Rodeos try cultural defense, denial, & erasing cruelty law
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2010:
CALGARY, CHEYENNE, BRAZILIA–Exempted from prosecution
for 52 animal deaths in 24 years, including the deaths of six horses
in 2010, Calgary Stampede promoters defend rodeo as culture.
Not prosecuted yet, despite repeated attempts by Showing
Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK), Cheyenne Frontier Days promoters
contend that animal injuries repeatedly videotaped and aired tens of
thousands of times on YouTube never happened.
Brazilian rodeo promoters just keep trying to repeal all
legal protection of domesticated animals from cruelty.
The two-week Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo ended in August
without documented fatalities, unlike in 2009 when SHARK founder
Steve Hindi videotaped at close range the fatal injuries suffered by
a horse named Strawberry Fudge during the bucking competition.
However, Hindi recounted, “Numerous animals received debilitating
injuries, including broken bones, and half a dozen were never able
to get up off the ground and had to be carted away.”
An announcer claimed a bull who suffered a broken leg was
transported to the University of Colorado school of veterinary
medicine, in Fort Collins, for treatment. Finding the story
unlikely, not least because of the distance between Cheyenne and
Fort Collins, Hindi said he called the veterinary school “to ask if
the bull had been transported there. They would neither confirm nor
deny that he was.”
Meanwhile, Hindi sought unsuccessfully to pursue charges
against the rodeo for neck injuries allegedly inflicted on a horse
during the July 24 “Wild Horse Race.”
“The ‘Wild Horse Race,'” Hindi explained, “is the final
event of every Cheyenne Frontier days rodeo performance, where
untamed horses are violently manhandled and restrained until a saddle
and rider are forced on them. The horse in question was aggressively
wrenched and held by her neck and head with excessive force. She may
also have suffered additional abuse, because her neck was far more
seriously injured after the event was over, as can be seen in our
video, when a SHARK investigator documented a pickup man moving the
clearly injured victim back to the pen area.”
No charges resulted. Reported Associated Press, “Bob Budd,
chairman of the rodeo’s Animal Care Committee, said the horse held
its head in that position because it had been roped and its halter
had slipped over its ear.”
Hindi turned, as he has for years, to judgement by the
informal jury of YouTube viewers. Since YouTube debuted in February
2005, about 10% of all web traffic pertaining to Cheyenne Frontier
Days appears to have involved viewings of SHARK video showing alleged
Frontier Days injuries to animals.
Coincidentally, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Greeley
Stampede, another frequent target of SHARK video exposure,
reportedly lost money each year from 2007 to 2009, with 2010 figures
not yet available.
The first horse to die at the Calgary Stampede in 2010
collapsed from a suspected heart attack, causing team cattle penning
competitor Amy Carver to fall, suffering a traumatic head injury and
A chuckwagon horse died of a heart attack the next day and a
bucking horse suffered a broken back. Another horse died of
The chuckwagon races were suspended the following evening,
for the first time since 1925, due to bad track conditions, but two
more horses died during chuckwagon races before the 2010 Stampede was
A 10-day event held each July, the Stampede has occasionally
been held without reported animal fatalities, but animals have been
killed in seven of the past 10 years. The toll has included nine
horses in a single trail riding accident in 2005, and six horses and
a calf killed in 2002. Twelve animals were killed in 1986,
including six horses in one chuckwagon racing accident.
Attracting 1.2 million visitors per year, claiming to
generate $350 million per year for the southern Alberta economy, the
Calgary Stampede traces origin to an annual livestock show founded in
1886–but the modern Stampede is not nearly that old, and rodeo did
not actually catch on easily in frontier Calgary, where real-life
ranching routines were familiar to most citizens.
Rodeo was first included in the Calgary livestock show in
1908, was reintroduced to Calgary by private promoters in 1912,
when the Stampede name first was used, and was reintroduced a third
time in 1919, again by private promoters. The then financially
failing livestock show merged with the Stampede in 1923.
The 1923 introduction of chuckwagon racing may have saved
both events. Having no parallel in anything ever actually done in
ranching, chuckwagon racing appears to have been loosely inspired by
the enduring popularity of the 1880 novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the
Christ, by Lew Wallace. Adapted into a stage play by Abraham
Erlanger in 1895, Ben Hur toured until 1920.
As chuckwagon racing debuted in Calgary, Erlanger and the
Goldwyn company turned the play into the 1925 black-and-white film
hit Ben Hur, featuring a chariot crash that killed several horses.
Screenings of Ben Hur were frequently followed by The Calgary
Stampede, the 1925 documentary that made the Stampede world
famous–and infamous. Fifty members of the British Parliament on
July 8, 2010 introduced a motion asking the British government to
ban the Stampede. Rodeo has been banned in Britain since 1934.
Founded in 1922, the Calgary Humane Society was initially
critical of the Stampede, but struggled to gain traction in the
community, as the Stampede grew, until it opened its first shelter
in 1960 and shifted focus to dogs and cats.
The Calgary Humane Society and the Alberta SPCA now monitor
the Stampede, and in June 2010 persuaded the Stampede management to
introduce a rules change intended to reduce the risk of injury to
steers in steer wrestling, a year after a steer was euthanized due
to a spinal injury suffered during the steer wrestling event.
