End Cowboy Cruelty

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Rodeo: The Cruelest Show on Dirt

The majority of animals used in rodeos - horses, bulls, steers, and calves - are completely domesticated and are forced to appear aggressive. Their wild behavior is artificially induced by torture.



In the notorious calf-roping event, cowboys demonstrate their “skill” by abusing four to five-month-old baby calves, cruelly torn away from their mothers. The terrified calves burst out of the gate at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour to escape electric shocks and handlers who twist and yank their tails. Cowboys then lasso the calves around the neck, snapping their heads back as they come to an abrupt halt. The calves’ bodies are slammed to the ground, the wind knocked out of them, and their legs tied together. Calves may scream (if they can breathe), and defecate from the terror. Many suffer serious neck and back injuries, such as torn ligaments, broken bones, and even severed spinal cords and tracheas, while others die from internal hemorrhaging.

As cruel as calf-roping events are, calf-roping “practice” is even worse. T.K. Hardy, a calf roper and veterinarian, has lamented the hit to his pocketbook, telling Newsweek, “I keep 30 head of cattle around for practice, at $200 a head. You can cripple three or four in an afternoon. So it gets to be a pretty expensive hobby.”

And while rodeos have ambulances and paramedics on-site to care for injured cowboys, the vast majority of baby calves either die from their injuries or are killed for human consumption, shipped directly to slaughterhouses.

As prey animals, calves try not to let on when they are hurt. According to veterinary experts, calves frequently suffer hidden injuries. Per Dr. Peggy Larson, a former bareback bronco rider and large animal veterinarian, who also has an MS in pathology:

“Calves whose necks are twisted and jerked in the calf roping event would invariably sustain injuries to the underlying tissue. If the calf didn't have hair covering the neck, we would likely see bruising of the skin also. The calf weighs 220 to 280 pounds. The rope around the neck stops the head, but the weight of the calf's body keeps moving, stretching the muscles and tissues in the neck. It would be like a 220 to 280 pound man hanging himself.”

Veterinarian and USDA meat inspector C.G. Haber, too, has witnessed the devastating impact of rodeos on animals firsthand:

“The Rodeo folks send their animals to the packing houses where I have seen cattle so extensively bruised that the only areas in which skin is attached [to the body] was the head, neck, legs and belly. I have seen animals with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times puncturing the lungs.”

Wild Cow Milking

While the specific rules vary by rodeo, during this timed team event, a mother cow (usually a breed raised and killed for meat who is unaccustomed to being handled and milked) is separated from her calf, put in an arena, and typically chased by two or more men; one on a horse who lassos her, and others on the ground who try to wrestle her into submission so someone can milk her — all while she runs in terror trying to escape. This event is extremely traumatizing, and puts cows in danger of being seriously and fatally injured for nothing more than “entertainment.”

Read our victory blog here.

What you can do:

1. Educate others about the cruelty of the rodeo by writing a letter to the editor whenever a rodeo comes to town. 

2. Boycott rodeo sponsors like Holiday Inn, Coors, Jack-in-the-Box, and Wrangler.

3. Organize a protest at a rodeo near you — they're probably closer than you may realize, occurring in venues all over the country.

4. Lobby your local and state government officials to outlaw particularly cruel events like calf-roping. Eliminating this single event can result in the elimination of all rodeo shows. Or you can ask that they ban the use of cruel rodeo gear, such as spurs, bucking straps, and electric prods, which often leads to the end of rodeo, much as the bullhook bans have prevented elephant circuses from coming to town.

5. Sign our alerts to end the cruelest rodeo events.