Peggy W. Larson, DVM, MS, JD
During the course of my lifetime, I have been a farmer, bareback bronc rider in the rodeo, a large animal veterinarian, a medical researcher, a meat inspector, a state veterinarian, and a prosecutor. I have also worked with the media as a consultant on animal abuse issues including rodeo and PMU horses.
Based upon my extensive experience with large animals, I have come to the conclusion that rodeo events are inherently inhumane. The most cruel are the roping events.
In calf roping, baby calves weighing less than 300 pounds are forced to run at speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour when they are roped. The reason they run at such high speeds is that they are being tortured in the holding chute. Their tails are twisted, their tails are rubbed back and forth over the steel bars of the chute and they are shocked with electric prods until the gate opens. They burst out of the chute at top speed only to be stopped short -- clotheslined -- with a choking rope around the neck. They are often injured and some are killed. These calves would still be with their mothers on pasture if they were not in the rodeo.
Click here to read an excellent interview of Former Bronc Rider and Rodeo Veterinarian Peggy Larson by the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR)
In order for a calf roper to become proficient he must spend a great deal of time practicing. Baby calves sold to the practice pens are roped over and over until they are injured or killed. Dr. T. K. Hardy, a veterinarian who was also a calf roper, was quoted in Newsweek stating that calf roping is an expensive sport. He stated that 2 or 3 calves are injured in each practice session and have to be replaced.
As a pathologist and former meat inspector, I believe my colleagues when they report horrendous injuries to rodeo cattle. Dr. C. G. Haber, a veterinarian with thirty years experience as a USDA meat inspector says: "The rodeo folks send their animals to the packing houses where...I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached was the head, neck, legs, and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as two and three gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin."
A career USDA meat inspection veterinarian, Dr. Robert Fetzner, Director of Slaughter Operations for FSIS (USDA) stated in our phone conversation on September 9, 1998, "Lots of rodeo animals went to slaughter. I found broken ribs, punctured lungs, hematomas, broken legs, severed tracheas and the ligamenta nuchae were torn loose." Torn ligamenta nuchae are broken necks.
This is the cruel fate of baby cows in rodeos.
As with calf roping, steer tripping puts a rodeo animal at extreme risk of injury or death. Steers weighing approximately 700 pounds are forced to run at top speed while the roper throws the rope around the steer's horns. The roper then flips the rope over the right side of the steer, while turning his galloping horse to the left.
Within a split second, the steer's head and neck are jerked 180 degrees and more, causing the animal to be violently tripped, rolled and dragged for approximately 30 feet. That's a 700 pound body being dragged by the neck, with the horns digging into the dirt. Sometimes the horns fracture. The stress to the neck is enormous.
The roper's intent is to make the steer sustain a sufficiently violent fall and subsequent dragging to stun him. The purpose of the stunning is merely to enable the roper to tie the steer's legs for a score. If the steer is not sufficiently stunned in the first attempt, he may be tripped and dragged repeatedly in the same run until he stays down.
These steers are usually very thin, with sores on their backs and hips. They appear to be depressed, not lively. They are used so often that their injuries do not have time to heal. As with roping calves, tripping steers may be used over and over again in practice sessions. When they are crippled from the repeated abuse, they are sent to slaughter.
Animals also injured and killed in other rodeo events.
Bull riding may appear less harmful, as the bulls are so large. However, in order to enhance the bull's performance, cattle prods are often used to repeatedly shock the bulls as they stand trapped in the bucking chute. Bucking straps and spurs can cause the bull to buck beyond his capability and his legs or back can be broken. Eventually, when bulls cease to provide a wild ride, they too are sent to slaughter.
Bronc riding, both saddle and bareback, causes the deaths of many rodeo horses. It is common for horses in these events to crash blindly into posts in the fencing around the arena or into the holding fencing and chutes. Bucking horses must be spurred over the shoulders on each jump or buck for the rider to qualify. The spurs cause blunt trauma to the shoulders which again never have time to heal properly before the horse is ridden and spurred in another rodeo.
The bucking strap often causes chafing to the flank area, which increases the discomfort to the horse. The irritation of the spurs and the bucking strap often cause the horse to "run blind" and fail to see fencing, posts or chutes.
Horses (and cattle) have to be shipped from one rodeo to the next, often in double-deck trailers. These trailers are very dangerous because the horses often fight during transport. The same type of fighting may occur with the bulls when they are shipped.
Dr. Temple Grandin at Colorado State University works with the cattle industry on humane treatment of animals. She states one case in which a bucking horse suffered a badly broken front leg. Instead of humanely euthanizing the suffering animal, the rodeo people chose to ship her, leg dangling, across two states in a transport truck with other horses. She died before she could be killed at the slaughterhouse.
Dr. Grandin also states that transport injuries and fighting are major causes of injuries in horses. Rodeo animals are constantly in transit.
Steer wrestling also causes injuries and deaths. In this event a steer is forced to run at top speed while a contestant leaps from his horse, grabs the horns of the steer and twists his neck until he falls to the ground.
In one case involving a rodeo steer in Connecticut the steer did not fall when the rider jumped on his head. In response, the competitor violently twisted the steer's head again. When he fell, the steer suffered a broken neck.
A number of cities across the US have passed ordinances eliminating rodeo's tools of torture -- the electric prod, spurs and the flank strap -- all of which use pain to force the animals to "perform." It is no accident that where these devices are eliminated, rodeos disappear. Without torture, there can be no rodeo.
In my opinion, and based on my extensive training and experience, it is impossible to create a humane rodeo.