However, the Calgary Humane Society has distanced itself from
opposition to the Stampede itself, represented in recent years by
the shelterless Vancouver Humane Society and the Calgary Animal
Rights Meet-Up Group.
Calgary Animal Services, known for decades as one of the
most progressive animal control departments in North America,
likewise tends to stay out of issues involving the Stampede–whose
arena is located in the same neighborhood. A former Calgary Animal
Services headquarters was right around the block.
Calgary Humane Society spokesperson Desiree Arsenault
acknowledged to Petti Fong of the Toronto Star that “the rash of
deaths has altered public attitudes,” Fong wrote. Continued Fong,
“Last year, she said, about 70% of people talking about the
Stampede were in favour of the rodeo events. This week, Arsenault
said she estimates that now 50% want to keep the rodeo while the
other half want to see the events shut down.”
Repealing cruelty law
Attempts to prevent prosecution of rodeo cruelty in Brazil by
preventing prosecution of cruelty to any domesticated animal
originated in May 1998 with a private member’s bill, PL-4548,
introduced into the Brazilian National Congress by former legislator
Jose Thamaz Nineth. The bill closely followed the incorporation of
anti-cruelty language into the then newly passed Brazilian National
Environmental Law, one of the few national environmental statutes in
any nation which recognizes cruelty to individual animals as a threat
to animal life, along with broad threats to species.
Though PL-4548 failed to advance beyond the first committee
to which it was assigned, and Nineth is long gone from the Brazilian
parliament, PL-4548 has survived through repeated committee
reassignments, resurfacing in each of the past several years.
“The proposed bill seeks to remove the expression ‘domestic
and domesticated’ from the law, meaning cruelty to dogs, cats, horses
and many other species would have no consequences,” warned the World
Society for the Protection of Animals in a March 2010 alert. PETA
distributed a similar warning. Both the WSPA and PETA warnings were
More than 60,000 Brazilians signed petitions against PL-4548.
The Globo news organization, largest in Brazil, denounced PL-4548
both in general terms and, in specific, because it would legalize
cockfighting and dogfighting. Denunciations came from many other
news commentators and editorialists.
Yet PL-4548 appeared to have been fast-tracked for passage in
August 2010, until removed from the legislative calendar by National
Congress member Antonio Carlos Pannunzio, listed as the current
Pannunzio insisted that he meant to advance an unrelated
appropriation bill, PLP 3006/2008, without explaining how such a
bizarre mistake could have happened.
Rodeo as practiced in Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela
features an event called coleo. This is similar to steer-tailing,
often included in charreada or “Mexican-style” rodeo, but prohibited
in nine U.S. states. In coleo, according to Associated Press
writer Christopher Toothaker, “During heats lasting five minutes,
riders compete to see who can tip the bull over the most times. All
four hoofs must leave the ground for the coleada to count. Once the
bull has been flipped over, competitors must quickly get the animal
up and running again. When a bull refuses to rise, exasperated
competitors often twist or bite the weary animal’s tail. Electric
cattle prods handled by attendants are also sometimes employed to jar
motionless bulls back into action.”
Coleo may be politically vulnerable in some parts of Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro, for instance, banned animal circuses as
unacceptably cruel in November 2000.
A coleadero, or steer-tailing competition, was scheduled to
be held on the first weekend of August 2010 at the Jefferson County
Fairgrounds, near Golden, Colorado, but was cancelled after the
American Humane Association and Jefferson County Animal Control told
media that they would seek an emergency injunction to stop it. A
previous coleadero held on July 18 resulted in “summonses for the
father-son promotion team” who are believed to have organized it,
for “alleged failure to provide veterinary care to animals injured,”
reported Yesenia Robles of the Denver Post. “Deputies searched the
Adams County property of promoter David Martinez,” Robles wrote,
“and found seven steers whose skin was pulled from their tails.
Also, two were lame, one had a broken pelvis and one had a broken
leg. The two with broken bones were euthanized.”
Rodeo & crime
An attempt to revive rodeo at the Santa Cruz County
Fairgrounds in Watsonville, California, after a hiatus of more than
20 years, failed in July 2010 when the organizers balked at
indemnifying the county against lawsuits pledged by animal advocates.
The rodeo revival was proposed by Stars of Justice, identified by
Donna Jones of the Santa Cruz Sentinel as “a nonprofit offshoot of
the Santa Cruz County Deputies Association.”
Sheriff’s Sergeant Mike MacDonald, identified by Steve
Chawkins of the Los Angeles Times as the chief advocate for the
rodeo, said he was hoping the rodeo would help to keep young people
from joining gangs, and that it might “inspire them to join groups
like 4-H and the Future Farmers of America.”
MacDonald appeared to be unaware that violence toward animals
by youths is nearly as strongly identified as a precursor to future
violence against humans as gang membership. Making the connection
specifically to rodeo, the SHARK web site details the crminal
convictions of 40 rodeo performers, among them top stars, for
crimes including murder, rape, arson, and pedophilia.