What is rodeo?
Rodeo is a competitive event that originated from traditional horseback cattle ranching practices. Early rodeo events displayed practical skills that were required to operate the ranch on a day to day basis. Today’s rodeo has evolved into a dramatized event that can cause animal suffering for the sake of entertainment.
There are seven different events that are recognized as ‘professional rodeo’ in Canada: saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing. There are many other rodeo-type events that may take place, but they are not professionally recognized. Examples include chuckwagon racing, mutton-busting (where children ride sheep) and wild cow milking.
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 both 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, in order to limit animal suffering.
Read the BC SPCA’s position statement on Animals in Recreation, Sport and Entertainment.
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 the purpose of 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 is then 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.
Prior to 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 been observed to show 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 from abrasions, bruising, broken ribs, broken limbs and broken 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.
Much of the equipment used in rodeo events relies on animal discomfort in order 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 vigorous an animal bucks, the higher their scoring potential. To encourage the horse or bull to buck, a flank strap is placed around the hindquarters of the animal, which applies pressure on their sensitive underbelly, causing discomfort. The rider also uses metal attachments on their boots, called spurs, to cause discomfort which leads 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 a wide variety of equipment that causes discomfort and pain, such as the use of mouth bits to better control the horse.
Goes against good handling practices
Both the cattle and equine industry stress the importance of calm, low-stress handling techniques to improve animal welfare. In fact, 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.
Take action for animals used in rodeo
- Do not attend rodeos with events that jeopardize the welfare and safety of animals, like calf roping or steer wrestling.
- Write a letter to the BC Rodeo Association, your local rodeo association, their sponsors and your municipality, asking them to consider safer, more humane events.
- Spread the word about rodeo by sharing this page with your friends and family.
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