New Mexico's Pet Resource SUMMER 2006


Ride 'Em Cowboy? Just Say No To Rodeo Porn!

by Ardeth Baxter (photo courtesy

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They chase them on horse and on foot, wrestle and choke them, sit on them and tie them up, and ride them until they get bucked off. They use electric prods and flank straps, ropes and spurs, blows and kicks to the head and body, and tail yanking to make the tame, domesticated animals run out of chutes or act “mean”. The rodeo cowboy’s reward for dominating, injuring, and even killing rodeo animals? A cheer from the audience, a little prize money, and, if he’s really lucky, a big buckle.

I’ve been to two rodeos in my life. When I was a kid, my mother took me to the Pike’s Peak or Bust Rodeo in Colorado Springs. I was newly arrived from the east coast and still thought cowboys were romantic. So I was thrilled to see cowboy star Rex Allen promenading, resplendent on his white horse, and I didn’t pay much attention to the events in the arena. The last rodeo I attended was the Santa Fe Rodeo about forty years later. I focused on the crowd’s reaction because I found it almost impossible to watch the actual competition. It seemed to me that paying to see trapped animals being chased and violently jerked around in an arena was a bizarre way to have fun. Baffled, I did some research and learned that rodeo is really just a natural extension of how animals are treated routinely on a typical ranch: cattle are branded, castrated and dehorned without anesthetic for pain; broncos are “busted”; and bulls, steers and calves are roped and ridden. In other words, rodeo is ranch-style animal bondage and cruelty transported to the public arena for titillation and profit.

Animal cruelty is rampant in rodeo. In 2003, investigator Peggy Koteen documented animal abuse at the Cal Poly rodeo in California, where a horse named Cinnabar was beaten because he refused to buck. Rodeo officials like to claim that horses buck naturally.

At the National Steer Busting Finals in Texas in 2004 nine either dead or crippled animals were dragged out of the arena. “Steer busting”, also known as “steer roping”, is the most violent rodeo event. It involves a roper slamming a 500-pound steer to the ground at high speed and tying up the terrified animal. This year a steer was euthanized after a contestant broke its neck in the Rodeo Houston steer wrestling competition. Rodeo officials claimed it was a rare death but that it did happen because wrestlers had to twist the heads of steers. An audience member observed that the announcers failed to inform the crowd of what had happened and the mortally injured steer had simply been dragged out.

Another sadistic rodeo event is “calf dressing”, in which teams of contestants and spectators gang up on calves, grabbing at them and twisting their necks and tails. They then force the frightened, exhausted animals into human clothes—often women’s underwear!

In the “wild horse race”, three contestants try to subdue a terrified horse and throw a saddle on it by biting, hitting and yanking it. The animal struggles, often falling to the ground or slamming into fences and other horses. Some horses collapse and die from the stress.

Steve Hindi of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), a former hunter who has vigorously campaigned against the rodeo and its corporate sponsors for many years, is convinced that despite the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s (PRCA) sixty so-called “humane rules” to minimize accidents, rodeo associations hide the true number and nature of animal injuries and deaths. Amazingly, the cost of hiring a veterinarian to oversee the animals is more than the fine for ignoring that rule, so many rodeos don’t bother with having a vet on board. Hindi believes that adherence to, as well as enforcement of, the rules are questionable and there are many loopholes. He also points out that the PRCA will not divulge the names of anyone charged with humane violations.

The other victims of rodeo are human—children and teenagers, whose parents actually sign a waiver to let them participate. In Washington in 2005, a 16-year-old was killed after he was thrown from a bull, hit his head on the animal and was stomped on the chest. Even young children have been trampled and injured at the rodeo. In a popular event called “mutton busting”, kids are placed on top of scared sheep, who then desperately try to toss them off their backs.

It’s a well-established fact that people who like to torment animals are also more likely to abuse humans—particularly defenseless children. Rodeo star Kelly Timberman was charged with felony child abuse recently after his wife told police that he had used a belt to discipline his young son and bruised him severely. Timberman, a world champion bareback rider, was named 2005 athlete of the year by the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame, and incredibly, is also a motivational speaker.

Despite what its fans claim, rodeo isn’t even much of a tradition. An outgrowth of bored ranch hands competing with each other in riding and roping, and a way for out-of-work cowboys to make money after factory farming eliminated many jobs, the first official rodeo took place in Colorado only about 140 years ago. Since then, national rodeo associations such as the PRCA and the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) have been created, and rodeos for all ages and genders are held throughout the U.S. Rodeo represents big bucks for its promoters. Sadly, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has chosen to romance the rodeo lobby by signing a bill this year earmarking ten million dollars to improve arenas statewide and another twelve million dollars for an equestrian center. He also offered economic incentives for the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Museum of the American Cowboy and the PRCA to move to Albuquerque from Colorado Springs. But fortunately, in late May they announced they would decline the invitation.

Please speak out against the violence of rodeo. Call Governor Richardson and tell him to reconsider his support for this sadistic spectacle (505-476-2200). And visit to watch the many videos documenting rodeo abuse.

Ardeth Baxter is a writer, animal rights advocate and ethical vegan, and the guardian of four dogs and five cats. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content

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