Bell Canada not funding centennial Stampede rodeo

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

Bell Canada not funding centennial Stampede rodeo

CALGARY, RENO-Bell Canada spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis on July 3, 2012 confirmed to Lauren Krugel of Canadian Press that the telecommunications company will not sponsor Calgary Stampede rodeo events. The 100th anniversary running of Calgary Stampede was to be held July 6-13, 2012.

“We have decided to focus on the entertainment part of the Stampede,” Michelis said. Bell Canada continued to sponsor non-rodeo Stampede events, including free live entertainment at the newly opened Bell Centennial Plaza on the Stampede grounds.

“Bell is still a valued sponsor here at the Stampede at the same level that they were always at,” Stampede spokesperson Doug Fraser told Canadian Press.

But Vancouver Humane Society representative Peter Fricker claimed victory after a year-long campaign that he said had encouraged more than 1,200 people to send letters protesting Calgary Stampede sponsorship to Bell Canada president George Cope.

“We hope it means increasing corporate distaste for rodeo,” Fricker said.

The Vancouver Humane Society has appealed to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi to stop calf roping at the Stampede.

Responded Nenshi, “Although the mayor of Calgary has a seat on the board of the Calgary Stampede, the Calgary Stampede has ultimate authority over animal care at the Stampede rodeo.”

That rodeo is largely self-policing and not sensitive toward animal suffering is for anti-rodeo campaigners the crux of the issue. Fraser, for instance, contended to Calgary Herald reporter Deborah Tetley in May 2012 that selling about 20 old, injured, ill, and hard-to-handle rodeo horses per year to be slaughtered for meat constitutes giving them “a humane end of life.”

The Calgary Humane Society, which monitors the Stampede and is rarely critical of Stampede events, was appalled. “We adamantly oppose this practice and we are hoping the Stampede can consider other means,” Calgary Humane Society spokesperson Christy Thompson told Tetley, pointing out that several well-regarded equine rescue facilities operate in Alberta. “We are hoping to be able to work with them on this, instead of sending healthy horses to the slaughterhouse,” Thompson said.

Among the more evident distinctions between rodeo and bullfighting, which share common origins, are that rodeo promoters pretend the animals they use are not often or deliberately injured.

But more than 16 years of undercover videography by the Chicago-based organization Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) continues to expose that pretense. SHARK founder Steve Hindi first told ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1996 that members had never visited a rodeo where they failed to document unpunished abuses that were nominally against Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rules. In July 2012, Hindi affirmed, this is still true.

Reno shocker

“SHARK exposed cruel electroshocking of horses at the 2011 Reno Rodeo, in Nevada,” Hindi blogged. “You might think that in 2012 they would have smartened up, but you’d be wrong. Again in 2012 a SHARK investigator filmed repeated shockings during every rodeo performance.”

Indeed, the frequency and intensity of the electroshocking appeared to have increased. The SHARK cameras at the Reno Rodeo in 2012, held June 14-23, showed not just one but two men appearing to shock many horses just as they left the holding chute–and none of the nine horses shown in more than 12 minutes of video posted to YouTube showed horses beginning to buck ahead of the apparent shocks. Each horse was videotaped for about 30 seconds before being released from a holding chute for bucking rides of up to eight seconds, if the rider remained mounted. After eight seconds, outriders restrain the performing horses and lead them from the arena.

One man stationed behind the holding chutes appeared to use a conventional electric cattle prod. The other appeared to have a larger device concealed in a glove with two finger tips missing, connected to a battery hidden under his shirt.

Shown the SHARK video, Reno Rodeo spokesperson Steve Schroeder acknowledged to Reno Gazette-Journal writer Mark Robison that some of the bucking horses were shocked. “It is true, that guy is shocking horses, and we’re not okay with that,” Schroeder said of the more obvious of the two apparent shockers.

Schroeder told Robison that cowboys had been “messing with” the overhead cameras that were supposed to monitor the holding chute to ensure that horses were not abused, adding that the man who delivered the shocks worked “really hard to stay out of camera view.” The SHARK video, however, showed a videographer using what looked like a wide-angle lens, pointing the camera almost directly at the device concealed in the glove as it was applied to one of the horses.

Reported Robison, “Schroeder wouldn’t name the person [whom he admitted was shocking horses] but said, ‘He will no longer be invited to the Reno Rodeo and won’t be allowed on the grounds.'” Wrote Robison, “The shocker was identified as working for the livestock subcontractor Big Bend/Flying Five Rodeo Company. Schroeder expects that person and the subcontractor to be fined. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association allows electric shocks, but the Reno Rodeo doesn’t want them, Schroeder said.”


