Since SHARK's inception, only once has anyone from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the world's largest rodeo association, agreed to a public debate with SHARK's President, Steve Hindi--and that was in 1997 for five minutes. (See that "debate" here.) Despite repeated and standing offers by SHARK to meet anywhere, anytime, no one from any rodeo association has had what it takes to walk all that tough talk, and candidly and openly discuss the issues of animals in rodeo.
SHARK's most recent offer went out to PRCA Commissioner Troy Ellerman. Similar debate challenges have gone out to the two previous commissioners of the PRCA--with no response. SHARK is giving the PRCA an opportunity to blunt the public relations damage our efforts, especially our video documentation, are causing to the rodeo industry. However, we are not holding our breath in expectation that Troy Ellerman, anyone at the PRCA, or anyone in the rodeo world will "Cowboy Up."
The real reason rodeo is afraid to debate SHARK? They know their abuse is indefensible.
January 23, 2007
Mr. Troy Ellerman, Commissioner
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
101 Pro Rodeo Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80919
Dear Commissioner Ellerman:
I am hoping you might be willing to help me with a problem. Virtually every day we receive emails, and sometimes phone calls and letters, from rodeo people challenging us about our work. Much of the communication from these people is threatening, obscene and anonymous, and some of it can be viewed on our RodeoCruelty.com web site. We don’t take that communication too seriously, but for those who are sincere, we would like to provide them with answers, but there simply isn’t enough time in the day to keep repeating the same answers for the same questions over and over again.
People claim that we don’t know what we are talking about, even though we almost certainly know more about rodeo humane rules than they do. They challenge us to attend a rodeo and see for ourselves how the animals are treated. Good grief – how do they think we end up with all the video footage and still pictures that document abuse and humane rules violations? These folks claim that we are not giving rodeo a fair shake, and that we have it all wrong.
Conversely, I am told that humane-minded people similarly contact the PRCA about concerns they have on issues. When this happens, they are often given to Cindy Schonholtz, the PRCA’s so-called “Humane Coordinator.” While this may seem like a logical thing to do based on Ms. Schonholtz’s title, the fact is that Ms. Schonholtz has absolutely no power or even a desire to enforce the PRCA’s humane rules. In fact, Ms. Schonholtz’s true focus appears to be aimed at covering up humane violations and violators, as evidenced by her continued refusal to release records of disciplinary actions or animal injuries/deaths. Also, I am unaware of any humane initiatives by Ms. Schonholtz within the PRCA or in any other area. In any case, humane-minded people contacting the PRCA rarely get their questions answered.
Troy, its seems to me that SHARK and the PRCA have a similar problem in that we just can’t respond to all of the people who have questions about our respective work. Fortunately, I think I just may have a solution to the problem – a debate. I’m not talking about a brief debate like the one held about ten years ago in Las Vegas on live television just before the National Finals Rodeo. That debate was between Dr. Doug Corey and me, and can also be viewed on SHARK’s RodeoCruelty.com site. I realize that you rodeo folks figured that Dr. Corey was in a good position to debate me because he was a veterinarian, but I think everyone can pretty much agree that he took a real beating. Furthermore, there was a difficult time constraint that everyone was working with, so maybe Dr. Corey just didn’t have adequate time to make his points. I know for certain I would have liked more time to make mine.
I think we should hold another debate – a nice long one – and maybe even more than one, until we get the issues out there in plain sight for everyone. I think the best people to be involved in the debate would be you, as head of the PRCA, the world’s largest rodeo association, and me, as head of SHARK, the number one organization in the world investigating and exposing rodeos.
There are a number of reasons that would seem to make this a contest weighted in your favor. You are a college graduate, while I never even attended college. You are a successful lawyer, trained in debate and winning arguments, while I am a mere working person. You are a professional rodeo cowboy; one might say that as PRCA commissioner you are the ultimate professional cowboy, while I am a mere humane volunteer.
In spite of these apparent disadvantages, I am willing to go forward, and for one reason. I think that if you debate me I will win, not because of my oratory skills, but because our investigations have yielded irrefutable evidence that neither you nor anyone else in the rodeo world can defend. If you choose not to debate me, it will be for the very same reason.
I am really tired of hearing about the PRCA’s humane rules when there is precious little evidence that these rules are enforced. I want a shot at outing these rules as wholly ineffective, like the rules requiring a veterinarian at every performance, when the penalty for not complying is far less than the cost of having a vet onsite. Another example that caught my attention was the 2006 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. As you know, stock contractor Chad Burch was caught using the electric prod repeatedly on horses. The November 18, 2006 edition of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports that the fine for shocking animals in chutes is supposed to be $250 for the first offense, with fines for each subsequent violation doubling. However, the article states that Mr. Burch was fined $500. Troy, how can there be a $500 fine? If Mr. Burch was found to have shocked one animal that would be a $250, and if he shocked two animals, that would be a $750 fine. But Mr. Burch was charged $500??? Besides, since the rodeo judge estimated that Burch shocked about a third of his horses that means the fine should have been many thousands of dollars. A debate would give you a chance to explain this curious matter.
