Shocked, shocked by rodeo tactics
March 2008, Animal People (AnimalPeopleNews.org)
TUCSON, DENVER, LAS VEGAS--Exposing three major rodeos in as many months for electro-shocking so-called bucking horses, SHARK founder Steve Hindi and investigators Janet Enoch and Mike Kobliska are wondering just what it will take to persuade prosecutors to put their videotaped evidence in front of a jury.
To Hindi, the SHARK videos unequivocally demonstrate intentional cruelty. Time and again rodeo stock contractors furtively press a black two-pronged device against the flank, rump, or sometimes the face of a horse, and the horse bolts, then erupts into spasmodic jumping.
Thousands of YouTube viewers and increasing numbers of journalists are convinced from the videos that the horses are in pain. But since the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association fined a Cheyenne Frontier Days stock contractor $500 in 2006 for repeatedly shocking bulls, neither the PRCA nor local prosecutors are doing much about electroshocking.
Kobliska identified apparent frequent facial shocking at the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas in mid-December 2007. Videotaping four performances, SHARK noticed that "Other people behind the chutes gave way when the shocker showed up. The judges watched as the horses were shocked. At least one horse who received the treatment, High Life Gal, came crashing down on the arena floor and had to be stretchered out."
Hindi said he recognized the alleged shocker as Charles Soileau, the saddle bronc riding event representative for the PRCA.
Unable to obtain a cruelty prosecution in Las Vegas, SHARK tried next at the National Western rodeo in Denver in January.
There, "The prod was misused even according to the PRCA standard," Hindi charged. "One horse that was shocked was down in a chute. According to its own rules, the PRCA's remedy for that scenario is to open the chute gate and release the horse."
The SHARK video taken at the National Western rodeo "showed men leaning into the chutes and touching a prod to several horses' necks and hips," recounted Ann Schrader of The Denver Post. "The horses then bolted and bucked out of the chute, and the men pocketed the prods. Most prods produce a 4,500-volt shock," Schrader observed. "The marketing director of Miller Manufacturing, which makes one of the devices, told The Denver Post that the devices are not intended to be used on horses at rodeos."
Denver animal control chief Doug Kelley and Colorado state veterinarian John Maulsby refused to pursue cruelty charges against National Western participants.
Schrader learned that "Officials investigating a claim that some National Western rodeo saddle broncs were inappropriately jolted with an electric prod did not contact the manufacturer before deciding not to seek charges."
By then Hindi was already en route to Tucson for the Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo, held annually since 1925.
"The Tucson rodeo staff were very secretive about using the shock prod," said Hindi. "These guys know they are doing wrong."
Reported Dale Quinn of the Arizona Daily Star, affirming the content of SHARK videos posted to YouTube, "Men can be seen pressing a black hand-held device against horses' flanks once riders are on top of the horses and the stall gates swing open. The men then appear to try to hide the device as they step back from the stall."
Tucson Rodeo general manager Gary Williams told Quinn that the purpose of the shocking is to get the horses to leave the chute and enter the rodeo arena before they start bucking. Rodeo defenders in Las Vegas and Denver claimed that only "known chute-stallers" were shocked, which had occasioned Hindi to ask why "known chute-stallers" are used in a rodeo in the first place.
Williams identified the men shown in SHARK's Tucson video as employees of the Tucson Rodeo stock contractor, Beutler & Son Rodeo Co., of Elk City, Oklahoma.
"A complaint requesting a criminal investigation leading to charges against those responsible has been filed with the Arizona Department of Agriculture Animal Services Division," SHARK announced on February 25, 2008. "A DVD [of the SHARK video] will be provided to aid in the investigation."
Arizona Department of Agriculture animal services division spokesperson Ed Hermes confirmed to Quinn that an investigation had begun, but said that agriculture department staff at the rodeo did not see any animal abuse, and noted that the Beutler & Son crew had probably already left the state.
While electro-shocking horses and bulls during bucking events is the most ubiquitous abuse SHARK has documented, finding it at approximately 40 rodeos so far, Hindi believes the most serious rodeo cruelty occurs in "steer roping, also known as steer busting and steer tripping," now often held separately from other rodeo competitions.
The 2007 National Finals Steer Roping competition in Hobbs, New Mexico "resulted in injuries to seven animals," Hindi e-mailed. "Five steers had to be sledded out, another was injured but was able to limp out, and a horse was injured. But as bad as the rodeo finals were for the animals, the aftermath was even more bleak," as injured steers were pushed into a livestock trailer "and left to die," Hindi said. Keeping the trailer under observation for several hours produced no evidence that the steers received prompt veterinary attention, Hindi said.
While lawmakers and enforcers so far seem unwilling to address mainstream rodeo, the board of commissioners in Lyon County, Nevada on February 13, 2008 prohibited horse tripping, a staple of charreada or Mexican-style rodeo. Lyon County refused to ban steer-tailing, however, despite pleas from former humane investigator Tom Blomquist of Silver Springs and wild horse advocate Willis Lamm of Stagecoach.
The Omaha City Council on December 18, 2007 voted unanimously to ban both horse-tripping and steer-tailing.