Dangers, injuries, deaths and cruelty of the Horse and Cattle
The event has provoked concerns among some animal welfare advocates that practices used in the event may constitute animal cruelty.
Modern rodeos in the United States are closely regulated and have responded to accusations of animal cruelty by instituting a number of rules to guide how rodeo livestock are to be managed. The PRCA has 60 rules that specifically regulate the proper care and treatment of rodeo animals; these guidelines must be followed by all rodeo participants in sanctioned rodeos.
In 1994, a survey of 28 sanctioned rodeos was conducted by on-site independent veterinarians. Reviewing 33,991 animal runs, the injury rate was documented at 16 animals or 0.047 percent, less than five-hundredths of one percent or one in 2000 animals. A study of rodeo animals in Australia found a similar injury rate. Basic injuries occurred at a rate of 0.072 percent, or one in 1,405, with injuries requiring veterinary attention at 0.036 percent, or one injury in every 2810 times the animal was used, and transport, yarding and competition were all included in the study.
A later PRCA survey of 60,971 animal performances at 198 rodeo performances and 73 sections of “slack” indicated 27 animals were injured, again approximately five-hundredths of 1 percent – 0.0004. However, accusations of cruelty in the USA persist. The PRCA acknowledges that they only sanction about 30 percent of all rodeos, while another 50 percent are sanctioned by other organizations and 20 percent are completely unsanctioned.
Several animal rights organizations keep records of accidents and incidents of possible animal abuse. They cite various specific incidents of injury to support their statements, and also point to examples of long-term breakdown, as well as reporting on injuries and deaths suffered by animals in non-rodeo events staged on the periphery of professional rodeo such as chuck wagon races and “suicide runs”. While in terms of actual statistics on animal injury rate, there appear to be no more recent independent studies on animal injury in rodeo than the 1994 study, groups such as PETA gather anecdotal reports such as one from a 2010 rodeo in Colorado alleging eleven animal injuries, of which two were fatal.
There are powerful economic reasons to treat animals well. Bucking horses and bulls are costly to replace: a proven bucking horse can be sold for $8000 to $10,000, making “rough stock” an investment worth caring for and keeping in good health for many years. Health regulations mandate vaccinations and blood testing of horses crossing state lines, so rodeo horses receive routine care. An injured animal will not buck well and hence a cowboy cannot obtain a high score for his ride, so sick or injured animals are not run through the chutes, but instead are given appropriate veterinary care so they can be returned to their usual level of strength and power. PRCA regulations require veterinarians to be available at all rodeos to treat both bucking stock and other animals as needed. The PRCA requires a veterinarian be at all sanctioned rodeos.
Activists also express concern that many rodeo horses end their lives as horsemeat. While it is accurate that some rough stock animals are slaughtered for horsemeat at the end of their useful careers, other bucking horses are retired at the end of their rodeo usefulness and allowed to live into old age. The issue of horse slaughter crosses all equestrian disciplines and is not confined solely to the rodeo industry. Any unwanted horse can meet this fate, including race horses, show horses, or even backyard pasture pets.
Over the years, some states imposed regulation upon certain techniques and tools used in rodeos. In 2000, California became the first state to prohibit the use of cattle prods on animals in the chute. The city of Pittsburgh prohibited the use of flank straps as well as prods or shocking devices, wire tie-downs, and sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels at rodeos or rodeo-related events. Some other cities and states have passed similar prohibitions.
Under PRCA guidelines, electric prods may not deliver a shock stronger than can be produced from two D batteries. Prods are allowed as long as the situation requires them to protect the people or the animals.
Flank strap controversy
A “flank strap” (or, “bucking strap”) is used to encourage the horse to kick out straighter and higher when it bucks. The flank strap is about 4 inches wide, covered in sheepskin or neoprene and fastens behind the widest part of the abdomen. Flank straps that hurt the horse are not allowed by rodeo rules in the United States.
However, a bucking strap has to be an incentive, not a prod, or the horse will quickly sour and refuse to work. A horse in pain will become sullen and not buck very well, and harm to the genitalia is anatomically impossible because the stifle joint of the hind leg limits how far back a flank strap can be attached.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has stated that burrs and other irritants are at times placed under the flank strap and that improperly used flank straps can cause open wounds and burns if the hair is rubbed off and the skin is chafed raw. However, while the implied argument behind this claim is that pain is what makes the horse buck, in actual practice, irritants or pain generally interfere with a horse’s ability to buck in an energetic and athletic fashion.
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 contest of skill among cowboys has become a show motivated by greed and big profits.
Bucking horses often develop back problems from the repeated poundings they take from the cowboys,” Dr. Cordell Leif told the Denver Post. “There’s also a real leg injury where a tendon breaks down. Horses don’t normally jump up and down.”
When the flank strap is paired with spurring, it causes the animals to buck even more violently, often resulting in serious injuries. Former animal control officers have found burrs and other irritants placed under the flank strap. In addition, the flank strap can cause open wounds and burns when the hair is rubbed off and the skin chafes.
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.
By the end of the annual Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada, several animals are usually dead. In 2005, horses destined for the event stampeded in fear as they were being herded across a bridge; some jumped and others were pushed into the river. Nine horses died. In 2009, a steer who suffered a spinal cord injury during a roping event, as well as three horses, died. Six horses died in the 2010 Stampede, two from heart attacks, one from a broken back, and another from a shoulder injury so severe that the attending veterinarian ordered the animal to be euthanized.
At the 2010 Colorado rodeo in Denver, 11 animals were injured—two fatally—during an event in which a horseback rider grabs a cow by the tail and slams the animal to the ground. Animal cruelty charges were filed against the organizers of the rodeo after sheriff’s investigators reported that some animals’ tails had been ripped off and that animals’ bones had been broken.13
Calves who are roped while running routinely have their necks snapped back by the lasso, often resulting in neck injuries.14 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.”15 During Rodeo Houston, a bull with a broken neck suffered for a full 15 minutes before he was euthanized following a steer-wrestling competition, which was described by a local newspaper as an event in which “cowboys violently twist the heads of steers weighing about 500 pounds to bring them to the ground.”
Rodeo association rules are not effective in preventing injuries and are not strictly enforced, and penalties are not severe enough to deter abuse. For example, one rule states, “Any member guilty of mistreatment of livestock anywhere on the rodeo grounds shall be fined $250 for the first offense with that fine progressively doubling with each offense thereafter.” But fines are small compared to the large purses that are at stake. Rules also allow the animals to be confined or transported in vehicles for up to 24 hours without being properly fed, watered, or unloaded.
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 their skin was attached to their 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.” These injuries resulted when animals were thrown in calf-roping events and when people jumped on them from the backs of horses during steer wrestling.
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