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Demonstrators at a Rodeo? Nah...
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Demonstrators at a Rodeo? Nah...

I was excited to recently attend a rodeo, hoping to see what all the buzz is about regarding "animal cruelty" at these competitions. I entered the stadium with some trepidation at what I would witness -- there's no way I wanted to see any animal mistreated for any reason, especially for the sake of human entertainment.

I took a seat and observed the horses in their enclosures as they waited to take the stage. Without exception, the horses looked gorgeous, completely well-cared for and relaxed. I looked closely to see if I'd notice any rider or handler agitating a horse to excite the animal in preparation for the performance. I was looking for things like subtle pinching, cutting, whipping and other forms of questionable human behavior.

Much to my relief, there was none of that. Riders were engaged in calming their horses, speaking softly to them and "prettying them up" for their main events.

I watched a bareback bucking event and a saddle bronc exhibition. I was amazed at the tenacity of the riders as they attempted to stick like glue to their mounts' backs. Observation number one was noting how both of these events looked so much harder on the rider than on the horses!

Next, I looked closely to see what exactly these cowboys were wearing to prod their horses into bucking so violently. The riders were clothed in normal riding wear: shirts, jeans, in some cases chaps, and boots. Not one of them was sporting spurs or whips or any kind of prodding device. They just had specially-made gloves with which they could anchor themselves to their horses.

I watched each horse as he was released into the arena bucking like crazy. I became concerned when I noticed straps cinched around their flanks, and immediately thought these straps must have something to do with forcing the animal to buck. The straps were covered in a thick layer of sheepskin where they touched the horses, and genitals or other organs weren't bound or touched.

After the rodeo, I researched those flank straps, and also what makes horses buck at rodeos. I was pleased to learn that bucking rodeo horses are a hot commodity -- not because of any willingness to take abuse that would cause them to buck on demand, but rather because these horses are naturally inclined to buck. They like doing it, and do it because it's fun and releases tension. Rodeo riders seek out these animals because of the animal's natural predisposition to buck, and will invest as much as $50,000 for such a horse. Savvy horsemen know it would be stupid to abusively try to "break" a horse of something the horse really loves to do. And attempting to do so after laying out so much cash for the animal would really be cruel to the horse owner's finances!

The flanking straps are put in place immediately before the horse's time to compete. The straps are snug, but not overly so, and have a quick-release action. The straps only serve to make the horse harder to ride because they alter the direction of the hind legs, encouraging the horse to kick straight back. The straps are instantly released by the "pick-up men" so the horse doesn't get used to the strap, which they will do because the strap causes no pain and doesn't compel a horse to buck.

I'm not saying there aren't unscrupulous horse owners who abuse their horses -- unfortunately, there are no doubt many. But when an owner invests such large sums of money to buy, train and care for a rodeo horse, probably the last thing they want to do is throw away their investment by abusing the animal in any way. From what I witnessed first-hand at the rodeo, owners and riders take better care of their horses than they may do of themselves!

