Oct 16, 2017
Rodeo is popular throughout the western United States and is the
official state sport of Wyoming, South Dakota, and Texas. While
“entertaining” the audience, animals are physically provoked in
order to make the cowboys appear more impressive. However,
spectators may be unaware of the suffering that the animals endure
as the price of entertainment.
“Tools of Torment”
In order to elicit certain behaviors from the animals, rodeos
use various tools to make animals appear more aggressive than they
Such tools include the “hotshot,” an electric prod used on the
animal while captive in the chute. The intense pain scares the
animal into displaying abnormally dramatic reactions. Other tools
include metal spurs and “bucking straps” that burn the animal’s
abdomen and groin area and cause him to “buck” and can lead to back
and leg injuries.
Calf Roping: a mounted rider yanks a calf into the air
by her neck, slams her into the ground, and ties her legs together.
During this performance,
calves may cry out (if they can breathe), defecate from fear and
stress, and suffer neck injuries and death.
Steer Busting: a rider ropes a steer with such force
the steer flips in the air. The injury and death rates are so high
that the Nevada State Veterinarian has condemned the practice.
Steer Wrestling: in this event the steer endures a high
level of stress and can suffer ripped tendons, sprains and
bruising, and even a broken neck.
Bull Riding and Saddle Bronc Riding: bucking straps,
electric prods, and spurs are used to hurt the animal and aggravate
him into reacting more roughly than he would naturally.
Injury, Pain, and Death
Rodeos mean constant trauma for the animals forced to
participate. They suffer broken ribs, backs, and legs, torn tails,
punctured lungs, internal organ damage, ripped tendons, torn
ligaments, snapped necks, and agonizing deaths.
Animals are often transported over long distances in hot and
overcrowded trucks and trailers. The official rules of the PRCA
permit them to be confined during transport for as long as 24 hours
without being fed or watered. The injuries are not confined to the
rodeos themselves. For instance, during practice sessions, a calf
may be roped repeatedly, until the calf suffers injuries that
require her replacement.
Despite increased publicity about animal cruelty, the PRCA has
not improved animal safety. The penalties for violating regulations
are not severe enough to deter abuse and are miniscule in
comparison with the large rodeo cash prizes at stake.
Does the Law Protect Animals Used in Rodeos?
The federal Animal Welfare Act exempts rodeos from the
protections it provides to animals. Some states exempt rodeos from
their anti-cruelty statutes, while other states defer to clearly
inadequate PRCA regulations to judge whether animal cruelty has
occurred in rodeos.
On the other hand, some states have taken measures to protect
animals used in rodeos:
- California bans the use of electric prods
while animals are in the holding chutes, unless necessary to
protect participants or spectators. A licensed veterinarian must
either be present at all times or on-call and able to arrive at the
rodeo within one hour after a determination has been made that
there is an injury requiring veterinary treatment. The veterinarian
must submit a brief report of any injury requiring veterinary
treatment to the Veterinary Medical Board within 48 hours of the
conclusion of the rodeo.
- Rhode Island has banned tie-down roping
and other practices but allows breakaway calf roping, bareback
riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team
riding, barrel racing, team roping, wild horse racing, chuckwagon
racing, quarter horse races, mounted flag races, trail riding
events, and obstacle course and pole bending events. Anyone
conducting a rodeo must notify the local animal control officer in
advance of the event. A licensed veterinarian with complete
authority over the treatment and use of injured rodeo animals must
be present during the event.
- Nevada has banned horse tripping.
- Ohio has banned the use of twisted wire,
unpadded bucking straps, unpadded flank straps, and prods.
- Wisconsin prohibits the use of certain
tools of torment, including a bristle bur, tack bur, electric prod,
or prod with nails, tacks, and sharp points.
