Animals in rodeos are subjected to fear, stress, and pain.

The reality of rodeo

The 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 nature of rodeo as public entertainment.

Virtually all animal welfare organizations in Canada oppose cruel rodeo events, including the BC SPCA and Humane Canada. In British Columbia, the City of Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver and the City of Port Moody have banned rodeos. Polling shows a growing majority of British Columbians (65%) and Canadians (67%) are opposed to the use of animals in rodeo events.

Why is rodeo inhumane?

  • Fear, pain and stress: Many rodeo events exploits animals’ reaction to pain, fear and stress. This becomes obvious when one asks questions such as: Why would a calf or bull charge at full speed out of a chute into an arena full of people? (Answer: they are roughly handled and agitated.) What makes rodeo horses and bulls buck? (Answer: A tool called a flank strap is tightened around the animals’ sensitive underbelly, causing irritation and stress until the strap is released.) Were such methods used to motivate dogs at dog agility competitions, there would be a public outcry.
  • In addition to rough handling, the noise, unfamiliar surroundings and stress of being chased can cause extreme fear. Animal behaviourist, Dr. Temple Grandin, has argued that fear is “so bad” for animals that it is worse than pain.
  • Injuries and deaths: Rodeo animals are injured or killed in rodeos regularly. It is difficult to get accurate figures on rodeo deaths and injuries, as inflammation and muscle damage can take up to 48 hours after an injury to present.
  • Condoning of violence and animal abuse: Aside from what rodeo does to animals, there is also the question of what it does to us. That is, what message does rodeo send to the public, especially children, about the treatment of animals?

Latest news & current campaigns

Vancouver Humane Society, Animal Justice warn of possible violations at Kelowna bull riding event Animal Justice and the Vancouver Humane Society are raising concerns about a bull riding event scheduled for Prospera Place in Kelowna on July 18. “The groups have alerted RCMP and the BC SPCA about potential violations of B.C.’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and Canada’s Criminal Code during the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) event.”…


What happened at this year’s Chilliwack and Langley rodeos

The return of the Chilliwack rodeo this year, along with a controversial new rodeo held in Langley Township, has raised concerns about the well-being and welfare of animals made to perform in rodeo events. Video footage taken at both rodeos this summer shows stressed and frightened animals being roughly handled and deliberately agitated into fleeing and bucking.

Specific rodeo events

Calf roping (or tie-down roping)

Calf roping (or tie-down roping)

In this timed event, handlers deliberately agitate a calf who is held in a chute (often by tail-twisting, pulling ears, or knocking the calf’s head against the bars) before being released into the arena and chased by a horse and rider.

The calf, running at speeds averaging 27 miles per hour, is roped around the neck and jerked to a sudden stop. If the animal struggles to their feet, they will be lifted up and thrown down to the ground by the rider, who then ties three of calf’s feet together.

Research on stress hormones and behavioural evidence shows that calves experience acute stress when chased, roped, lifted and thrown to the ground during roping events.

Chuckwagon racing

Chuckwagon racing

Invented at the Calgary Stampede in 1923, the chuckwagon race (dubbed the ‘half-mile of hell’) involves several teams of horses pulling wagons in a figure eight course and racing down a track to the finish line. Several other rodeos in Western Canada have adopted this event.

At least 75 horses have been killed in the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races since the VHS started tracking fatalities in 1986, mainly due to crash injuries and heart attacks brought on by stress. In the last two decades, there have only been 3 years in which the races did not result in horse fatalities: 2003, 2004, and 2016.

The structure of the chuckwagon race is inherently dangerous, due to the high speed and close proximity of the horses and wagons to each other, which also presents a risk of creating a chain reaction if one horse falls or is injured. The use of thoroughbred race horses in the event has been another concern, with animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin noting that thoroughbreds are often overbred for speed, rather than skeletal strength, making their legs susceptible to injury.