SHARK also videotaped three instances of running calves being roped around their necks and flipping over backward. One injured calf was shown hobbling out of the arena, in view of spectators, but another appeared to suffer a broken neck. The contestant tied the calf’s legs anyway before outriders screened the calf from sight.

Several cowboys then loaded the calf into a pickup truck, not especially gently.

The PRCA has repeatedly made a public point of announcing that “no jerk-down rules” have been introduced and will be enforced. The rodeo rules posted on the PRCA web site define a jerk-down as what happens “if a contestant jerks a calf over backwards in tie-down roping.”

But documented instances of a “no jerk-down rule” being enforced are few.

Both jerk-downs and electroshocking bucking animals have nominally been prohibited since 1959, seventeen years before “professional” was added to the name of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, which was founded in 1936 as the Cowboys’ Turtle Association, and became the RCA in 1945. Recalled today as a reference to rodeo cowboys “sticking their necks out,” the word “turtle” may also refer to a then-common but now seldom-seen riding posture.

Under criticism for frequent injuries to animals, visible to viewers of the first televised rodeos, the RCA asked the American Humane Association to draft a set of humane rules for rodeo, and to enforce them by assigning inspectors to RCA-sanctioned rodeos, of which there were then fewer than two dozen per year. The AHA published the original 16 rules as a two-page spread in the July/August 1959 edition of their then-periodical The National Humane Review. Appended at the end was a qualifier that producing the rules in no way constituted an AHA endorsement of rodeo, and that the AHA could not endorse rodeo because rodeo is animal exploitation.

A 1967 summary of AHA enforcement efforts, by then-Peninsula Humane Society inspector George G. Hutto, asserted that cruelty at rodeos had been greatly reduced, but took note of several ongoing problems, and singled out the Cheyenne Frontier Days and Pendleton Roundup steer-tying and “wild horse races” for particular criticism.

SHARK since 2007 has repeatedly documented similar alleged abuses at the Cheyenne Frontier Days and Pendleton Roundup rodeos.

Hutto died in 1985, at age 56. Several other humane officers inspected rodeos for the AHA before the AHA agreement with the RCA lapsed, apparently in 1971. The AHA in 1972 published a brochure explaining how to inspect rodeos, including the 1959 prefatory statement that the AHA could not approve of rodeo because it is animal exploitation. But the authority to enforce “humane rules” governing rodeo in the ensuing 40 years appears to have resided almost exclusively with the RCA/PRCA.


Most smaller rodeos are not PRCA-affiliated, and follow their own “humane rules,” if they have any.

In May 2012, at the non-PRCA Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo in southeastern Oregon, SHARK videotaped “horses crashing into the dirt, sometimes on their snouts and heads,” recounted Richard Cockle of the Portland Oregonian, after the horses were felled by 100-foot ropes with 20-foot loops. Horse-tripping, also called horse-roping, is not a PRCA event,but is commonly practiced as part of charreada, or “Mexican-style” rodeo. But the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo is not “Mexican-style,” either. It may have begun with Basque immigrants who also built a jai-alai fronton in downtown Jordan Valley in 1915. Recalled Cockle, “A bill to ban horse tripping in Oregon went nowhere last year after rodeo advocates convinced lawmakers that the practice doesn’t happen at the state’s big competitions. Critics also worried that the prohibition might lead people to go after calf and steer roping next.”

Like the Vancouver Humane Society, SHARK has had most success against rodeos with campaigns targeting sponsors. Ten motel chains, for instance, withdrew from sponsoring the National High School Finals Rodeo after SHARK targeted the parent company, Choice Hotels, in 2006-2007.

Most recently, SHARK spokesperson Stu Chaifetz recalled, “When SHARK discovered that GEICO insurance sponsored the PRCA and rodeos, we launched a major campaign against them, including launching a website and illustrations of what the GEICO gecko would look like if he was really at a rodeo. We are pleased to announce that GEICO is no longer listed as a rodeo sponsor on the PRCA website, and it appears that they are not supporting any rodeos this year.”

Animals Australia on June 28, 2012 announced a comparable success. “After receiving evidence from Animals Australia detailing the suffering and cruelty endured by animals at rodeo events, Kmart has announced it will end its sponsorship of the Mount Isa Rodeo, and will look at ensuring that no further activities like these are sponsored by the company,” Animals Australia e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE.

“At the Mount Isa Rodeo,” Animals Australia said, “investigators have seen fireworks let off over the holding yards where horses were penned; calves being jerked backward and dragged by lassos around their necks; and traumatised horses rearing and scrambling in the chutes, desperately trying to escape, with others falling down in the chutes, having given up. 

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