A Veterinarian’s Perspective on Rodeos


I am a veterinarian who has treated both ranch and rodeo animals. In my youth, I rode bareback broncs in the rodeo. After law school, I worked as a state criminal prosecutor where I witnessed how animal abuse leads to human abuse. My Master’s Degree is in Pathology, so I understand injuries and damage to animal tissue. I currently work with the police on animal abuse cases. Drawing on all of this expertise and experience, I can confidently say that rodeo is a cruel and archaic form of entertainment that should be outlawed.

Hundreds of animals have been killed or injured in rodeos. 102 animals have died in the Calgary Stampede, a major Canadian rodeo event, since 1986. Six horses died just this year. The actual numbers are likely higher, as not all animal deaths or injuries are reported.

A horse in a stall with a nosebleed after the chuckwagon race in the Calgary Stampede. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

Autopsies and examinations of animals used in rodeos done by veterinarians at slaughterhouses reveal extensive damage. Examinations of the necks of roping calves reveal muscle tears, ligament and tendon damage, damage to the thyroid and trachea and bruises to the skin. In the practice pens, these calves are roped over and over until they can no longer be used in rodeos. Some die, some are sent to slaughter and some go into feedlots. 

Meat inspectors, including Charles Haber, DVM and Robert Fetzner, DVM, report broken bones, frank blood in the abdomen, organ damage, torn muscles, and damaged tendons and ligaments in rodeo animals sent to slaughter.

A bull does everything he can to get the rider off his back during a rodeo event. Note the flank strap around his body in front of the back legs. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Montreal SPCA.

Rodeo events where bucking horses or bulls are ridden are also cruel and dangerous. Without the use of spurs and flank straps, horses and bulls would not buck hard enough for the rider to score points. Horses would merely “crow hop,” if they bucked at all. Bulls would try to get the rider off their backs but would not buck as hard without the flank strap. Horses and bulls are forced to buck beyond their normal bucking patterns and this often leads to injuries and sometimes death. Bulls have broken their legs and horses have had cardiac arrest and have broken their backs and necks. 

Use of flank straps and spurs often causes horses to “buck blind,” where they lose track of their surroundings in a bucking frenzy, and run into the arena fencing and gates. My friend was killed when his horse bucked blind into the arena fencing, became tangled in the fencing and fell on him, breaking his neck. Rodeos are dangerous for animals and humans alike.

Inflicting extreme fear and stress on the animals is an inherent part of rodeos. Rodeo animals are all prey animals. They want to escape and some try to climb over the chutes. Many salivate, roll their eyes, bellow and try to get the rider off their backs. 

In mutton busting, children ride sheep as the animals attempt to get away.  Some of the children who participate are as young as 3 years old, and these children are at risk. A Texas boy, Derek Scott Kirby, was thrown from a sheep and ingested dirt from the arena. He became infected with E. coli and almost died. His kidneys quit functioning and he required extensive hospitalization. A friend who is a neurologist says that it is only a matter of time before a child becomes seriously and permanently injured in one of these events.

A child rides a sheep during a mutton busting event. Image credit Larry Lamsa, CC BY-Sa 2.0.

Children and teens also participate in goat tying, where they forcefully throw young goats to the ground and tie their legs together. Baby goats are fragile little animals. They are friendly and trusting. Throwing them into the arena dirt and tying them up is highly stressful to them, and most cry constantly until released. 

When children see an animal abused, such as a baby calf being roped, dragged, choked and slammed to the ground by a grown man and see him win prizes for his behavior, this tells the child that abusing animals is not only acceptable but a way to win fame and fortune. Many violent criminals abuse animals before they injure or kill humans. Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer, was a violent animal killer. So were John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson. Children must not attend rodeos and have brutality to animals modeled to them.

Based on the injuries, deaths, autopsies of roping calves and reports from meat inspectors at slaughter plants, rodeo is animal abuse. The proof is overwhelming. Rodeo is not a “sport” as the animals have no choice. Rodeo is not family entertainment because the animals are injured and some die. Our children must not be taught that abuse is acceptable. It is time to make rodeo illegal.

Featured image: a bull looks out of the pen before a rodeo competition. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

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