Animals in Rodeo
Animal Welfare – What does it mean?
The Australian Professional Rodeo Association and its members share the philosophy that animals should be treated humanely and with dignity. APRA rodeo livestock are valued by all those associated with the sport. They are the lifeblood of rodeo, safeguarded in rodeo competition by the APRA’s strict animal welfare rules, first introduced in 1951 which was well before there was any legislative need for them, and almost thirty years before Animal Liberation was even founded in Australia.
These rules have been modified and improved over the years, but not as a result of any external pressures but because they evolved with the development of rodeo itself. Now, the APRA’s Voluntary Code of Conduct for the Welfare of Rodeo Livestock is generally recognised as the most comprehensive animal welfare document for any performance animal activity in Australia.
The APRA’s code incorporates not only its own rules but the best features of relevant animal welfare legislation, Commonwealth Model Codes of Practice and similar provisions for rodeo in the USA and Canada. It is essentially a ‘best practice’ document, to be used as a guide by rodeo people to ensure the welfare of rodeo animals. Penalties including possible disqualification from an event, fines and suspension.
In April, 1996 South Australia was the first State to endorse the Code of Conduct, incorporating it as a Code of Practice as part of its animal welfare legislation. The South Australian Minister responsible for Animal Welfare, Hon. David Wotton, MP said about the Code, “Your organisations proactive stance augers well for the improved welfare and protection of rodeo animals and your close cooperation with South Australia’s AWAC and the Office of Animal Welfare has been appreciated.”
Not only does the Code clearly define APRA policy that animals used in rodeo shall be treated humanely and with proper consideration for their health and welfare, it clearly identifies standards and procedures that must be followed for all rodeo events. Duty statements clearly set out the responsibilities of both rodeo livestock contractors and official judges. They are required to understand the Code and to be competent in rodeo animal welfare before they can get APRA accreditation.
Is rodeo cruel to the animals?
Rodeo is a legitimate use of animals in sport, with a long and proud history drawn from the work practices and traditional recreation of Australian Stockmen.
There is no valid support for the argument that rodeo animals are treated cruelly or harmed by rodeo competition. Animal rights propaganda is based on emotionalism, not facts, and these are commonly altered or fabricated to lend credibility to the argument. Most large animal veterinarians, support the view that professional rodeo animals appear to enjoy their work and are not harmed by it.
Studies carried out at American Universities indicate rodeo animals experience little or no stress. This is confirmed by observations of behavior in the yards after an animal has been used at a rodeo, they routinely settle and feed well without signs of stress related behavior.
As with any other activity, human or animal, peak performance is only achieved with proper care and good health. A contestant in a rodeo event needs the animal to perform at its best – fifty percent of his score from bucking stock events comes from the animal drawn – and a win can only result from a high marking ride on an animal in top form. Stock Contractors, who supply proven rodeo livestock to committees, have a vested interest in keeping the animals fit and healthy. Only a fool would mistreat or abuse an animal that must always perform at its best and in which the contractor has a large financial interest. Without the livestock there can be no rodeo and the greatest care is taken to prevent them from being injured.
The facts on the flank strap
The APRA Code stipulates that the flank must be covered with sheep skin or other suitable material and must be fitted with a quick release.
The lined portion of the flank strap must be positioned over the flank and belly of the animal. It is untrue that, “The horse bucks because the flank strap around the genital area is deliberately tightened causing intense pain”, as claimed in a brochure by many Animal Liberationists. Recently, claims have been modified to say the flank “applies pressure…frequently (to) the prepuce of the male animal.” Simply, prepuce is the foreskin of a male bull or horse and the flank is never in contact with it. Dr Ian Gollin, a practising large animal veterinarian from NSW rejects this claim and said, “…it is impossible to position these straps to interfere with the horse’s genitalia.”
In a paper presented to a 1989 Symposium on Recreational Animal Welfare, convened by the Queensland Division of the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr I.R. Gollan further stated that rodeo stock are selected because of their propensity to buck when saddled or mounted by a rider. It is untrue to suggest that they buck only in response to a kick strap around the flank. It is also untrue to suggest that kick straps are pulled so tightly that they cause pain or restrict the free movement of the animal – such a procedure would inhibit the animal’s bucking prowess not enhance it.” Neither contestants or stock contractors would consider doing so.
