Despite growing concern about animal welfare, rodeos remain popular entertainment events. Statistics indicate that in the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 5.85 million people visit rodeos every year. Though some are run for charity, these visitor numbers make rodeos an extremely profitable enterprise.
Rodeos can feature a multitude of events involving animals. These range from bareback bronc riding and bull riding where riders attempt to stay mounted to a bucking horse or bull, steer wresting, where participants leap from a horse onto the back of a steer, attempting to wrestle them to the ground, steer tripping, where steers are forced to run at full speed then yanked by rope to make them fall, and calf roping, where a rider chases a calf, puts them on the ground and ties their feet with rope. While participants take part freely, the animals in these events have no choice; they are animals who do not want to take part and are struggling against what is being done to them. Though injuries are sometimes sustained by competitors, in truth, the animals used have little hope of any real resistence. We do not need scientific studies to tell us that these animals are scared, agitated and extremely stressed. These are events which, by their very nature, revolve around the physical domination of an animal against their will, which is abuse by any reasonable definition of the word.
The animals usually used in rodeos are docile by nature, so before they even appear in events it is common for abuses to be inflicted upon them in order to get them riled up. Eye witness testimony from visitors recalls incidents of shocking and jabbing a horse with a wire prod in his anus, as well as video evidence of electrocution and slapping. Injuries are common during events too, on the first day alone at the 2012 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, five animals were so badly injured they had to be taken out of the arena. These injured animals are usually slaughtered once they can no longer perform. Dr. C. G. Haber, a veterinarian with thirty years of experience as a USDA meat inspector–said: “The rodeo folks send their animals to the packing houses where… I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached 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. I have seen as much as two and three gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin.” Needless to say, most rodeo animals are sent to slaughter once their entertainment value has been spent; a final insult added to injury as their owners seek to squeeze every last dollar out of their suffering.
Fundamentally, animals used in rodeos are being treated as commodities, as mere objects of entertainment. When any being is seen in these terms, their rights will never be respected. In the US and Canada, rodeo animals are not even protected by current federal law; most states defer to the judgements of the Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association, who routinely deny abuse and deaths. This is an industry which not only involves cruelty as collateral damage, it requires cruelty, the sport is founded on and based around the suffering of animals. That an events or practices such as these are part of someone’s culture is in no way an adequate justification for continuing to support an industry which is cruel, violent and utterly abhorrent.