Rodeo - BC SPCA
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Rodeo

The BC SPCA is opposed to inflicting pain or suffering upon any animal for recreation, sport or entertainment – including rodeo. Rodeo presents many opportunities where animal welfare is at risk, but we can take action to prevent animal suffering. Additionally, public polling from August 2023 revealed that 65% of British Columbians are against using animals in rodeos.

Saddle bronc riding at a rodeo.

What is rodeo?

Rodeo is a competitive sport that originated from traditional horseback cattle ranching practices. Early rodeo events displayed the practical skills required to operate a ranch. Today’s rodeo has evolved into a dramatized event that can cause animal suffering purely for entertainment.

Seven different events are recognized as ‘professional rodeo’ in Canada: saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing. Many other rodeo-type events may occur, but they are not professionally recognized. Examples include chuckwagon racing, mutton-busting (where children ride sheep) and wild cow milking.

Child riding on a sheep participating in the mutton busting event as part of the Cloverdale Rodeo in 2023.
Mutton busting event at the Cloverdale Rodeo, 2023.

What are the animal welfare issues with rodeo?

When rodeo animals are made to perform, they face risks to their physical and psychological well-being. Rodeo professionals often say that their animals are well-cared for outside of rodeo events. While we support this attentive care, the potential risk of animals experiencing fear, distress, pain, injury and discomfort for entertainment is not justified by humane care they receive when not performing.

Fear and distress

In the roping and wrestling events, a calf or steer is released into the arena and chased on horseback by the contestant(s). This is a very stressful situation for the calf or steer, as cattle are prey animals and will run to attempt to escape.

Before being released into the arena, a bucking horse or bull is confined in a bucking chute while the contestant prepares to ride. During this time, horses and bulls have shown many signs of fear and distress, including visible eye white, pawing, kicking, head tossing and rearing.

Pain, injury and death

Animals used in rodeo are at risk of suffering from pain, injury and even death every time they perform. Animals can suffer abrasions, bruising and broken ribs, limbs and necks. Animals have died in rodeo events or have had to be euthanized as a result of their injuries. It’s also important to note that some injuries, such as internal bleeding, may go unnoticed.

Calf being roped in a rodeo event.

Discomfort

Much of the equipment used in rodeo events relies on animal discomfort to produce the desired behaviour.

In the bucking events (saddle bronc, bareback and bull), scoring is equally dependent on the rider and the animal, meaning the more vigorously an animal bucks, the higher their scoring potential. A flank strap is placed around the animals’ hindquarters to encourage the horse or bull to buck, which applies pressure on their sensitive underbelly, causing discomfort. The rider also uses metal attachments on their boots, called spurs, to cause discomfort, leading to more bucking. While bucking is a natural behaviour of these animals, in rodeo it is a behaviour rooted in discomfort, not in play.

There are limited standards regarding acceptable equipment use in riding events such as barrel racing. This permits various equipment that causes discomfort and pain, such as using mouth bits to better control the horse.

Goes against good handling practices

The cattle and equine industry stresses the importance of calm, low-stress handling techniques to improve animal welfare. Quiet handling techniques are a requirement in the Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines and Beef Cattle. If this is not acceptable behaviour on a farm, why is it permitted in rodeo?

Lack of industry oversight and transparency

While professionally-sanctioned rodeos have regulations that must be followed, many rodeo events take place across the country each year that are not held to the same standard. For example, rodeos that are not professionally sanctioned may not have a suitable facility or veterinarian on site to provide emergency care to animals if they become injured.

Bull riding competition at a rodeo

Can rodeo be humane?

The BC SPCA recognizes the province’s ranching traditions and that rodeo began as a way to showcase the essential skills needed to manage cattle on a range. However, farming practices have changed. The animal handling and training techniques that use pain or fear to motivate behaviour change common at rodeos would not be acceptable on farms today.

Where rodeos take place, the BC SPCA encourages the showcasing of low-stress handling skills and horse riding events that do not cause fear, frustration, anxiety, pain or injury to animals. The National Farm Animal Care Council’s Codes of Practice for equines and cattle requires handlers to use quiet handling techniques – this should also apply to animals used in rodeo. We support rodeo organizations that are making an effort to modify or exclude certain events to limit animal suffering.

Read the BC SPCA’s position statement on Animals in Recreation, Sport and Entertainment.

Provincial government funding

In 2023, the B.C. Fairs, Festivals and Events Fund granted $689,000 to support 23 rodeos across the province. While we celebrate the work to revitalize community events that bring people together, support economies, and highlight vibrant cultures, government funding should not be used for events that cause animal suffering.

When the funding program was announced, the BC SPCA wrote to the government, urging them not to provide funding to rodeos, but we received no response. We encouraged the government to support rural and agri-tourism that celebrates B.C.’s rich agricultural history and the farmers that feed us while encouraging respect and kindness for farmed animals.

Saddle bronc riding event at the Cloverdale Rodeo, 2023.
Saddle bronc riding event at the Cloverdale Rodeo, 2023.

How can you take action?

Our collective voices can show rodeo organizers and all levels of government that animals should not suffer for our entertainment.

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