Anti-rodeo vet was performer

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1994:

“I raced two of my horses at local
rodeos,” veterinarian Peggy Larson
recalls of her youth in North Dakota,
“and often rode other people’s horses in
races. I also rode bareback bucking
horses for two years at local rodeos.
Once I rode a steer. Damned near killed
Now an outspoken rodeo critic,
Larson remained involved in rodeo long
after becoming a veterinarian. “Duane
Howard, a national champion bull and
saddle bucking horse rider, was a client
of mine,” she recalls. “He was retired
from rodeo because of a serious injury
which left him partially deaf and ataxic.
He also rode in the same small town
rodeos where I rode.”

In addition, Larson “vaccinat-
ed and castrated bucking horses for a
man who supplied small-time, non-
Professional Rodeo Cowboys
Association rodeos.”
There are three main types of
rodeo in the U.S., Larson notes: the
PCRA circuit, including most of the big
money events; non-PCRA rodeos,
which are essentially amateur events;
and Mexican-style or charro rodeo.
“Because the animals in PCRA
rodeo have to be better performers, they
are selected for their ability––bucking,
for example,” Larson says. “These ani-
mals are valuable and get better care.”
Some are even rescued from slaughter at
events like the Bucking Horse Sale, held
annually in Miles City, Montana, since
1950. Losers are still slaughtered––but
those who buck mightily in an eight-sec-
ond audition may become stars.
By contrast, the horses used in
small town rodeo, Larson saw first-
hand, “usually are not given grain regu-
larly if at all, receive little or no veteri-
nary care, and many receive inferior hay
or fend for themselves in winter by paw-
ing for feed in the snow. If the frozen
grass is plentiful,” she notes, “these
horses actually remain quite well albeit
heavily parasitized, if they have good
teeth. The bucking horses I vaccinated
and castrated fell into this category.
These horses did not like to be handled
and were not encouraged to be tame.”
Larson has only seen boot-
legged video of c h a r r o rodeo, but has
studied it closely, and doesn’t hesitate to
venture that in her view, “c h a r r o i s
nothing more than cruelty to animals. In
one event,” she objects, “a loose run-
ning horse is beaten by a group of riders
while a man on the ground ropes the
horse’s front legs. Injuries to the horse
may include rope burns, broken legs,
sprains, joint dislocations, possible
blindness if the rope misses and encir-
cles the face, severe concussion, inter-
nal injuries, and perhaps paralysis or
death. If the horse is not crippled, he or
she is used again and again.”
Because the horses in charro
rodeo are considered expendible, they
are usually rented for the day from
drovers taking them to slaughter.
Other charro events that appall
Larson include a form of calf-roping,
where instead of releasing the calf within
eight seconds, as required in PCRA
rodeo, the calf is dragged between two
horses; and “tailing,” in which “a run-
ning cow or steer is grabbed by the tail
by a mounted man, jerked off her feet
and slammed to the ground. The animal
is used over and over until too tired to
run. Tailing requires no skill other than
being able to grab the tail and being
strong enough to knock the animal
down,” she says with contempt. “Once
a calf is roped, no skill is needed to drag
him around the ring for five minutes.
There is very little skill required to rope
a horse by the front legs as she is herded
against a wall.”
“All rodeo is inhumane.”
But Larson doesn’t reserve her
contempt for just charro. “I believe now
that all rodeo is inhumane,” she states.
“Further, I do not believe that rodeo can
ever be made humane and still remain
popular. It is in the nature of the event.
The cruelty is not hidden.”
At the same time, Larson
believes most critics look at the wrong
things. In bucking events, for instance,
“so much attention is paid to the flank
strap that truly painful spurring is over-
looked. The strap does not go over the
genitals, and it is my opinion based on
experience that the flank strap does not
cause the animal pain.” Rather, it
apparently tricks the horse into trying to
escape from an imagined encumbrance.
Meanwhile, “The rider is kicking his
spurs into the shoulder of the horse with
all his strength. It is deceptive for the
PCRA to require spurs to be blunt or that
the rowels must roll so that the horse will
not be cut. Cutting is not the problem.
Tissue damage is caused by repeated
blunt injury. Usually the horse is bucked
again before the bruises heal, so the
damage is compounded. Common sense
will tell you that when steel meets flesh,
flesh loses. Spurs should be outlawed on
bucking horses,” Larson says, “if not in
Steer wrestling “is probably the
least injurious to the animal” of all the
popular rodeo events, in Larson’s view.
“While the steer’s neck is twisted to
throw him, it is highly unlikely that a
cowboy could either break a steer’s neck
or harm the heavy musculature of the
neck. Harm is probably limited to fear
and constant reuse.”
But calf-roping is another mat-
ter. “In calf-roping,” Larson describes,
“the calf runs at full speed out of the
gate, often prodded with an electric
wand, and is jerked to a sudden stop by
a rope. I have seen many calves flipped
over backward with the breath knocked
out of them,” Larson averes. “I have
also seen calves die from a broken neck
or have to be killed because of broken
limbs or a broken back. Further, the
calf is suffocated by the rope,” after
running hard and needing extra oxygen.
Horses are most often abused
behind the scenes, in Larson’s experi-
ence. “In training my own ranch hors-
es,” Larson explains, “I found that
many follow or herd calves instinctively.
Also many horses start quickly on their
own. However, in rodeo the horses
must also stop quickly and whirl
sharply. Some of the methods used to
teach these acts are unbelievably inhu-
mane. Often the mouth is wired. The
wire extends over the upper gum and is
attached to the bit. When the bit is
pulled, the wire tightens and pain to the
gums causes the horse to stop or whirl. I
examined one reining horse whose
tongue was cut in half. I examined other
horses whose teeth were damaged by the
gum wires.”
“Ultimately,” says Larson,
“rodeo widens the gap between animal
and man, and negates the need for all
animals, including the human animal,
to learn to live together.”
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