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“RSPCA Australia does not believe that there is any justification for subjecting animals to this level of stress and potential for injury, when the event is carried out only for the purpose of human entertainment or sport.”

Steer roped around the neck and violently jerked back whilst trying to escape his tormentor
Credit: Bear Witness Australia

This statement forms the crux of the policy from Australia’s peak animal welfare body, the go to organisation of governments of all levels when formulating policy, and was written on May 2nd 2016. Throughout this article I will refer to the RSPCA policy on rodeos not because I am a firm believer in their infallibility, but because an in depth examination of their stand on rodeos reveals that in this instance, they got it right. Indeed, they have focused solely on the animals’ perspective, where I will attempt to throw a looking glass over some of the arguments put forward by the “Pro” lobby. Where RSPCA excerpts appear, they will be in inverted commas.

“Arguments put forward in support of the use of horses, bulls, steers and calves in rodeos tends to focus on the fact that these events have been part of country town life for many years, that they are good for the local community and that the animals are well treated and “enjoy” their work.”

Let’s examine the history. “Bushman’s Carnivals” originated in Northern NSW in the late 1920’s, but weren’t popularised in outback communities until the late 1930’s, when Queensland brought the American style of “Rodeo” to Australia. Featuring the bucking horse and bull riding, roping, and barrel events are all now a part of rodeo in Australia. QLD continues to be the state where these events are most popular, with events that other states, calf roping for instance, are still held despite all others banning it based on animal cruelty grounds. Calf roping is the practice of running down and lassoing from horseback a young calf around the neck then drastically halting the horse, usually resulting in the calf being jerked violently off his/her feet by the neck. The competitor then rushes to the downed calf, lifting the highly stressed animal into the air and slamming him/her into the ground and quickly tying the legs together, adding to the terror already being experienced by such a young animal. This is not a situation that a young animal could possibly have experienced in a normal paddock life situation.

Terrified calf roped, thrown to the ground and leg tied
Credit: Animal Liberation Queensland 

If that were not bad enough, young children are encouraged to learn to rope by mimicking the actions of the adult competitors by roping a calf that has been tethered to a stake in the arena, thus perpetuating a new generation of animal abusers. Indeed, it could be argued that teaching them this, or taking children to these events, normalises violent behaviour and stereotypical violence between city and country residents, both in attitude and action.

Rodeo is not a historically significant part of Australia, but a recent import from the US.

To refer to RSPCA again: “Looking at the participation in rodeos from the animals’ perspective, there is little evidence that these animals “enjoy” the experience. Rodeo horses and bulls buck repeatedly as an instinctive reaction to the discomfort of being ridden and to the presence of flank straps which have been tightened around their underbelly. Horses and cattle are prey animals and their reaction to being ridden in this way is the same as being attacked by a predator, a situation where they are subject to increased stress, anxiety and panic. In many rodeos, horses and bulls will hurl themselves at solid objects in order to rid themselves of the rider. Only when the rider has been thrown and the flank straps loosened do they quieten down.”

Bull riding event shows terrified Bull with tight flank straps to intentionally cause discomfort and fear to encourage bucking.
Credit: Bear Witness Australia
Bucking Bronco event shows terrified horse with tight flank straps. Horses who are particularly averse to being ridden are intentionally used and straps fixed to add to their discomfort and fear.
Credit: Bear Witness Australia

If this is not enough to inflict upon them, extensive video evidence exists that shows horses and bulls subjected to electric shock on the testicles and in the anus, as well as tail twisting and slapping, prodding of the eyes and ears to rile them up to increase their fear response to make for a better show for the crowd. There is also video evidence where horses and bulls have straps that attach to the testicles, that tighten more as they buck and become more panicked, increasing their stress levels immensely.

Steer being tormented in the starting box
Credit: Bear Witness Australia

The risk of significant injury to these animals is obviously extremely high, with a large number of broken limbs the most recorded injury by on and off site vets, usually requiring euthanasia. Most recently, at the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) event that toured Australia in December 2017, a bull suffered a horrendous break to a hind leg during the Adelaide show, resulting in his immediately being put down.

The point to this is that human beings have the choice to participate in high risk activities, these animals do not.

Credit : Animal Liberation Queensland

A recent rise in the popularity of “Bush Based Eventing”, such as the Denni Ute Muster, has seen an increase in an entirely Australian flavour of so-called “Redneck Culture”, where if you are a farmer or live in a rural town or affiliate with that lifestyle and dress to code, you are accepted as a “Bushie”, a legend, salt of the earth Aussie.  A true blue worker who keeps the country afloat for the latte sipping hated Greenies. You are someone to be feted and admired, the tough outback Aussie, never to be criticised- because that would be “Un-Australian”.

However, the rise in public awareness of animal cruelty issues has firmly placed the harsh spotlight on rodeos as a cruel and unnecessary form of entertainment, a form of animal abuse and consequently caused a national reflection that has begun to expose those in the bush counter culture who support it as out of touch, uneducated and living in a past that was never a part of Australian culture.

The view widely held by supporters is that that this perspective is solely that of “city folk”, and that they know nothing of animals or animal cruelty, and should, therefore, shut up and go away.

These polar opposite points of view are having a far deeper impact than merely pitting animal rights against rodeo supporters, with the farming/bush/pro community rapidly becoming extremely insular, isolating itself from mainstream society in a “counter culture” style that it ironically accuses the AR community of. This is fostering a siege mentality, with an underlying suspicion and almost a hatred of “outsiders”. This attitude, in and of itself, causes the same reaction from the anti side, leading to a view that the pro’s are unevolved, Neanderthal rednecks, uneducated dangerous thugs.

This “Us versus Them” divide has seen an escalation in violent incidents, with peaceful protestors physically assaulted by rodeo attendees. This gives rise to a question in 3 parts.

How to- a) Stop the assaults b) Repair the social divide c) Affect change

In addressing a) and b), it is my opinion they cannot be achieved without including c), putting forward a suite of holistic changes. First and foremost, the continuation of rodeos must cease, and be outlawed by legislative methods, nationally. There is no evidence to suggest that any perceived financial benefit cannot be achieved by some other non-violent celebration of community.

By an educative process that encourages empathy and compassion towards other animals and opening up a dialogue, (which it is acknowledged will take an extended period of time), it MAY be possible to bridge the perceived gap in culture between city and country, which will by nature lead to less or no assaults, certainly none at rodeos because none will be held.

Steer wrestling requires the human to violently twist the neck of the steer to throw him off his feet and bring him to the ground
Credit: Bear Witness Australia

In closing, Australians, regardless of their place of residence, have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to move forward as a combined society, one that eschews animal exploitation in all its forms. Indeed, I believe it is the only way we can move forward.

Author: Andy Meddick
Animal Justice Party MLC Western Victoria Region

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