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Animal welfare

The main objection of the rodeo opponents against the sport is that the animals are abused at rodeos. In reality, they are not abused at all, however, the opponents faithfully hold on to their belief and the more you try to explain to them that it is nothing but fantasy, the more they continue repeating it.
Like many other fans of the sport, I know most of the allegations forwards and backwards. Even though the productivity of those people's fantasy can still impress me now and then, it is and remains nothing but fantasy. A part of the methods and equipment they talk about does not exist in reality and most of the others are strictly forbidden according to the rules of the sport. Furthermore, most of them would have the opposite effect of what is desired.

Why do the animals buck? - Top
The favorite theme of the rodeo opponents is what the evil ugly cowboys do to the cute little rough-stock animals to make them jump around in the arena (which is called that the animals buck). Under the link Fantasy and facts, you can see some examples of what I have heard myself over the years. Here, I will just repeat that it is not true.
But how do we make the animals buck? The answer is quite simple: You cannot do that.
That a horse has been broke, which most horses have, means that it has been trained to, against its own nature, accept to have a rider sitting on its back and obey the signals from the rider to do what the rider wants it to. In the rough-stock events at rodeo, however, we use unbroke horses, which are called broncs. If you try to ride such an animal, you will trigger a natural defense reaction: The horse instinctively reacts as if it is attacked by a carnivore fixing to kill and eat it and the horse tries to avoid this by shaking the animal off. The broncs used at rodeos know by experience that the riders will not do them any harm, but the instinct is intact and that is what we use in the rough-stock events.
Most men have probably tried riding (or tried to ride) a cow in their younger days, or at least seen somebody do it, and thus experienced that cows react in the same way. Bulls are even worse and they are also different from horses in that they do not lose interest in the rider as soon as they have bucked him off; they will attack him immediately if you do not get their attention away from him.
Some horses are so stubborn or fierce that it is not possible to get riding horses out of them. If, as is often the case, they cannot be used as wagon horses or trotting horses either, the only career opportunity for them is a trip to the slaughterhouse.
Unless they get into rodeo. Here, they are allowed to react in coherence with their own nature, they experience that they are successful with it, and they even get a compliment for it.
But as Harry Vold, one of the biggest stock contractors in North America, who, after then 40 years in rodeo, should know it, has said in an undated interview on "An animal can not be made to buck. He has to have the will, the determination, and the disposition to wanna buck. If an animal does not have that disposition to consistently want to perform, well, he is not going to buck. Bull or horse, it doesn't matter."
I have heard the same elsewhere and it also fits with what I have seen myself over the years: If an animal decides that it is not in the mood to buck today, it does not buck – period. That goes for both bulls and horses.
And just as important: In such case, we do not subject the animals to any kind of pain or other discomfort to make them change their mind. Firstly, it is forbidden according to the rules of the sport, which, for the rider, means disqualification, no prize money, and the risk of a fine.
Secondly, as mentioned above, it would not work anyway. Besides, you have to remember that all rodeo events are a cooperation between two athletes who must both perform to the optimum of their ability in order to win the competition. Nobody does that if they do not feel well both physically and mentally.

The flank strap - Top
The most popular single hate object of the rodeo opponents is this abominable torture instrument. There seems to be no limit to the amount or the different kinds of harm they can imagine it doing to the animals. But what is the flank strap used for? It serves three purposes:

  1. It increases the natural inclination of the animal to buck in its attempt to throw the rider off. But please note the difference: it increases the inclination, it does not cause it. Otherwise, the animals would start bucking when you put the flank strap on them and continue bucking until you remove it, which everybody can see with their own eyes that they don't. And as most horse riders know by their own experience, it happens now and then that a riding horse bucks a rider off even though there is no flank strap on it.
  2. It gives the animal a kind of pulse which makes the animal work more vertically and less horizontally. Without the flank strap, some animals, mainly broncs, may have an inclination to run as fast as they can to shake the rider off. This increases the risk that they slip or stumble when they have to turn at the other end of the arena and hurt themselves.
  3. When the rider has come down from the animal, one way or another, there is still an alien body on it which it wants to get rid of. This makes it harder for the animal to concentrate on attacking the rider, who is not always able to stand on his feet just after the ride.
All these purposes make it necessary that the flank strap fits so loosely that it can tickle the animal by sliding a bit back and forth due to the movements of the animal, but not so loose that it can slide back over the hip of the animal and fall off.
Furthermore, at least in Germany, the flank straps are covered with lamb skin (double on those for the broncs) and we apply baby powder on them to prevent them from rubbing the skin of the animals.

