Rodeo is in good heart, with young people taking it up despite the sport coming under attack from animal rights activists, says Lyal Cocks, president of the NZ Rodeo Cowboys' Association.

''We had the largest number of introductory contestants this year, reflecting the growing number of young people wanting to get involved in rodeo,'' he said.

''We have made some changes to improve the competition, make the sport more engaging for the spectators and to reduce the risk of any animal welfare issues.

''Most of the animals competing in rodeos are now prepared and trained by stock contractors which means they are familiar with the events and are more competitive.


''Based on what we have now, the future of rodeo is looking good.''

Animal activist groups such as Safe have continued to call for a ban on rodeos and have criticised the use of electric prods and alleged illegal use of flank straps and animal twisting.

''These claims are classic examples of the false and misleading information pushed out by anti-rodeo people,'' Cocks said.

''Tail twisting is illegal and therefore is not tolerated.

''The restricted use of electric prods is legal when working with cattle but we are minimising the use of prods in the rodeo environment.

''Flank straps are approved by MPI. They are a type of harness used to influence the animal's performance in the same way traces are used in horse racing, to make a horse pace, which is unnatural, rather than trot.''

Cocks said there were two types of flank strap in rodeo.

''The flank strap used with horses is a wide strap of leather covered in sheepskin for comfort and protection loosely placed around the flank area of the horse in preparation for the horse leaving the chute.


''Adjusted so it cannot over-tighten as the horse leaves the chute, the strap is pulled up to its adjusted setting.

''This creates a more uniform bucking action.

''The flank strap works on an ask-and-reward format similar to most training principles.

''When the horse kicks up behind the flank loosens. At the end of the ride, pick-up riders release flank by pulling quick release catch and the flank strap falls to the ground.

''The flank strap for a bull is a simple sheepskin-covered rope which is tied snugly around the bull's flank area using a simple quick release motion prior to release from the chute.''

Cocks said rodeo would continue to be scrutinised, but he wondered why its scrutiny was greater than that of any other animal-human interaction.

''If this scrutiny of rodeo was only about animal welfare then why is animal welfare not being carefully scrutinised in other sports, farming practices, hobbies and social pastimes?

''There are so many ways humans interact with animals and wildlife. What would happen if they were all scrutinised to the same extent as rodeos?''

He said rodeo was a sport which introduced young people to working with, caring for and living with animals from a young age, giving them the opportunity to be skilled competitors and even go on to represent New Zealand in the sport.

''We have just had a New Zealand high school team compete against the Australian high school team in a very successful competition.''

Canterbury Rodeo will host the national finals rodeo on March 9 at Mandeville with an awards dinner to follow at the Rangiora RSA.