Rodeo in New Zealand is steeped in absurdity.

Its a curious mix of cultures, histories and geographies. Weaving through this mix are notions of human dominance over the animal and a show of bravery.

The rodeo folk think of rodeo as competitive sport, testing the skills of both cowboys and cowgirls in various events including saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and calf roping.

For those who choose adrenaline fueled competition, the rodeo ticks a lot of boxes. However, for those non-consenting participants (by whom I mean the rodeo animals) the rodeo is likely an exercise in terror.


I have seen many rodeo animals in various stages of distress. The calf roping event is one of the most horrifying to watch. Green MP Gareth Hughes puts it like this:
"Do this to a companion animal like a cat and a dog and you would be jailed. Do this on a farm and you could be investigated and prosecuted. Do it in front of a crowd at a rodeo and it is called entertainment."

The question that needs to be asked is: why? Why do we find it entertaining to see an animal tormented?

The rodeo folk will tell you that the animals live a great life, free to roam most of the year, and brought in for a few days of rollicking good fun at the rodeo. Some even go so far as to say the animals enjoy the experience.

Rodeo Cowboy Association animal welfare officer Simon Tahau said recently that: "Honestly if these things didn't enjoy what they do, they wouldn't do it."
As if the animals have a choice whether they do it or not.

This statement by Tahau is absurd, and frankly he needs to be pulled up on it. If rodeo wants people to take them seriously, then they need to actually make sense. Rodeo animals do not get a choice in whether they perform or not. They go into the ring bucking precisely because they do not wish to be there. They are trying to get rid of the rider and out of the danger zone.

I have filmed at a rodeo before and can tell you first hand that rodeo animals are panicking and will try to do anything to get out of the chutes and the pens. Saying these animals enjoy rodeo requires all the mental gymnastics of projection and anthropomorphism.

Tahau also saw fit to call rodeo animals "these things", which immediately renders them to the status of objects. Which, of course, in the rodeo they are. Objects for entertainment.

I sometimes enjoy my own mental gymnastics. I imagine what would happen if only we could unleash an auroch into the ring. I think we would see the rodeo folk jump the fences and run for the hills.


If the aurochs of yesteryear (ancestor of current domesticated bovines) could get in on this picture it would be an entirely different story. These animals were the largest herbivores in post-glacial Europe.

They were just slightly smaller than elephants and had sharp horns and a ferocious charge that could kill a human within seconds.

Julius Caesar described aurochs in Gaul: "These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. "

The last one went extinct in Poland in the mid-1600s. Humans hunted them to extinction, gaining praise and glory by producing the greatest amount of horns in public.

The auroch lives on (albeit in a severely muted form) in the domesticated breeds of bovines we see today.

Current bovines (or cattle a derivative of chattel, meaning property) have been selectively bred for their docile temperament to make them easy to manage and farm for their milk, meat, skin and various other "products".

And what of rodeo? Rodeo originated out of the cattle herding practices in Spain. Spanish ranchers and Mexican ranch hands honed their cattle. These kinds of techniques are not needed on New Zealand farms today to capture and subdue animals.

So how did all these geographically, historically and culturally diverse threads come to take form in the rodeo in New Zealand?

The only common thread is the desire for humans to dominate animals. There is no practical need for it, only human ego and entertainment.

This is New Zealand in 2019. We call ourselves a land of animal lovers, but the reality is as far from the truth as the domesticated bovine if from its wild counterpart.

We're better than this. We must be. Our humanity depends on it. Ban rodeo for good in New Zealand. It has no place here.

Lynley Tulloch is a lecturer in education at the University of the South Pacific. She specialises in sustainability education.