Rules and legislation - Top
Contrary to Denmark and Germany, there is no federal legislation in the USA regulating how the animals must or must not be treated at rodeos and only very few of the states have any state legislation on the subject. Instead, it is regulated by rodeo sanctioning organizations.
Below are the essential points in the rules for animal welfare of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (version of October 1, 2009), which their Animal Welfare Coordinator in Colorado Springs has been kind enough to send me. I am using their rules here because, as far as I have found out, they are the biggest of the organizations sanctioning rodeos in the USA and their rules for animal welfare are very strict and comprehensive.
I do not use the rules in their full extent as that would be too much here. Instead, I have made this grouped summary:

In the arena

Outside the arena Equipment Animal weight limits

Are the rules observed? - Top
Some animal rights activists say it is no good that we have these animal welfare rules if nothing is done to make sure that people abide to them and, therefore, the animals are still abused.
I am not so sure about that. If the animals really are abused at rodeos, I wonder why so many veterinarians, helpers, stock contractors, and spectators say the opposite after seeing with their own eyes what goes on there. Have they all been bribed to lie? Or have they been blindfolded during all rodeos where they have been present without noticing that they could not see anything? Or could it be possible that they actually have seen what they say they have seen: that the animals are not abused?
The latter option is the one that fits best with what I have seen at the rodeos where I have been. On the other hand, I have not seen many rodeos where none of the two-legged contestants were hurt at all.
I must admit, though, that the only time I have seen anybody be disqualified so far was when I was disqualified myself for touching something with my free hand in a bareback ride at the rodeo in Frankfurt M, Germany in 2012. I had busted my shoulder in a traffic accident and tore it up again already when the bronc started out of the chute. It hurt like [beep] and I made a 'double grab' to get off the bronc as fast as possible. But disqualified I was.

Animal Protection Act - Top
Gathering information for this website has also included reading the relevant laws and regulations in Denmark, Germany, and the USA. As mentioned above, there is no federal law on this subject in the USA; all I have found so far is the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations (November 2013) from the United States Department of Agriculture. There is hardly anything there at all about rodeo.
I have been told that a few states, e.g. California and Rhode Island, have laws governing this subject but I have not managed to get hold of a copy yet.
As regards the laws and regulations I have found, I have never seen anything at a rodeo which would be a violation of the Danish or German legislation concerning animal protection or the PRCA rules and there is nothing in these laws and rules which could prevent or even inhibit rodeo in Denmark or Germany.
Despite the historical background of my people, there has never been any rodeos here in Jutland or elsewhere in Denmark; the nearest ones are those in Germany. I have been there a lot of times over the years, the first few times as a mere spectator, later as an active contestant and a volunteer helper. As the sport is not very big over here and, therefore, there is not much money in it, the contestants have to work as helpers too, which I still do now and then after I retired from rough stock in 2013. I have never seen anything there which might be a violation of the PRCA rules or of the German (or the Danish) animal protection act. And I have actually read them thoroughly, mind you.
All I have found in the German Animal Protection Act Tierschutzgesetz (2009) which the rodeo opponents might use against the sport is § 13, paragraph 1: It is forbidden to use devices or materials for catching, shutting out, or chasing away vertebrates if this is connected with danger of avoidable pain, suffering, or harm for vertebrates; however, this does not apply for the use of devices or materials which are permitted under other legal precepts (my translation from German).
The rodeo opponents may now claim that when you rope a calf, it hurts the calf when you throw this 'device' around its neck and stop it and that it is connected with suffering for the calf when you lay it down and tie three of its legs together. But as the gods may know how many people have seen with their own eyes over the years, it is not worse for the calf than when you walk with a dog on line or play with it.
Additionally, there are substantially tougher rules on how you must or must not treat the animals at rodeos than those applying for dog owners. Furthermore, even the smallest calves typically weigh one and a half times the weight of the cowboy or more; when injuries occur at rodeos, it is, for natural reasons, most often the big one that injures the little one and not vice versa.
I have discussed with people from anti-rodeo organizations and such people several times over the years. Some of them are really far out, however, I must admit that at least the ones I have spoken with in Germany tend to behave in a civilized manner and to some extent it is possible to talk sense with them. But whatever they may tell you, I am sure you will get a completely different impression of the sport if you visit a rodeo yourself and see with you own eyes what is going on there in reality.

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