Rodeos. Think again Aussie.

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Rodeos are a big deal in Australia, especially in the state of Queensland. I lived in Mount Isa for six years where they pride themselves on having the largest annual rodeo event in the Southern Hemisphere. Why is that something to be proud of? I am proud to say I've never attended an Isa Rodeo, but I'm not as pure when it comes to attending rodeos (or similar). I've been rostered to work these events, but I've also gone for camping trips with friends.

In 2008, I worked at the Gympie Muster. I thought it was a concert for famous country singers, but there were rodeo and horse racing events. I didn't grow up in the "country", but I noticed the rodeo contestants were dressed like the country artists, and there were a lot of stalls selling country clothing and equipment. The following year, I worked at Boulia Camel Races and Bedourie Camel Races, I had no interest in watching the camels race and didn't understand the appeal; and I love camels. In 2009, I went to the Birdsville Races, but stayed behind at the campsite and never watched an event. I went to a Mount Isa Show for work, and saw the most horrifying event. Pigs were released in to the arena, and a large group of children started chasing them, trying to find the pig with the tag. A pile up resulted on top of the tagged pig. I also watched bucks and bulls bucking trying to get riders off their back. This was a traumatic experience for me. I looked around and saw the large crowd cheering on the riders, cringing when they got hurt, but no emotions towards the tortured animals. The most recent rodeo event I went to (for work) was in 2019. I had started my vegan journey by then. I expressed my discomfort with an Ambulance officer I'd never met before. She replied, "Why do you think the back of my chair is facing the arena? Let me know if I'm needed."

I decided to Google if rodeos were banned, anywhere. It came to my surprise only two countries have banned rodeos; The United Kingdom and The Netherlands. There are states, towns and regions around the world that have banned rodeos. Other places have restrictions and prohibitions concerning animal welfare. But Queensland towns and cities continue to host annual rodeos. Animal Liberation Queensland make a valid observation stating the nation that colonised Queensland, Great Britain, banned rodeos in 1934 [1]. What? 1934?

The art of mustering cattle derived from Spain and Mexico, and certain cattle maneuvering was the beginning of rodeos [2]. Nowadays there are several types of rodeo events: Saddle or Bareback Bronc Riding, Bull Ride, Barrel Race, Rope and Tie, Breakaway Roping, Steer Wrestling and Team Roping. These events are considered competitive sport.

Bronc Riding. A bronc is another name for bronco, which is a wild or mildly trained horse. The concept is for the rider to remain on the bucking bronc for as long as possible. Bucking is not a common movement by a horse unless they are tormented. To ensure the bronc bucks, a strap is tightly wrapped around the abdomen, the flank. The flank is a soft area between the ribs and hips, and the tightness of the strap causes discomfort and pain. The strap also causes chafing. The rider must spur the bronc over the shoulders on each buck. A spur is a spiked wheel worn on the heel of the rider's boot. The spur leaves sores on the bronc which don't have time to heal properly before their next event [3]. Horses develop back problems from repetitive bucking, as well as leg injuries and tendon break downs [4]. Horses are not aggressive by nature unless they are threatened, frightened or in pain [5].

Bull Ride. Same concept as bronc riding. The rider is to master the art of bucking as they are scored based on how wildly the bull bucks. A strap is tightly wrapped around the bulls flank to encourage bucking. The riders use steel spurs to provoke extreme bucking.

It is common for horses and bulls to thrash themselves into the sides of the arena to remove the rider [6]. Not only do these two "sports" cause injuries to the animals, it also causes mental distress.

Rope and Tie, Breakaway Roping. For this roping event, calves are ripped from their mothers at a young age. The competitor chases the running calf on a horse with a lasso (a rope with a loop at the end). The calf is running because they are tortured before they are released into the arena; their tails are twisted, rubbed back and forth over the steel chute bars, and they are shocked with electric prods until the gates open. [3] The aim of the game is to throw the lasso on the calf's neck, jump on the calf and tie its legs together. When the loop wraps around the calf's neck, his head whiplashes back as it halts, causing damage to its windpipe and soft tissues of its neck. Bruising and broken ribs as the rider jumps on the calf and choking, occurs when the calf is being dragged along the ground [7]. White eye is when a calf's eye rolls, revealing half of the whites of their eyes. It is believed this is a "behavioural response to shut out environmental input which may be overwhelming for the calf to see"[8].

I'll keep the next two events brief.

Steer Wrestling. A rider jumps off his horse on to a steer (young male cattle), grabbing his horns, head or neck, and twists his neck until he falls. This causes injury to the neck, and can also lead to the steers death. [9]

Team Roping. This event involves two riders. The steer runs away as two riders work together to catch him. One rider lasso's the steer around the neck, horns or head and turns the steer, while the second rider moves in and ropes the steers hind legs. [10]

How many calves, steers, horses and bulls are used for the competitors to practice? What do they do with the injured or killed ones? Dr. T.K. Hardy, a veterinarian and calf roper, was quoted in Newsweek that calf roping is an expensive sport, and two or three calves are injured per practice session and must be replaced [3].

The event I spoke about at the start, kids chasing pigs? It's called Hot-Dog Rodeo. It's also called Bacon Bash. Nice. The pigs are piglets, and they are muzzled to prevent injury - to the children. Adult pigs are used for adult humans to chase. These pigs are screeching in fear.

Every rodeo I've attended, the events cannot begin until the Ambulance arrive. They are on standby in case of injury, to the humans. Do they have vets on standby? I'm sure they have animals on standby to replace the injured or killed animals - can't stop the show for that!

What about the treatment of these animals on the road? They travel long distances in cramped trucks and trailers with inadequate ventilation, there isn't a regular schedule for feeding or water consumption, and they do not receive any veterinary care [2]. In Queensland, the weather is hot and upon arrival at the rodeo grounds, they are kept in small pens, in the sun, breathing in a lot of dirt and dust. I've seen it.

I think it's clear that rodeo's promote animal abuse and we need to follow Britain's suit to ban them. What can we do to help in the meantime? Never attend a rodeo or similar, educate your family and friends, write to your local council or government about your opposition to rodeos, start a petition and stop rodeos in your community. [1]

[1] Animal Liberation Queensland (2021). "Rodeos". []

[2] The National Humane Education Society (2021). "Rodeos". []

[3] Larson P (January 2015). "Rodeos: Inherent Cruelty to Animals". Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. []

[4] Lipsher S (January 1991). "Veterinarian Calls Rodeos Brutal to Stock". Denver Post. PeTA. []

[5] Fraser L (November 2017). "Aggressive Horses: Causes and Cures". Fraser Equine Behaviour. []

[6] RSPCA South Australia (January 2018). "Why bull riding is no longer acceptable in South Australia". []

[7] RSPCA Australia (2021). "What are the animal welfare issues with calf roping in rodeos". []

[8] Sinclair M, Keeley T, Lefebvre A, Phillips C (2016). "Behavioural and physiological responses of calves to marshalling and roping in a simulated rodeo event". Animals 6(30). RSPCA. []

[9] Sparks P (September 2020). "As more and more countries ban the cruel events of rodeos, others refuse". A-LAW. []

[10] APRA (2021). "Event Descriptions". []

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