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Rodeos: Myths vs Facts

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Rodeos are often portrayed as harmless summer fun. To many, they seem like an exciting place to spend a summer night. After all, animals aren’t physically harmed- right? You may be surprised to learn of the suffering that animals endure at rodeo events across the U.S. If you love animals and don’t want to harm them, please skip the rodeo.


Here are just a few common myths that the rodeo industry wants you to believe in.


MYTH: Rodeo animals are like athletes who are trained to participate in their events.


FACT: The only animals who are trained to participate in rodeos are horses. The majority of animal “athletes” in rodeos have no idea what is happening and are reacting purely out of fear. Calf roping, steer tripping, and “mutton busting” (a children’s event involving riding sheep) all rely on an animal’s fear/flight instinct to be successful. Terrified and confused animals are roped or ridden as they flee the loud sounds of the arena. Painful electric prods are often used to encourage animals to run faster out of the chute. These cruel tools are also used on bucking bulls. Tight “bucking straps” and sharp spurs are used to bring out a stronger reaction from the bulls.


MYTH: Animals are never killed in North American rodeos. 


FACT: Animal deaths are widespread in rodeo events! They are even more common in rodeo practice. Calf and steer roping involve bringing large, heavy animals to a complete stop by the neck from a dead sprint. Calves used for roping tend to weigh between 220 and 280 pounds. Lighter and leaner breeds of steers are used for the ropers’ safety, but these animals can still easily weigh 500 pounds. Can you imagine the force this generates? Roping is a recipe for serious injuries of the neck, spine and back. The Calgary Stampede, Canada’s most well-known rodeo, has seen over 100 animal deaths since 1986. Cheyenne Frontier Days, considered the largest rodeo event in the U.S., typically sees a handful of animal deaths every year. Snapped necks and broken backs of calves and steers are some of the most common causes of death. 


MYTH: Rodeo animals are pampered and treated like star athletes.


FACT: An animal’s value to the rodeo industry depends on how many times they can be used. Horses and higher-level bucking bulls typically have access to veterinary care for this reason. But the majority of rodeo animals are considered nothing more than “livestock”. Calves, steers and sheep already destined for slaughter are purchased for cheap. For these animals, the rodeo is nothing but a terrifying detour on the journey to slaughter. If an animal’s market value is worth less than a veterinary bill, it makes more sense to simply send them to slaughter and buy a new one. Dr. C. G. Haber, a veterinarian and USDA meat inspector, once said that “The rodeo folks send their animals to the packing houses where…I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached was the head, neck, legs, and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as two and three gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin.” The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association also permits animals to be confined for up to 24 hours without food or water during transport to and from events. Is this how you’d treat a star athlete or even your dog?


MYTH: There are laws to protect animals from being harmed in rodeos.


FACT: Did you know that the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, one of the only federal animal protection laws, exempts rodeos from having to comply? That’s right. Rodeos do not legally have to abide by these federal animal welfare regulations. Worse yet, federal laws to protect farmed animals are almost nonexistent in the United States. Some states and cities have banned certain exceptionally cruel events such as horse tripping, or the use of devices like electric prods from rodeo arenas. Rhode Island is the only U.S. state to ban tie-down calf roping. There is a direct correlation between popularity of rodeos and poor animal welfare laws throughout U.S. states. 


Want to make a difference for rodeo animals? Sign our petition now to demand an end to wild cow milking, a cruel event taking place at a California rodeo.