing are rodeo kabuki—their relation to anything that might happen on a ranch is confined to costume.” – from the book, Rodeo
“Despite their apparent warmth and social graces,
ranchers seem to have a special hardness expressed
as a diminished regard for life, creatures, and the designs of nature… The rodeo, with its violence, physical abuses, and man-over-beast theme,
seems to be a manifestation of this attitude towards surroundings. Force has always been a way of life among cattlemen.”
- from Sacred Cows at the Public Trough
Calf roping (re-named “tie-down roping” by the PRCA, in a disingenuous attempt to deflect public criticism) is arguably the most brutal event in all of rodeo. The calves are mere babies, sometimes un-weaned, or weaned too early. Calf roping is so egregious that the state of Rhode Island has banned it altogether. Other states should follow suit.
Some veterinarians say that a calf is injured EVERY time he or she is roped, thrown, and tied. As evident in this video, “jerk-downs,” where the calf is flipped or jerked backwards, are also commonplace. Jerk-downs are “against the rules” but penalties are rare and only happen after the fact. Video courtesy of the organization SHARK.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
- Mohandas Gandhi
Also known as “bulldogging,” steer wrestling was created especially for the rodeo arena by famed black cowboy Bill Pickett in the early 20th century. Bill’s claim to fame was to bite the steer on the nose and lip so that sheer pain kept the animal on the ground. Biting is no longer allowed by the PRCA (progress!), but the event can still cause serious injury to the steers. Video courtesy of Anti-Rodeo Action New Zealand.
“It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat animals will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people.”
- Pope Francis
Steer roping is also known as “steer busting” or “steer tripping.” This event—along with calf roping—is among the most egregious events in all of rodeo. Though sanctioned by the PRCA, steer roping is seen in only 8-10 Western states (and not in California.) It is a feature of the Spicer Gripp Memorial Rodeo in Texas, however, and in a number of other rodeos around the country. Crippling and death is commonplace, as Dr. Peggy Larson explains here.
“Rodeo is a macho exercise in domination—Man Over Beast, Man Over Nature. Sexism is rampant. Oppression and abuse, in its many forms, is pervasive in this so called “all-American sport.’”
- Eric Mills, Action for Animals
“Women should not rodeo any more than men can have babies. Women were put on earth to reproduce, and are close to animals. Women’s liberation is on an equal to gay liberation—they are both ridiculous.”
- a Wyoming steer wrestler, quoted in the book Rodeo: An Anthropologist Looks at the Wild and the Tame
Wild Cow Milking
Wild cow milking is not a PRCA-sanctioned event, but seen frequently at mainstream rodeos nonetheless. These are beef cattle, not dairy; as such, they are not used to being handled, much less this roughly.
This video is from the Rowell Ranch Rodeo’s 2013 event. At the 2014 RRR rodeo, a stressed-out cow jumped the fence. She suffered a broken neck and required euthanasia, leaving behind an orphaned calf. Video courtesy of Shani Campbell.
“The eighteen-year-old rodeo queen and her princess told me that rodeo people, including themselves, ‘hated Democrats, environmentalists, and gays.’ I was astonished that their political and social outlook could be reduced to such simple platitudes of hate.”
- from Rodeo Queens and the American Dream
Animal Abuse Meets Child Endangerment
“My gripe about rodeo, as publicly promoted, is that it wants both the lie and the truth: to be both Wild West, and yet steeped in family values.” - Larry McMurtry, in the book, Rodeo.
There are a growing number of other abusive and non-sanctioned
events geared towards children, such as “calf riding,” "steer riding," "chute dogging," "goat tying," and children's "mutton bustin’.” Such events indoctrinate impressionable children, young men, and young women into an animal-abusing ideology, as explained by Dr. Jim Reynolds. Video courtesy of Shani Campbell.
Additional Thoughts from the Experts
Eric Mills & Jim Reynolds on the PRCA “Injury Rate”
Chris Berry, Esq. on the PRCA’s “No Camera” policy
Dr. James Reynolds – Animals Don’t Get a Choice
What You Can Do To Help
Contact ACTION FOR ANIMALS for further info. Read the recommended books and articles provided to you here; search for even more. Write letters to editors; call radio talk shows. Organize a rodeo protest. Meet with your reps—city, county, and state—and ask them to sponsor ordinances or legislation to ban/regulate rodeos. Involve the local religious community and public schools. Encourage boycotts of all rodeos and their corporate sponsors and advertisers. Follow the money!
Scully, Matthew. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy . New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.
McMurtry, Larry and Serpa, Louise L. Rodeo. New York: Aperture Publishing, 1994.
Sands, Kathleen Mullen. Charrería Mexicana: An Equestrian Folk Tradition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993.
Limon, Enrique. “Dust in the Wind: Can Mexico’s National Sport Survive in the U.S. Amid Increasing Animal-Welfare Regulation?” San Diego City Beat: September 29, 2010.
“Youngsters ‘Giddy-Up’ at the Jr. Rodeo.” Kern Valley Sun: October 24, 2018.