So, are demonstrators at rodeos really making a point about cruelty to horses? Nah...they're just speaking to the choir -- one that fully agrees with the concept of treating horses well and with extreme care.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. Kudos to you for going to a rodeo and seeing first hand how they operate! It's difficult to educate those who are against rodeos due to the "cruelty" they believe is there. Most who enter into a rodeo has the up most respect for competitors and animals alike. Like you said though.. I'm sure there are those who are cruel or abusive. I think for the most part (generalizing) those who oppose rodeos would rather see the animals as "pets".
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Thanks for your comments, Rene. I totally agree with you. For sure there are people that abuse horses -- we've all seen that heartbreak when you witness a horse in that condition. But in my experience (also generalizing), people that invest so much in their horses don't want to hurt them. Those that do are probably cruel to people, as well, and are also uninformed. Thanks for voting! :)
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  2. Zenwoma47
    Sorry to be the naysayer here, but have you seen roped calves trucked out of the arena or limping out? I have. Have you noticed that the score that a rider on a bucking horse gets requires him/her to continually rake the horse's shoulders? Take a better look. It sounds like you did not attend a rodeo that included horse tripping. Good for you. I have taken a good look at rodeo's too and I have seen a different picture than you did.
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    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      You're correct, I only reported on what I personally witnessed. I do know there are questionable practices that go on at some rodeos -- I'm glad I didn't have to witness them. Thanks for your comment!
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  3. jst4horses
    I have attended rodeos that are great, and others that are abusive. Like any other "sport" using animals, it depends on the person. A lot of the abuse happens when the animal is not properly prepared and gets injured and sent to the slaughter. A lot more occurs when the horse is no longer a top winner and gets dumped in a slaughter auction. I am not really a fan of any "sport" that uses animals like a bicycle and tosses them away. I volunteer at Blue Pearl, and have donated for years to Pegasus, another santuary that takes ex-performance horses that have often made millions for humans, and then are just tossed to the feed lot, or just abandoned in a field or on a rural road to starve. You appear to have gone to a good rodeo. There are bad ones. Horses may not be "pets" but they also are real alive creatures that grieve for the loss of each other, and even their human companions. I have run into horses as long as twenty years after training a horse, and owners have said, come see my horse, everytime he sees you, or hears your voice he gets so excited. My younger son Dean is also a trainer, and has a similar experience. Some people who oppose rodeo have no idea that many rodeos themselves are very self policing for animal abuse. Others are not. As far as how much people invest in an animal, I have seen horses abandoned that the tatoos in their mouths identify as multi million dollar winners. I have seen these exact same horses, with huge amounts of money spent on them. One of the saddest was Rose, a mare I found in a stall at a stable where her young owner had talked her Mom into rescuing her. I had known Rose when she was a half a million dollar three year old. Here I found her, loved, clean, well cared for, but with legs bigger than footballs and in serious pain. I told the young owner I would stand with Rose as she was put down, but it was too horrible to keep her in condition where she could barely walk from her waterer to her hay. She was not young, there was no cure for her condition. I have seen horses that cost more than mansions get hurt and thrown to the slaughter truck because the owner did not want to lose that $300.
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  4. jst4horses
    I have attended rodeos that are great, and others that are abusive. Like any other "sport" using animals, it depends on the person. A lot of the abuse happens when the animal is not properly prepared and gets injured and sent to the slaughter. A lot more occurs when the horse is no longer a top winner and gets dumped in a slaughter auction. I am not really a fan of any "sport" that uses animals like a bicycle and tosses them away. I volunteer at Blue Pearl, and have donated for years to Pegasus, another santuary that takes ex-performance horses that have often made millions for humans, and then are just tossed to the feed lot, or just abandoned in a field or on a rural road to starve. You appear to have gone to a good rodeo. There are bad ones. Horses may not be "pets" but they also are real alive creatures that grieve for the loss of each other, and even their human companions. I have run into horses as long as twenty years after training a horse, and owners have said, come see my horse, everytime he sees you, or hears your voice he gets so excited. My younger son Dean is also a trainer, and has a similar experience. Some people who oppose rodeo have no idea that many rodeos themselves are very self policing for animal abuse. Others are not. As far as how much people invest in an animal, I have seen horses abandoned that the tatoos in their mouths identify as multi million dollar winners. I have seen these exact same horses, with huge amounts of money spent on them. One of the saddest was Rose, a mare I found in a stall at a stable where her young owner had talked her Mom into rescuing her. I had known Rose when she was a half a million dollar three year old. Here I found her, loved, clean, well cared for, but with legs bigger than footballs and in serious pain. I told the young owner I would stand with Rose as she was put down, but it was too horrible to keep her in condition where she could barely walk from her waterer to her hay. She was not young, there was no cure for her condition. I have seen horses that cost more than mansions get hurt and thrown to the slaughter truck because the owner did not want to lose that $300.
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Sounds like you've had a lot of good and bad experiences. I'm happy to say that most of mine have been good, but I attribute that to the type of people who understand and know the value of horses as incredible living beings. I have friends who accept -- either buy them or accept them free -- horses either retired from rodeos or from the racetrack. Of those that I've seen, they are definitely either tired or hyper, but my friends care for them, re-gentle them, and get them retrained to be perfectly happy recreational mounts. If I ever see anyone abusing a horse anywhere, you can bet I'll be all over that person, and it won't be pretty. Thanks for your comment!
      Log in to reply.
  5. Eve Sherrill York
    Eve Sherrill York
    I have lived in Idaho all of my life and have never been to a rodeo. The fair, horse races and such but never a rodeo. I will keep this is mind. Voted. Hope you will come over and read mine as well.
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Yes, I will check out your post and vote -- Thanks for you comment!
      Log in to reply.
      1. Eve Sherrill York
        Eve Sherrill York
        Oh good, thanks.
        Log in to reply.
  6. KWolf
    KWolf
    Voted! My husband used to ride saddle bronc's professionally. I don't know any other man or woman who loves horses more then he does. It's great that you got out there and made an opinion for yourself through education v.s here-say. More people need to do that. Unfortunately, there are abusers and neglecters out there. I have yet to run into one, but I know if I did, the cowboys and cowgirls of rodeo would probably put a big kaboosh to them!
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Thanks for your comment! It's difficult to write about such a controversial subject -- gotta have thick skin! I really appreciate your supportive comment -- thank you!
      Log in to reply.

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