The truth about rodeos
VHS is opposed to rodeo because most rodeo events involve the use of fear, stress or pain to make animals perform. There is also considerable risk of injury or death for the animals. These risks and the suffering the animals endure are especially unacceptable, given the unnecessary and frivolous nature of rodeo as entertainment.
Virtually all animal welfare organizations in Canada oppose cruel rodeo events, including the BC SPCA and Humane Canada. Rodeo is banned in the U.K., Holland, and several other U.S. and European jurisdictions. It is opposed by the American SPCA, the Royal New Zealand SPCA and the Australian SPCA. In Canada, the City of Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver have banned rodeos.
Changing public attitudes
The arguments and evidence against rodeo that VHS has employed rest on a simple premise: that rodeo is cruel to animals because it unnecessarily subjects them to fear, pain, stress and the risk of injury or death for the purpose of human entertainment.
Rodeo is not illegal in most places. However, if other animals, such as dogs, were subjected to the same treatment it is likely charges under the Criminal Code of Canada or provincial statutes would apply. For example, if a dog were to be chased at speed, lassoed, jerked backward and slammed to the ground it would likely meet the Criminal Code’s description of cruelty as “willfully or recklessly caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal…”
Rodeo events are not covered by Canadian animal cruelty laws because historically they are considered “generally accepted practices of animal management” for the treatment of livestock. This de facto exemption, curiously, applies to rodeo even though it is merely an entertainment. Without the protection of current federal or provincial law, rodeo animals can only have their treatment mitigated by municipal bylaws, which can prohibit certain types of business, activities or events within their boundaries. Otherwise it is a matter of rodeo organizations voluntarily making changes to their events (usually under pressure from public opinion).
Rodeos take place across North America, with the same competitors taking part in rodeos in Canada and the U.S. This video of American rodeos shows what really happens to the animals:
VHS has been successful in curtailing rodeos in B.C. The Abbotsford Agrifair rodeo was cancelled in 2016 after a VHS campaign, as was the Luxton Rodeo on Vancouver Island in 2015. In 2007, the Cloverdale Rodeo eliminated four events (calf-roping, steer-wrestling, team-roping and wild cow-milking) after a long campaign by VHS.
The Calgary Stampede has made a number of rules changes and measures to improve animal safety following VHS campaigns, as has the Chilliwack Fair rodeo. These changes do not go nearly far enough to address the suffering of rodeo animals, but they demonstrate that public pressure can have an effect.
In May 2006, after representations from VHS, Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to prohibit a number of rodeo activities. The elimination of rodeo in Vancouver, and its partial curtailment in Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver Island, speak to the changing public attitudes to the treatment of animals. A 2015 survey by polling company Insights West found that 66 per cent of B.C. residents are opposed to rodeo (63 per cent across Canada).
Specific rodeo events
The criticisms of rodeo (and the defence of rodeo) revolve around the specifics of each event. Following are descriptions of the main rodeo events.
Calf-roping (also called tie-down roping)
In this timed event a calf is goaded (often includes tail-twisting, kicking or knocking the calf’s head against the bars; electric shock devices are sometimes used) into the arena, followed by a horse and rider.
The calf, which runs at speeds averaging 27 miles per hour, is roped around the neck and jerked to a sudden stop. If the animal struggles to his feet he will be lifted up and thrown down to the ground by the rider, who then ties three of calf’s feet together.
The young age of animal, the in-chute abuse and the impact of the sudden jerking on the calf’s neck make this perhaps the most offensive rodeo event. Cloverdale’s decision to drop roping events followed a calf breaking his leg in this event, which resulted in the calf having to be killed.
Invented at the Calgary Stampede in 1923, the chuckwagon race involves several teams of horses pulling wagons in a figure eight course and racing down a track at high speed to the finish line.
Several other rodeos in Western Canada have adopted this event. More than 60 chuckwagon horses have been killed at the Calgary Stampede since 1986, mainly due to crash injuries and heart attacks brought on by stress.
The considerable risk of injury and death to horses has made this event highly controversial but it remains one of the main attractions at the Stampede.
In this event two mounted cowboys attempt to rope and immobilize a steer in the least amount of time. The lasso is thrown around the steer’s neck by one rider and the other ropes the hind legs. The steer is then pulled from each end and stretched to bring him to the ground. Sometimes the steer is stretched so violently that all four feet leave the ground and he is suspended in mid-air by the neck and rear legs.
Bronc-riding | Bareback riding/bull-riding
Riders compete to see who can stay mounted on a bucking horse for a set time. Despite claims by the rodeo industry, bucking is not a natural activity for a horse. Hence a “flank strap” is tied around the horse’s sensitive hindquarters to make him buck. The horse will buck until the strap is released. The horse is clearly being tormented by the flank strap and the desire to get the rider off. A flank strap is also used in bull riding for the same purpose.
Wild cow milking
This timed event involves three cowboys chasing a roped cow, grabbing and twisting its head to stop it long enough for one cowboy to take milk from the cow’s udder.
Extreme stress can be observed amongst the cows as they attempt to escape from the men chasing them.
Here, a rider jumps from his horse on to the head and neck of a running steer. He then twists the neck of the steer until it falls to the ground. This can result in neck injuries – a steer’s neck was broken at the 2004 Cloverdale Rodeo and the animal had to be killed.
Arguments defending rodeo
A number of arguments have been put forward by the rodeo industry to defend rodeo. Following are some of the most common, with counter arguments:
Animal welfare organizations – positions on rodeo
Animal advocacy organizations working to abolish rodeos
SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) – U.S. animal protection organization specializing in rodeo investigations
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Resources and media
How you can help
Check out the links below for the latest information on our campaigns and how to get involved.
Article originally published on Daily Hive. The death of six horses in last year’s Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race may have marked a turning point in public support for the event, with even die-hard chuckwagon fans calling for change. The key question, however, is whether corporate sponsors of the race will continue to support an event…
Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is calling on the Canadian Football League (CFL) to cancel a rodeo being held as part of this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Calgary. The call comes as a new poll shows that a majority of Canadians are opposed to rodeo. The poll, by Research Co., found that…