Mandy Carter: Rodeo 'sport' is simply animal abuse

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Image / iStock
Image / iStock

A bull recently died at Richmond rodeo in Nelson. In the footage filmed on a mobile phone, he is seen with a broken leg and is left hobbling around as his injured limb flaps about. Just imagine the sheer agony.

The rider broke his leg too. Off to hospital he swiftly went, whilst the poor bull was dealt with around the back. His life ended out of sight of shocked spectators. Over the holiday period a horse also died, this time at Te Anau rodeo.

Rodeo organisers put the animals in danger of pain, distress and suffering so that they can have some fun. Time and time again we hear them saying "We treat them like family"; "They're athletes". Nonsense. This is no sport. No loving family.

And this is not kiwi. Why do we continue to tolerate a cruel form of imported entertainment? Rodeos have no place in New Zealand. Rodeo is a practice that originated in the US - it has nothing to do with agricultural practice here, which, at least in theory, would seek to cause the least amount of stress to animals.

In contrast rodeos subject animals to deliberate provocation and torment in order to get a performance out of them and make the riders look brave and macho. The bulls, calves and horses fear for their lives, thinking it's a very real situation. They do not know it's 'just for fun'.

Animals live by their instincts so much more than we do, and their instincts are screaming that something terrible is happening and that they desperately need to get away. And all this in front of a jeering crowd.

However, those who go and watch rodeo don't necessarily support it. To them it just seems like a fun event in their local town, something new to do. But there are plenty of alternatives.

We have many things to be proud of living in New Zealand. Towns and cities across the country have so much to offer both locals and tourists, providing genuine family fun without causing harm to animals.

As a nation we really do love animals. That's why we can no longer put with rodeo abuse. Even when animals don't die, they suffer. Just take a look at rodeo events, like removing babies from their mothers only to use and abuse them for entertainment, then sometimes sending them to slaughter after you've finished with them? It sounds like some nightmarish, folk tradition from ancient times.

Unfortunately this really happens, to calves used in rodeo. The event known as 'calf roping' or 'rope and tie' is widely considered to be one of the cruelest components of a rodeo. A young calf (a mere three months old) is released from a chute the goal being for a cowboy on horseback to catch the calf by throwing a loop of rope around their neck, then dismount and wrestle the animal to the ground and tie three of their legs together, in as short a time as possible. Calves can reach top speeds of up to 35 kilometres per hour and when stopped in mid-flight by the rope they are jerked off their feet and slammed to the ground.

So terrible is calf roping that even NAWAC (the 'National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee) hinted that calf roping wouldn't be allowed to continue for much longer. They said, "NAWAC does continue to have reservations about the performance of rodeos, and in particular, the events using younger animals. The committee is aware that rodeo events using calves have been banned in a number of countries due to the perceived physical and psychological stresses that they place on the animals." They went on to say that recommended best practice is that "calves should not be used in rodeo events."

Then there is steer wrestling, in which cattle are chased, jumped on and have their necks roughly and painfully twisted around until they submit. Just watching this event alone would shock most people.

And bulls and horses used in the bucking events certainly don't love to do it. They're made to by use of the flank strap, a tight strip around their abdomen causing discomfort. Many animals are made to endure this over and over again as part of a rodeo circuit, travelling to different events, forced to participate and go through practice rounds too.

I've heard people say that rodeos save animals from slaughter, giving them another chance. Actually many animals are bred specifically for rodeo. And for those that are 'saved'? Forcing them to participate in an activity that causes them stress and fear over and over again is not saving them. Rodeos simply just postpone the slaughter.

For the animals the law as it currently stands affords them no refuge. And indeed there are breaches of the woefully inadequate 'code of welfare' seen all around the country at rodeos.

But fortunately laws can change for the better (look at the ban on sow stalls for pigs for example, which recently came into force). The opportunity for change is upon us now. SAFE, the SPCA and Farmwatch are all calling for a total ban on rodeo and it is no longer an 'if' but a 'when' for the end of rodeo.

It's time to put these 'cowboys' out to pasture once and for all. Rodeo must go.

Mandy Carter is head of campaigns at SAFE - a national animal rights organisation that campaigns to protect the welfare of animals.

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