Tombstone-shaped placards will be brandished outside the Waikato Rodeo by protesters on Saturday.

The anti-rodeo protesters from Direct Animal Action will demonstrate on the corner of Oliver St and Bryce St in Kihikihi at 1pm.

The group is renewing calls for the Government to ban rodeo, following three animal deaths in rodeo in 2018.

A bull died at a Martinborough rodeo in February, a horse died at a Methven rodeo in October and another bull died at a Gisborne rodeo in December. The group fears an animal will die at Kihikihi this weekend.

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Waikato Rodeo president Wayne Raymond says he is not concerned about the future of the Kihikihi event.
Waikato Rodeo president Wayne Raymond says he is not concerned about the future of the Kihikihi event.

Direct Animal Action spokesperson Apollo Taito says the group has had enough of "needless deaths". He says Labour promised before the election to ban the worst aspects of rodeo.

"We are running out of patience with the Labour-led Government's lack of action," he says. "It's a good first step that they had the National Animal Welfare Committee (NAWAC) take a closer look at rodeo last year. But they've done absolutely nothing to follow this up while animals continue dying at the rodeo.

"We're really pleased to see Green MP Gareth Hughes will be tabling a private members bill that would ban using small calves and animal wrestling.

"This is an important step in the right direction, but we still need to see Labour take this seriously.

"We've had a gutsful of animals dying for entertainment at rodeos. How many more animals need to die before Labour follow through on their pre-election promise?"
But the protests on Saturday might be falling on deaf ears.

A Labour spokesperson says there are no current plans to ban rodeo in New Zealand.
"Government fast-tracked a NAWAC report on rodeo and it was released in October 2018," the spokesperson says.

"The NZ Rodeo Cowboy Association has set up an animal welfare committee including the SPCA, NZVA, MPI to improve oversight, reporting and make ongoing improvements to animal welfare through modified equipment and events. Rodeo operators must meet the requirements of the code of welfare for rodeos under the Animal Welfare Act.

"Stronger animal welfare regulations came into force last year that set out that equipment such as flank straps can't cause injury, limited the use of electric prodders, and banned fireworks at rodeos."

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Minister Damien O'Connor says rodeos are community events that connect people with animals.

He says he wants to see ongoing improvements made to rodeo events and equipment.
Waikato Rodeo president Wayne Raymond says he is not concerned about the future of the Kihikihi event. He hopes there will be no animal deaths this weekend.

"If there is a death it's really unfortunate and it's just one of those things with having animals involved in a sport. It could happen in greyhound racing, horse racing and pony club eventing.

"A screen will come into the arena and block it all off and we've got a trailer to remove the animal respectfully and humanely.

"We've put a lot of thought into it." Wayne says he has been involved with rodeo for six years and in that time — until last year's three deaths — only witnessed one death a couple years ago. Efforts have been made to ensure the event is as safe as possible.

"The team at Waikato Rodeo have spent a lot of man-hours down there over the last few months changing some stuff around to minimise any accidents.

"We've sat down as a club and have put procedures in place — changed our yards around, banged in nails that may have stuck out and caused harm, tidied up loose bits of wire.
"There will be a veterinarian there all day monitoring the animals. We've got a lot more shade for the animals, too."

Wayne says the club is making an effort to make the event a family-friendly affair.
"I'm trying to get more community organisations involved with us — we've got a kapa haka group from Kāwhia this year performing at the opening ceremony.

"This year we're doing something different — we've got someone coming in a World War I mounted rifle uniform with a horse. The Waikato club wants to honour the horses and men who sacrificed their lives 100 years on from the end of of World War I.

"Over the next few years we'll be working closely with community groups, inviting them to come on board with us and be involved or do a performance on the day. The aim is to try to bring it back to a real sense of community spirit."