This summer season, tens of thousands of Kiwis are being thrilled by displays of courage, stockmanship and athleticism at local rodeos. Thirty-five separate events are hosted annually from Warkworth to Wanaka, from Mid Northern to Mataura.
Participants and their appreciative audience outnumber any attendant anti-rodeo activists by huge proportions. Yet these tiny protests have been allowed to misrepresent and malign the reality of New Zealand rodeo.
The NZ Rodeo Cowboys Association is the national body that administers and oversees rodeo in New Zealand. It does so in concert with a variety of independent officials including veterinarians and Ministry of Primary Industries' animal welfare inspectors.
There have been no reports of any mistreatment of rodeo animals this season and its unlikely that there will be. Why? Because rodeos in New Zealand are conducted under a variety of animal welfare rules and strict safety regulations known collectively as the Rodeos: Code of Welfare.
This protective code was last updated in October 2014 after exhaustive scientific and academic input and research. It is overseen by the independent National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, (NAWAC) and was created despite submissions from SAFE, SPCA and other anti-rodeo organisations.
Dissatisfied with the committee's findings and recommendations, including their review of all the relevant scientific evidence, those activist organisations petitioned Parliament in 2016 for rodeos to be banned.
Again, their alleged evidence did not withstand scientific inquiry nor inspection. Parliament's primary production committee pronounced itself satisfied the code was working well and that the animals involved were not subject to cruelty.
The attending animal welfare officials allayed many of the concerns that had been expressed by the activists. Indeed, one of the points that the impartial NAWAC noted was. "there is not a high risk of injury to rodeo animals".
Green MPs did dissent from that judgment. But not, we would suggest, based upon any of the available evidence. Rather, they took a philosophical position – that animals should not be used for entertainment or research purposes, full stop.
Following that logic, greyhound racing, animal testing and intensive farming would also be banned, which is the end objective of many activists and was included in the policy agenda of the Green-friendly Animal Agenda Aotearoa for the 2017 general election.
The facts are very simple. The law protects animals involved in rodeos. The science suggests animals suffer no long-term harm. And rodeo injury rates for participating animals are less than for many other animal events. Therefore, NZ Rodeo believes that animal activists are fundamentally misinformed and misguided.
However, we are concerned at the tactics of demonisation being practised by some anti rodeo animal activists. The regular abuse and harassment that rodeo personnel and sponsors receive, via social media especially, is nothing short of bullying.
This summer, many of our rodeo events have enjoyed record crowd numbers. We have been heartened by the attendance and support of many members of Parliament who have come to see for themselves. That is a scrutiny that we will always welcome.
We will also continue to research new science and improve, if necessary, our understandings and practices. In the meantime, we continue to offer one of the most exciting entertainments on New Zealand's rural calendar.
* Michael Laws is national spokesman for the NZ Rodeo Cowboys Association.