In addition, several cities and local governments have taken
steps to protect animals used in rodeos:
- Pittsburgh, Pa. prohibits electric prods
or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs, and
sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels. Rodeos must allow humane agents
to access any areas where animals are present. A licensed
veterinarian with complete authority over the treatment of rodeo
animals must be present for the entirety of any rodeo or related
- Montgomery, N.J. prohibits prods such as
pointed sticks at all times, as well as sharpened spurs or rowels.
Rodeos must provide access to certified animal control officers to
enforce compliance with animal protection ordinances. Rodeos must
notify the state SPCA that an officer may attend and monitor the
- Charles, Ill. has banned the use of
electric prods while an animal is in the holding shoot unless
necessary to protect participants and spectators.
- Southampton, N.Y. has banned the use of
electric prods or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire
tie-downs, sharpened spurs, bull hooks and bullwhips, or any device
that is likely to cause physical injury, pain, or suffering. An
animal may not be made to perform any act that is inherently
dangerous, unnatural, or likely to injure the animal. An animal
must have proof of required vaccinations or a valid certificate of
health from a licensed veterinarian. Animals must be free of any
outward signs of injury, illness, or disease for the term of the
display or exhibit.
- Baltimore County, Md. prohibits electrical
prods or shocking devices at rodeos except for the herding or
managing of livestock. The County has also banned bullfighting. A
state-approved veterinarian must attend every rodeo or similar
- Some jurisdictions in which rodeos are nearly
banned or strictly limitedinclude:
- Pittsburgh, Pa. prohibits any practice or
technique or any device that is likely to cause physical injury,
torment, or suffering in animals used in rodeos, effectively
banning rodeos from the city.
- San Francisco, Calif. requires rodeos to
obtain a permit. The City allows only “humane rodeo events” and
specifically prohibits “events such as greased pig contests” and
events that “utilize cattle prods, unfleeced flank straps for
cattle or flank straps without sheepskin for horses.”
- Pasadena, Calif. has banned rodeos on
- Fort Wayne, Ind., prohibits any event or
concession that involves contests between humans and non-human
animals, unless the city issues a permit following a review of the
safety, well-being, and comfort of the participating animals and
- Greenburgh, N.Y. has banned rodeos on any
- Internationally, rodeo is banned in
the United Kingdom and the
Netherlands. Many other countries prohibit certain
- Vancouver, Canada prohibits a number of
rodeo activities central to a professional rodeo, including calf or
goat roping or tie-down roping, horse tripping, steer busting,
steer wrestling, the use of shocking devices such as electric
prods, the use of bucking straps, and the use sticks, whips, spurs,
and wire tie-downs. These prohibitions effectively ban rodeos from
What Is ALDF Doing to Protect Animals Used in Rodeos?
ALDF has sued California Rodeo Salinas, the state’s largest
rodeo, on behalf of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK),
an international non-profit organization that is dedicated to
protecting animals from neglect, abuse, and cruelty.
The suit alleges that California Rodeo Salinas engages in
unlawful business practices by regularly failing to report animal
injuries to the California Veterinary Medical Board as required by
SHARK has documented a pattern of consistent and repeated
underreporting of animal injuries at California Rodeo Salinas. Over
a recent two-year period, for instance, SHARK
documented ten times the number of injuries
requiring veterinary treatment than the defendants reported.
Check this space for updates on this pending litigation.
What You Can Do to Help
- Do not attend rodeo events.
- Ask local authorities to verify that proper rodeo permits have
- Demonstrate and distribute leaflets at the gates of the
- Write letters to sponsors of the events and boycott their
- Contact your local law enforcement agency or humane society and
ask them to ensure rodeos follow local and state laws regarding the
humane treatment of animals.
- Educate family and friends about the animal welfare problems
and safety concerns related to rodeo events.
- Lobby your representatives to institute a state or local ban on
calf roping (this is an event in which cruelty is most easily
documented). Since most rodeo circuits require calf roping,
eliminating it can result in the overall elimination of
- Fight for state and federal laws that protect animals and raise
the standards of care.