July 10, 2010
Joe Paisley
The Gazette

It’s an issue that comes up whenever a rodeo comes to town. Expect it to be no different when the 70th Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo starts Wednesday.

The flank straps on bareback and saddle broncs and the subsequent bucking are bound to raise concerns for some rodeo-goers. It’s a concern they may share with animal rights groups, such as Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK).

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeos, which include the Pikes Peak or Bust, use either a leather strap lined with fleece or neoprene, or sometimes a five-eighths-inch cotton rope, tied around the horses’ midsection. The rope or strap is pulled tight by a flankman, a livestock company employee, before the horse leaves the gate, prompting the animal to begin bucking, according to PRCA animal welfare coordinator Cindy Schonholtz.

“One of the assumptions is that it makes the animal buck,” Schonholtz said. “They’re bred specifically to buck and the strap helps cue the horse that it is time to go.”

SHARK founding president Steve Hindi does not agree.

“It’s the torment that drives them to buck like they do,” he said. “If it wasn’t, the horse would stop bucking once the cowboy came off instead of when the strap is removed. They can deny it but if they were born to buck they wouldn’t have to apply it.”

Schonholtz said the strap, which is approved by rodeo veterinarians, can’t hurt the horse seriously or it would stop bucking.

“The action we want in a rodeo is more controlled kicking out the back,” Schonholtz said referring to back leg extension that characterizes a good ride that results in more points from judges for the cowboy. “It’s important that it not be pulled too tight.”

Hindi said horses buck naturally, but not with the severity that can lead to accidents. Flank straps have not directly killed any animals, Hindi said.

“It’s basically bucking on steroids,” he said. “When they’re overworking, they lose their balance or crash into things. That’s when bad things happen.”

Schonholtz knows this is an issue that illustrates the divide between fans and group supporters. The gap won’t close any time soon.

“They believe we don’t have the right to interact with animals in entertainment or sport,” Schonholtz said. “No matter how much padding, they will never agree that it is our right to use those animals. It is animal rights versus animal welfare. We believe it is our responsibility to provide proper care.”

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