Whatever your views about using animals for food, clothing, or medical research, you probably find dogfights and bullfights disturbing, but rodeos are part of American culture, and many of us accept and enjoy them. There are excellent, brief overviews of what’s wrong with rodeos here and here.
Let’s look at just one event, calf roping. The rodeo cowboys want to make calves run fast out of the chute, so they commonly twist and pull on their tails, or scrape them against the metal rail, causing pain and fear before they let them loose. A calf may be going over 25 miles an hour when the lasso snaps his head back. Then the contestant slams him hard against the ground. This is against the rules (if it’s a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) event), but they’re not enforced. The amateur circuit is even worse. On televised rodeos, the camera usually cuts away so viewers don’t see the brutal parts, but you can watch them here.
Charreadas, Mexican-style rodeos, are just as bad, and have two cruel events unique to them. One is Las colas, or steer-tailing, as described in an article about California activist Eric Mills: Steer-tailing is an event in which a charro rides alongside a bull, grabs its tail, wraps it around his boot and stirrup, and rides his horse off at an angle. The bull gets knocked to the ground. The other event is mangana, or horse tripping, which is as bad as it sounds. Watch this video.
The most persuasive voice I’ve found in opposition to rodeos is that of Peggy W. Larson, a veterinarian who was raised with livestock and who used to participate in rodeos. Rodeo defenders argue that rodeo events are part of their heritage; she refutes that in this article. The organization most active and vocal in opposing rodeos is Steve Hindi’s SHARK, SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness. They’ve posted an article by Dr. Larson, Animal Abuse Inherent in Rodeo. And they have a page with a letter from César Chávez (a vegetarian, by the way), who says, “Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence.” Even more troubling than the calf-roping event itself is that the cowboys who participate in it had to practice beforehand to get good at it, so the additional, unseen suffering is much greater. Perhaps worst of all, rodeos establish rough handling of calves as normative cowboy behavior by rewarding those who can drop and immobilize the animals the fastest at the expense of gentleness. From an ahimsic perspective, rodeos are indefensible.
In addition to not going to rodeos, you may want to boycott companies that sponsor them. If you need a video resource to persuade others to not patronize rodeos SHARK’s YouTube channel may be helpful.