The origin of rodeo can be traced back to the ranches of the early 1700s, when the Spanish ruled the West. The Spanish ranchers and ranch-hands, known as vaqueros, influenced the American cowboy with their clothing, language, traditions, and equipment, which would in turn influence rodeos as we know them today.

Rodeos typically consist of seven main events; tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle-bronc riding, bareback-bronc riding, bull riding and barrel racing. 

At some rodeos youth events such as goat-tying and mutton-busting may also take place.

Emily Hicks, 6, of Lumberton, hangs onto the sheep during her ride in the mutton busting event at the YMBL Championship Rodeo at Ford Arena on Friday night.  Photo taken Friday 3/23/18 Ryan Pelham/The
A child rides on the back of a sheep during a mutton-busting event. Image: Ryan Pelham

The animals used in rodeos are captive performers. Most are relatively tame, but understandably distrustful of human beings because of the harsh treatment that they have received. Many of these animals are not aggressive by nature; they are physically provoked into displaying “wild” behaviour to make the riders look brave. Further, bulls have been found to be injected with anabolic steroids in an effort to make them stronger and more aggressive.

For a long time rodeos have been seen as a form of entertainment, though with increased awareness about the significant injury, suffering and distress caused to the animals involved, more and more people are boycotting this archaic “sport”.

Calf roping

Calf roping (also known as rope-and-tie or tie-down roping) subjects young vulnerable animals to unnecessary harm and distress. 

Calf roping involves releasing the calf ahead of the roper who is on horseback. The rider will chase and lasso the calf by throwing a rope over the calf’s neck. The force of being lassoed by the neck causes many calves to become airborne. The roper then dismounts and runs to the calf, throws themselves on top of the calf, and ties their legs up with rope. 

A calf being chased at a rodeo in Cairns, Australia. Image: Getty images

Common injuries seen in calf-roping include severe bruising, broken bones, ruptured discs, internal bleeding, damage to the calf’s neck, choking, and even paralysis. Ropers spend a great deal of time practicing for events, and calves sold to practice pens are often roped over and over until they are injured or killed. 

A 2015 Queensland study on calf-roping demonstrated that even calves who had not previously experienced roping showed elevated stress hormone levels in their blood after being roped. All calves in the study showed ‘white eye’, where the calf’s eye rolls to reveal about 50% of the white of the eye. ‘White eye’ is believed to be a behavioural response to shut out environmental input that may be overwhelming for the calf to see.

A calf displaying the “white eye” response during a calf-roping event. Image: RENAULT Phillipe/ Images

Calf-roping is prohibited in Victoria and South Australia (and rodeos are banned completely in the ACT), as well as parts of the US, Brazil and Canada, and is banned nationally in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.

Team roping

Team roping involves two riders roping a single steer. One rider ropes the head and neck of the steer, while the other rider ropes the hindlegs, forcing the steer to fall to the ground. Team roping often results in the steer being stretched in opposite directions after being roped. 

Steer wrestling

Steer wrestling (also known as bulldogging) involves a horse-mounted rider chasing a steer, dropping from the horse to the steer, and wrestling the steer to the ground by grabbing their horns and twisting their neck so that they fall to the ground. 

Neck twisting can cause considerable pain and spinal injuries. The animal can also sustain broken and splintered horns as a result of rough-handling.

In 2013, at the Calgary Stampede in Canada, a steer had his neck broken and had to be euthanised. Despite 63% of Canadians opposing rodeos, the event still continues today.

Steer wrestling at the Calgary Stampede. Image: JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Bronco and Bull Riding

Bronco and bull riding, either bareback or on a saddle, involves a rodeo participant riding a bucking horse or bull that attempts to throw or buck off the rider.

Animals used in rodeos are physically provoked to ensure they’ll “put on a show”. Workers twist their tails and jolt them with electric prods in order to rile them up and make them bolt out of the chute. This causes intense pain, with bovines in particular being extremely sensitive to electrical currents. 

To make animals buck, they are kicked and spurred, and straps are tightened around their abdomens (flank). Burrs and other irritants have also been found to be placed under the flank strap.

A bull being ridden at a rodeo in Victoria, Australia. Image: Animals Uncovered

It is not uncommon to see horses and bulls hurl themselves at solid objects in order to rid themselves of the rider. Some animals become so distressed that they then charge the rider on the ground, further demonstrating a very strong fear response. 

During one Tasmanian rodeo, a bull who had collapsed after a spinal injury was repeatedly kicked in the head to force him back onto his feet, even though he was partially paralysed. He was then hauled onto a truck, where he suffered for hours before he was killed.

A 2016 study determined that nearly one third of animals assessed in rodeos showed signs of distress leading up to the start of bull-riding events and that those who did not react may have become habituated to the aversive situation.

A life of exploitation, misery and suffering

Numerous animals – including calves, steers and horses – are routinely injured and killed in rodeo events globally; broken limbs, backs and necks, heart attacks and aneurysms are all common occurrences at rodeos. 

Those who survive are loaded into trucks, hauled to the next event, and forced to participate over and over again. They are given little, if any, time to recuperate or let their injuries heal. When the animals become too tired or worn-out to continue, most are sent to slaughter.

Meat inspectors at slaughterhouses have reported horrendous injuries to animals who have been used in rodeos. The late Dr. C. G. Haber, a veterinarian with thirty years of experience as a meat inspector said, “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”

There are many towns, cities, states, and countries have realised that rodeos have no place in society, and have made moves to eliminate or restrict this needless excuse for “entertainment”

Rodeos are banned in the Australian Capital Territory, parts of São Paulo and nationally in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, with other European nations placing restrictions on certain practices.

Some local and state governments in North America have banned or restricted rodeos, certain rodeo events, or types of equipment.
Rodeo riders voluntarily risk injury by participating in these events, but the animals they use have no such choice. The best way to help animals used in rodeos is to boycott rodeos altogether.