Recently I attended a concert at the venue Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Texas, an awesome venue I might add. While awaiting the main performer they have a thirty-minute rodeo show in the back of the venue. This was specifically bull riding, something I have been hesitantly against for as long as I can remember. My girlfriend had some intrigue about rodeos so we paid the three dollar ticket price per person for the show. While appearing to be a level playing field and otherwise healthy bull according to my untrained eye, I wonder still about how humane such an event could be. At the conclusion of the show, I decided I would throw myself into the world of ethical animal treatment and the debate on rodeos. I will try my best to maintain a neutral voice on the topic until the conclusion, at which time I will take a tentative for or against position on the continuance of rodeo events.
History and General Information on Rodeos: According to About.com, the roots of rodeo started in the 1700s with spanish cattlemen. During this time, the spanish populated the majority of now western America. Most rodeo events were born of practical skills used to work on a ranch, such as wrangling and horse breaking. With the birth of the American cowboy was the presentation of these skills in competitions. At the start, these competitions would take place for nothing more than pride. Over time, the events became more formal and the number of spectators grew until it formed a structure similar to what we see in rodeos today. This is obviously a very brief overview of rodeo history, which will serve with some understanding on the attachment many have to it from historical and traditional standpoint.
Information For the Continuance of Rodeo Events: The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) league has a page specifically dedicated to information on the welfare of the animals involved in their events. The key takeaway from this group is how they have created and continue to develop ways of conducting these events with safety measures that limit injury to both rider and animals alike. They present themselves as individuals who are committed to their animals’ welfare above everything, including profit. This means these animals get prime veterinary care before, during, and after rodeo events. A group known as Friends of Rodeo offers some insights into how rodeos work to ensure the health and well-being of the animals involved. Mainly the group focuses on ways of rodeos defending themselves against animal rights groups. The writing seen by this group is very indicative of opinionated and blatant disdain for groups concerned about animals’ well-being at rodeos.
Information For the Discontinuance of Rodeo Events: At the other pole of the debate is the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) group. PETA list multitudes of ways in which animals are abused in rodeos around the globe. To quote PETA’s page on the rodeo issue,”Electric prods, spurs, and bucking straps are used to irritate and enrage animals used in rodeos. Before entering the ring, cows and horses are often prodded with an electrical “hotshot” so that the pain will rile them.” Many other groups against rodeos also list injuries and deaths of rodeo animals due to their treatment and consequences of using animals for entertainment events. Another such group very vocal on the rodeo issue is Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK). They list much of the same information as PETA, and also offer videos on these dangers such as the one listed below. Please do not watch the video if you are sensitive to animals in pain. I will not claim whether these animals are being abused or not. I will say it was difficult for me to watch many of the videos offered by SHARK.
Neutral Information Regarding Rodeo Events: The Animal Law Resource Center offers good information I think both sides of the debate can mutually agree on. I am not going to delve into the laws as I am not a lawyer, and laws do not mean anything as ethically right or wrong. If this were the case we wouldn’t constantly have laws being changed, manipulated, or completely thrown out. Another good article that highlights the debate on ethical animal treatment at rodeos can be found via the British Broadcasting Corporation.
My Concluding Thoughts: Unfortunately, at the conclusion of my research I do not see an upside to rodeos from an animal standpoint. While groups like PBR appear to go out of their way to ensure the safety of the animals performing with the athletes, this does not negate the problem for me. I do not believe the large majority of these rodeo groups see themselves as maliciously causing harm to animals. I think that the deep-rooted culture of such practices can make it easy to see things in a light more conducive to the continuance of such events. I believe groups such as PETA utilize a large amount of propaganda, including unusual occurrences to push their agenda. While it is for a good cause, using the actions of a few individuals who happen to behave in a particularly disturbing fashion does not necessarily represent the whole of that community. I do not condone rodeo events, but I also do not condone the villainization of good people who have differing views.
The main issues I found are that the animals can be injured doing such events, and are in no way participating of their own free will. Rodeo groups insist that techniques such as cattle prods are necessary when animals are refusing to maneuver through shoots, but if these events were not taking place then it’s use would not be required. Techniques such as bucking straps are in no way justified to me. Whether this approach causes injury or not is irrelevant, causing an animal pain or discomfort for the sake of entertainment is wrong in my opinion. While the history of rodeo competitions may have developed out of necessary ranch hand skills, there is no such necessity for it in entertainment.
Overall, while the opposition distinctly over-exaggerates to what point rodeo groups mistreat animals, there is no doubt some level of abuse. While abuse at any level is unacceptable I think understanding the varying degrees will aid in understanding why we shouldn’t completely villainize those who participate in such events. The difference in opinion to me comes from what level of sympathy and empathy people have for animals. It is my personal view that enlightenment would mean an increase in empathy for animals and subsequent ceasing of participation or support in such events. I urge others to not be extremists on such a topic, but rather see the facts from an emotionless perspective. It appears both sides are for the ethical treatment of animals, and the issue is really about how we define ethical treatment of animals.
Your thoughts and opinions are encouraged, and as always I love you guys!