Team roping

Team roping

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

Bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding

Riders compete to see who can stay mounted on a horse or bull for a set time. The discomfort and stress the animals are subjected to during the event, through the use of a flank strap and spurs, triggers their natural fear response of bucking, similar to how they would react defensively to an attack from a predator. The “flank strap” is tied around the animal’s sensitive underbelly and tightened as they leave the chute, causing them to buck. The animal will buck until the strap is released. The animal is clearly being tormented by the flank strap and the desire to get the rider off. In bucking events, part of the rider’s score is based on their use of spurs on the animal.

Wild cow milking

Wild cow milking

This timed event involves three cowboys chasing a roped cow, grabbing and twisting the animal’s head to stop them 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 participants chasing them.

Steer wrestling

Steer wrestling

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 the animal falls to the ground. This can result in neck injuries – at a previous Cloverdale Rodeo event, a steer’s neck was broken 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:

  • Rodeo animals are valuable, so they would not be mistreated or put at risk. This is like saying that race car drivers would not put their valuable cars at risk in motor racing. Of course they do because the financial rewards outweigh the risk. The same is true in professional rodeo, which offers large cash prizes and generates significant revenue for those involved. The animals are valuable because they are put at risk. It is the dangerous, physical nature of the events that are promoted and put on display.
  • Rodeo animals are just like athletes in other rough sports. Except that rodeo animals, unlike human athletes, have no choice in the matter. Is it likely a calf or steer would choose to be roped and thrown to the ground? Would a bull choose to be goaded into a loud arena of screaming people with someone on his back, a belt tightened around his sensitive underbelly, and spurs raked along his sides?
  • Rodeo is a valuable part of our western heritage and tradition. In fact, most rodeo events bear little or no resemblance to real ranch practices, historic or modern. For example, why would a real cowboy ride a bull? Why would a real cowboy want to make a horse buck with a flank strap? A key issue is that rodeo events are timed, whereas real ranch practices are not. Timing makes these events faster, more stressful and more dangerous to the animals. These events are fundamentally at odds with how we should be handling and treating animals. In fact, they contradict industry requirements and best practices for the handling of farmed animals, which state that quiet handling techniques must be used and that abusive handling is unacceptable. If these same practices were used on farms, they would not be allowed.
  • Rodeo animals are big and strong, with thick hides. Just because an animal is large or has great strength doesn’t mean they can’t suffer. The injuries and deaths sustained by many rodeo animals make it obvious they are subject to violence, which in turn must cause pain. A thick hide, although it might obscure bruising, does little to protect animals against broken limbs, the pain of tail twisting or the hard kick of a cowboy boot with spurs. In any case, as has been stated by animal behaviourist Temple Grandin, it is likely that fear may be more stressful for animals than pain.
  • The animals are going to be slaughtered anyway. The fact that some animals will eventually be slaughtered for food is not a justification for causing them unnecessary fear, stress, discomfort and pain before being sent to slaughter. Rodeo has been termed “a cruel detour to the slaughterhouse.” In many cases, animals used in rodeo events are also purpose-bred by rodeo stock contractors to be used in rodeos.

Changing public attitudes

Communities are increasingly moving away from hosting inhumane rodeo events. The Abbotsford Agrifair rodeo was cancelled in 2016 after a VHS campaign and pressure from other advocates and concerned citizens, 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.

In response to public pressure, the Calgary Stampede has made a number of rules changes and measures, as has the Chilliwack Fair rodeo. These changes do not go nearly far enough to address the suffering of animals used in rodeo, but they demonstrate the impact of changing public opinion.

In May 2006, after representations from VHS, Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to prohibit a number of rodeo activities. The District of North Vancouver and City of Port Moody have also prohibited inhumane rodeo events and practices. The elimination of rodeo in Vancouver, and its partial curtailment in Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver Island, speak to the changing public attitudes around the use of animals in rodeo events.

Rodeo photos