Rodeo commissioner quits under fire

December 2004

Animal People

[ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992.]

LAS VEGAS – Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association commissioner Steven Hatchell resigned on December 10 during the 2004 National Rodeo Finals to become head of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.

Hatchell was credited with expanding national TV coverage of PRCA events from 48 hours in 1998 to 300 hours in 2004, boosting live attendance to 24 million.  That made rodeo the seventh leading spectator activity in the U.S.--but Hatchell was seen by some PRCA members as a threat to participant control of rodeo.  Hatchell had reportedly recently formed a separate investor group to promote rodeo events.

With rising visibility came rising controversy, amplified at the National Rodeo Finals by Steve Hindi of SHARK, whose TV truck prowled Las Vegas airing undercover video of other recent PRCA rodeos, challenging Hatchell to a public debate.

"Much of the footage shows violations of the PRCA guidelines on animal welfare," reported Ian Mylcreest of the Las Vegas Business Press.  "Horses were repeatedly teased and goaded.  One horse had his head repeatedly slammed against a gate.  Others had their tails and ears twisted.  Handlers routinely shocked animals with a 5,000-volt prod, including applying it to their faces."

The PRCA was earlier embarrassed when prominent stock contractor Gregory Kesler was convicted of smuggling 27 Canadian bulls into the U.S. in June 2003 and January 2004, while cattle imports from Canada to the U.S. were suspended due to the discovery of mad cow disease in Alberta.  Kesler, fined more than $80,000, on November 18 was sentenced to a year on probation.

College rodeo took a hit, meanwhile, with the December 2 arrests of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M team members Jake Pianalton, 18, of Lincoln, Arkansas, and David Walker, 19, of Springdale, Arkansas, for allegedly rustling 10 cattle from ranches in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

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