Also, you may remember that SHARK held a December 2004 press conference in which we released video footage of numerous PRCA stock contractors we had documented committing humane violations. Harry Vold was one of those stock contractors. Vold’s staff, including his own daughter Kirsten, were videotaped shocking dozens of animals daily at the American Royal rodeo in Kansas City, Missouri. Since the PRCA received a copy of our video footage, there should have been a fortune paid to the PRCA for humane violations. Nevertheless, Mr. Vold claims that he has never been fined.
Tell you what – if you choose to debate me, I will promise not to bring up the investigation the FBI is conducting over your alleged role in the leak of the BALCO grand jury transcripts. [Mr. Ellerman subsequently went to Federal prison for several years and turned in his lawyer license.] I won’t bring up the legal history of PRCA people like Mike Cervi or Greg Kesler or others (see www.CowboyCriminals.com for their issues). We’ll just stick to the subject of rodeo. If that isn’t enough of an inducement for your personal involvement, I will happily debate someone else that you appoint for the task, so long as that person speaks in the name of the PRCA. Come on, Troy, isn’t it time to finally “Cowboy Up?”
I suggest that the debate(s) be videotaped, and that each side gets a copy of what is videotaped. The people from both sides of the issue and the public at large can view it and decide for themselves. That seems as fair as anything can get.
I have written you before on various rodeo concerns and issues and have yet to receive even the courtesy of a reply. I hope this time will be different, and that you might respond. I realize that it is an embarrassment when SHARK documents explicit animal abuse and humane violations of PRCA rules that happen in plain view of PRCA judges. Nevertheless I would have hoped that the toughness that is boasted nonstop by the industry might persuade you to actually walk your tough talk. This is my hope, but I won’t hold my breath while waiting.
Please respond within fourteen days. Otherwise I’ll be left with the impression you just don’t have what it takes.
Rodeo people spend a lot of time defending their abuse of animals. They think that using words like "animal athletes" to describe their victims will somehow fool the public into thinking that animals in rodeos have chosen this excuse for a life.
However, when faced with the prospect of publicly debating an animal defender from SHARK, Rodeo Thugs always run scared. SHARK has a standing offer to openly debate any rodeo organization: Anytime. Anywhere.
Not since 1997, when SHARK President Steve Hindi discredited every point made by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's favored vet, Doug Corey, on live television in Las Vegas, has anyone from this cruel industry agreed to a debate.
What do you get when the world's largest rodeo association pits its favorite veterinarian against SHARK's president in a debate about rodeos? One very nervous, sweaty, discredited and near-tears rodeo vet! Click below to watch SHARK's Steve Hindi vs. PRCA's Doug Corey.
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.
Walker County Fair officials have decided to ban all still and video cameras at the Huntsville, TX rodeo. The decision to ban all cameras was apparently made because otherwise they would have had to allow an investigator with SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness) to also film.
SHARK investigator Steve Hindi arrived at the Walker County Fairgrounds on Tuesday afternoon at approximately 1:45 p.m. Barrel Racing and Steer Roping Slack was set to begin at 2:00 p.m. Hindi observed signs proclaiming “NO STILL OR VIDEO CAMERAS ALLOWED.” Inside the rodeo grounds, there were numerous people with video cameras, and Hindi observed a number of those cameras in use throughout the grounds even before the events began.
Hindi approached a county fair official and gave him the settlement agreement resulting from a Federal lawsuit in which SHARK sued the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) for falsely claiming copyrights on rodeos. A settlement was reached in part because live rodeos are neither copyrighted nor copyrightable.
Additionally, as part of the settlement agreement, the PRCA paid $25,000 to SHARK, and agreed to the following:
“The PRCA, its subsidiaries, its agents and its affiliates...will not discriminate in their enforcement of any provision forbidding rodeo ticket holders or other attendees from videotaping or photographing rodeo events...”
When faced with this new reality, Walker County Fair officials decided to enforce a total ban on cameras in the middle of Tuesday’s performance, much to the dismay of the numerous attendees already videotaping and taking pictures.
SHARK representatives will be on hand for the rodeo this weekend to make certain the ban is enforced. If the ban is not enforced, SHARK will return to Federal Court for redress.
Click here for information about locations with prohibitions and/or restrictions on rodeos or rodeo events