In January of 2023, we joined a group of organizations to help rescue 21 former rodeo bucking horses who had been sold and shipped from a Las Vegas rodeo outfit to a Pennsylvania killer buyer. Pictured above is Gerda, a Quarter Horse, who was one of those rescued horses.
Rodeo is an industry we believe seeks to make money off the exploitation of horses and other animals. It is sanctioned in the U.S. by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PCRA), an organization that openly supports horse slaughter. In our opinion, rodeos are nothing more than organized animal abuse. However, going to the rodeo is often seen as an American pastime and thought of as a kind of “competitive sport.” Cultivated in Spain and Mexico, rodeo swept through Central America, South America, and the U.S. using horses, cows, bulls, and other animals to test the skills and speed of the riders while also incorporating what we and many other organizations feel are cruel events such as steer wrestling, bucking bronco riding, calf roping, team roping, bull riding, and other abusive uses of animals.
Rodeo organizers and profiteers claim that their bucking horses are “born to buck” which couldn’t be further from the truth. The basis of the bucking events centers on a bucking strap, which is fitted around the waist and groin like a belt while the animal is further poked, smacked, prodded, shocked (with electric devices which are illegal), and irritated just before the rider hops on, agitating and provoking an already angry and frightened animal. Horses and bulls in this situation are often abused, injured, and even killed. Their sole value to the industry is strictly based on their ability to buck – so they are forced to buck at any cost. The bucking horses we see today are tame, domesticated animals who are mistreated and provoked to the point to give rodeo-goers the impression that they are wild and uncontrollable beasts. They need to be tame enough to travel to events in trailers for long periods of time. The uncomfortable strap is deliberately tied around their flank area, causing them to buck in a desperate attempt to rid themselves of the painful strap. When the rodeo is over, these animals can generally be seen as gentle and non-aggressive. When they stop bucking and performing their coveted function and/or become injured, these horses are often sold for slaughter.
Another example of the cruel use of horses in sport is Tennessee Walking Horse show competitions which are based on exaggerated leg actions of the horses, otherwise known as “The Big Lick.” Inhumane devices and caustic, burning chemicals are purposely applied to the horse’s feet and legs inflicting pain that causes them to lift their legs inordinately high and fast every time they take a step. The two common categories of the competition are called “flat-shod” and “performance,” distinguished by the unnatural leg movements. Flat-shod horses, wearing regular horseshoes, exhibit less exaggerated movements. Performance horses are shod with built-up pads or “stacks,” paired with other weighted action devices, creating the “Big Lick” style. The United States Equestrian Federation and other organizations prohibit the use of stacks and action devices at shows they sanction.
The Tennessee Walking Horse is the most affected breed when it comes to the Horse Protection Act of 1970. It outlaws the practice of Horse Soring which includes abusive methods used to enhance the Big Lick movement as it became increasingly prized in the show ring. Despite the law, horses are still being abused and maimed. This is because of a loophole in the law that has allowed the industry to self-police itself, rather than having government inspectors from the USDA attend the competitions and arrest the perpetrators. New legislation (The PAST ACT), which would have appropriated funds specifically to fund USDA inspectors at these competitions, had been introduced but did not pass the first time. It was reintroduced in 2017 but did not move further than that. It was again reintroduced in 2021 and hopefully it passes this time. It is time to stop the horrific and sadistic practice of horse soring which is unadulterated animal torture.
Both rodeo and the barbaric soring of Tennessee Walking Horses have sparked the anger of animal rights and welfare organizations, as well as members of the general public who have become outraged by the unnecessary abuses suffered by horses and other animals in the name of entertainment.
Pittsburgh, PA; Leesburg, VA; St. Petersburg, FL; Fort Wayne, IN; and San Francisco, Pasadena, and all of Napa County in California have banned rodeos entirely while many other cities around the country have acted to ban certain practices used on animals in rodeos, such as the use of spurs, electronic shocking devices, and bucking straps. Calf roping has also been banned in some cities.
Rodeo is officially banned in the UK and the Netherlands while other European countries have plans of restricting certain practices.