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A cruel spectacle – why you should never attend a rodeo

It’s animal cruelty promoted as family friendly fun, where the main attractions rely on frightening and provoking animals for entertainment. When described as it really is, a rodeo doesn’t sound appealing at all, but clever marketing often entices people to attend these events, with hundreds of rodeos held around Australia every year.
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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Friday, 7 June 2024

It’s animal cruelty promoted as family friendly fun, where the main attractions rely on frightening and provoking animals for entertainment. When described as it really is, a rodeo doesn’t sound appealing at all, but clever marketing often entices people to attend these events, with hundreds of rodeos held around Australia every year.

Nothing entertaining about rodeo events

Rodeos are mostly held in rural areas, where horses and cattle are used to demonstrate what organisers say are ‘riding and handling skills’. This is despite the fact that the practices showcased at these events are rarely used in any other format outside rodeos and completely contradict best practice animal handling.

The events most common to rodeos are bronco riding and bull riding – where rodeo horses and bulls buck repeatedly, in reaction to being kicked with metal spurs and a tightened flank strap around their sensitive underbelly, while the rider aims to hold on for as long as possible. Disturbingly there’s been a recent trend of including pyrotechnics to bronco and bull riding events, adding further distress to what is already a frightening and painful experience for the animals.

Calf roping – where young calves are chased by a competitor (or roper) on horseback until they’re lassoed around the neck and caught. The abrupt stop chokes and jerks the calf off their feet before they’re forced to the ground, with some being dragged by the rope around their neck causing further choking. While all rodeo events pose welfare concerns, calf roping is arguably the most serious; as it subjects very young, vulnerable animals who should still be with their mother, to guaranteed fear, distress, and pain. Though effectively banned in Victoria and South Australia, and condemned by animal welfare organisations and the Australian Veterinary Association, calf roping events still are freely practiced in every other state where rodeos are held.

Steer wrestling and team roping – these events both involve using steers between 180kg and 300kg, though their size does not make the experience any less frightening or dangerous for these normally docile animals. In wrestling events, a rider on horseback jumps from the horse to grab the steer by their horns and twists the steer’s neck 180 degrees to force them to the ground. Not only does the steer experience fear and distress at being chased in a loud and unfamiliar environment with no avenue to escape, but being handled in such a rough manner risks serious injury - no doubt causing bruising and possible ligament strain, as well as leaving some steers with damaged horns, and in some cases, even resulting in death from a broken neck. 

In team roping, two riders chase down a steer, one rider roping the hind legs and the other roping around the steer’s head, neck, or horns. This event risks injury and causes fear and distress with most steers trying in vain to escape but are forced to being fully splayed out by the ropes.

Not only is the treatment of the animals during these events unacceptable and in complete disregard for their welfare, it’s also extremely concerning that organisers and attendees view rough handling of a frightened, distressed animal as something to cheer on and encourage.

Archaic events with outdated ideals.

Every rodeo event using animals pose serious welfare risks, and none of the events are in any way a pleasant or low stress experience for the animals involved. A review by the New Zealand National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee concluded that all rodeo events posed serious or moderate concerns. Therefore, it seems incredulous that rodeos are being promoted as family friendly entertainment, and involving children as young as eight in certain events. Doing so teaches young, impressionable children that chasing, choking, throwing and kicking animals for entertainment is acceptable, when we should be teaching them empathy, compassion and respect for animals.

Most jurisdictions have no mandatory welfare standards to protect animal welfare, and even where they exist, they are generally not monitored or enforced. In reality, rodeos are left unchecked.

Advocates for rodeos argue the animals are bred to buck, or even enjoy the experience – but if this was true, then why is there such widespread use of spurs, flank straps and in some cases electric jiggers to provoke the animals? The truth is there is nothing natural about the treatment of animals at rodeo events. Calves are not routinely roped, bulls are not ridden, and steers are not wrestled to the ground in normal animal husbandry settings. In fact, the agricultural industry strongly promotes low stress, calm and careful handling to avoid animals being stressed or injured.

What can be done.

The RSPCA opposes rodeos and rodeo schools, and would like to see them cease for good. While rodeo events are still permitted there is an urgent need for the adoption of compulsory and enforced animal welfare standards through a registration and licensing system which includes management, handling, care and transport of rodeo animals and certain events such as calf roping scrapped altogether due to the serious welfare risk for the calves.

We know community agrees, with the latest research showing 67% of Australians are concerned or very concerned about the treatment of animals at rodeo events.

Concerned individuals can help by refusing to attend rodeo events, and refusing to purchase products or services from companies sponsoring rodeos (including communicating with the company about that choice). If there are rodeos held in your local area, you can raise awareness about the animal welfare risks involved or even contact your local council or member of Parliament to voice your opposition to the treatment of animals at these events. Speaking out against rodeos with your voice and your purchasing power is one of the strongest ways to send a clear message to rodeo stakeholders that making a spectacle of animal cruelty has no place in Australian communities.

Causing fear and distress to any animal should never occur for the sake of entertainment, it’s high time rodeos hung up their boots for good.

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