While a latigo strap is used to take up the slack in a flank fitted loosely on a horse before it leaves the chutes, for bulls the flank is fitted snugly and is not pulled at all. The flank on a horse or bull is seldom pulled tighter than that of a trouser belt, and in about the same position.
How often are rodeo animals injured?
A 1994 survey of APRA rodeos found an overall injury rate of just 0.072 percent, that is less than one injury for every 1405 times used in competition. Based on severity of injury – that is where veterinary attention was needed – the injury frequency is 0.036 percent, or one injury in every 2810 times the animal is used, including transport, yarding and in competition.
This does not include the number of ‘runs’ by other animals used in rodeo, such as the horses for roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing. Injuries to these horses are so rare it would make the overall results statistically meaningless.
The injury rate for rodeo is a mere fraction of ‘on farm’ injuries through routine transport and handling. Conservatively, this is estimated at around one percent.
What is the electric prod?
As for other equipment, it must be of the type and specification generally used for the transport and handling of horses and cattle, as defined in relevant Codes of Practice. There are strict rules governing the use of the prod at APRA rodeos. Under no circumstances can the prod be used on an animal in the arena, or where it is unable to move in response to the prod.
Prods are designed to produce a stored high voltage charge, but virtually no amperage – measured in milliamps. It is amperage, not voltage, that causes serious shock and burns, so the mild shock from a prod cannot possibly cause injury. The prod can only be powered by dry cell batteries, as used in torches, must be used with restraint and restricted to the minimum amount necessary. It can only be applied to those parts of the animal covered by hair.
“Rodeo horses and cattle are not wild or feral, but they’re not tame either. Using flappers or noise to move them around is not best for rodeo animals as it stirs them up. The APRA has this debate in 1985 during the drafting of the first NSW Code for Rodeo, and was supported by Colin McCaskill of the NSW RSPCA. That’s why the restricted use of electric prods on rodeo animals was written into that Code, and the APRA’s own Code.”
The APRA’s strict controls on the use of the prod ensure that it is not an instrument of abuse. It can only be used by the stock contractor or by a person nominated by him under his direct supervision. Experienced stockmen and large animal veterinarians, consider the proper use of the prod an indispensable and humane method for handling livestock.
One of the most closely monitored rules for rodeo are the type of spurs used by contestants in the three bucking stock events. The only acceptable spurs for rodeo must have blunt, free running rowels – the star shaped wheel on a spur. APRA rules specify they must be at least three millimetres thick and two centimetres in diameter, so they will not bruise or cut an animal. It is the riders responsibility before he competes to ensure his spurs comply with the regulations. Non regulation spurs result in disqualification from competition.
The stylised spurring action allows the loose rowel to roll over the horse’s hide rather than dragging, bruising or cutting. Rodeo people believe the spur is the best design for an equestrian sport and superior to other types.
Two standard texts – Sisson’s “Anatomy of the Domestic Animal” and Miximow and Bloom’s “Textbook of Histology” – confirm that the hides of horses and bulls are much thicker than human skin and much more resistant to cutting or bruising. Horse hide is up to five times thicker than human skin and bull hide is about 7mm thick.
The chances that the rolling action – with dulled spur rowels – can injure an animal are very unlikely. “The animals thicker hides offer increased resistance to cutting or bruising”, according to experienced large animal veterinarian Dr D.C. Lund from Alberta, Canada, who competed in Australia during 1967.
In an article in the Australian Equine Veterinarian (1991), titled “Rodeos”, Dr Ian Gollan said, “…having regard to the blunt surfaces of the rowels the thickness of the animals skin, and the absence of any visible damage to the animal, it does not seem likely that significant pain is inflicted.” The spurs used in APRA rodeos usually only ruffle the animal’s hair and most contact with the animals in the bucking horse events is forward of the girth in the shoulder region. Nerve endings are much less dense in the shoulder and it is unlikely spur contact is painful to the horse.
In Bull riding spurring is not usual on these strong and agile animals. The rowels are partly locked – not less than one quarter movement and more often close to half a turn – because more grip is needed on the loose hide of the animal – but the rowels are still dull.