CNFR should follow Frontier Days' example


June 23, 2010

The College National Finals Rodeo just completed another successful run in Casper, showcasing the nation's best collegiate cowboys and cowgirls and bringing a welcomed financial boost to our community.

Rodeo is an important part of our Western heritage and a popular sport in our state. Yet it draws the intense scrutiny of some animal rights activists, who don't like the way some rodeo animals are treated. This year's CNFR was the target of a group called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, which posted video on YouTube showing a man covertly using an electric shock device on what appear to be two different horses to force them to buck during Thursday night's performance.

Rodeo probably will always be a target for some activists, but a small change in CNFR policy could go a long way toward winning the public relations battle. The CNFR should follow the example of Cheyenne Frontier Days and reassess the use of shock devices on bucking horses.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the CNFR allow hand-held electric prods to be used on a horse's shoulder or hip area, if the stock contractor, the cowboy riding the horse and the judge all agree the horse might stall coming out of the chute. That being the case, the actions in the SHARK video were not a violation of policy. Yet the fact that the man who shocked the CNFR horses tried to hide what he was doing shows that rodeo officials recognize it's objectionable to some people.

Under pressure from SHARK, Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2008 adopted a new policy. It allows electric prods to only be used in case a horse goes down in a chute or more than one horse becomes entangled and there is a danger of a horse injuring itself or the rider. That was a good move, as the battery-powered devices were never designed to help make horses buck, and banning them removes any question that some competitors may gain an unfair advantage.

If the nation's premier rodeo can take such a step, the CNFR should considering doing the same. There's no reason to give animal rights activists more ammunition in their long-running campaign to ban rodeos. Like just about any sport, rodeo has attempted in recent years to reach out to potential new audiences, and the SHARK protests don't help those efforts.

Ironically, it may be CNFR officials' desire to present a fast-paced, action-packed product to appeal to people unfamiliar with the sport that prompted the use of electrical jolts on bucking horses. As other sports have done in recent years, those involved in rodeo have worked to attract fans by making the events entertainment as much as they are competitions. CNFR officials have declined to comment in any detail on the horse-shocking issue, but there's no question that horses that won't buck out of the chute are viewed as a liability from a performance value perspective.

We believe, however, that those who attend rodeos -- even those who are new to the sport -- understand that not every animal will buck on cue. And having a few more horses stall in the chutes would be preferred to employing a practice that raises concerns about animal cruelty.

We expect to see the CNFR and the sport of rodeo in general flourish for many more years here in the Cowboy State. Changing the electric shock policy would be just one small adjustment to help assure that future.

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