Turning a blind eye to animal abuse at rodeos

DOMINATION: The nature of rodeos make cruelty to animals a standard practice.
DOMINATION: The nature of rodeos make cruelty to animals a standard practice.

The gratuitous violence meted out to animals at the recent Huntly rodeo was disturbing to witness. Even more disturbing for what it revealed was that much of it occurred in full view of spectators.

Visible to the public that chose to notice, were the slaps and goading calves received while trapped in a narrow chute waiting to be chased. They'd been practised on already so knew what was next. Then there was the chase, someone on horseback racing against them, the rope around the neck, the quick tightening cutting off breath, buckling their spine at 30kmh, forcing vertebrae to slam against each other. Calves have had their oesophagus torn, blood vessels in their eyes burst, and necks broken from such roping.

After his ordeal, the first calf could barely walk. Limping and shocked he made his way to the exit. No-one intervened or went to him, and the next calf took his turn. They would be going to the meat works the next day.

Animal after animal collapsed in terror in the chutes. At one point bulls in chutes 1, 2 and 3 were down, some with riders on their backs. Someone in the arena stomped on the leg of a collapsed bull while the rider took his foot out of the stirrup and gave him a kicking in the neck. The bull got to his feet. Another bull had his face slapped twice while standing waiting his turn.

Bulls circled the arena after being ridden, thick mucus drool splashing their faces and streaming from their mouths. In some, this was mixed with blood. In what could only be called a look of wide-mouthed horror, horses bucked and fled around the arena attempting to escape the rider, the flankstrap and the pick-up men.

A palomino horse went berserk in the chute, rearing and bucking before leaning over the chute rail in a position that caused alarm. Shortly after, he was ridden straight across the arena where, bucking blind, he smashed head-first into the fence.

In another chute a young boy sat on a yearling calf, the boy fearful as he hung on to the adult with him. Incongruent with his clinging, and no doubt trying to be a man and staunch-up, he began punching the back of the calf, feigning anger, while the adult stood by. The announcer congratulated the "tough" men and boys, something that, because it was equated with dominating animals, was sad to hear in this day and age.

Electric prods, seen as necessary to gain compliance from frightened animals, were carried openly. In the calf pens, the electric prod was used on the faces of calves. The handler pulled and twisted tails, singling out individuals and hauling them to a gate. Tails are part of the spine and can be broken, as recent prosecutions show.

If circus animals were punched, shocked, spurred, stomped on, kicked or slapped in view of an audience, or during a role in a film, the public would be outraged. Prosecutions would follow.

Rodeo is no more a tradition in New Zealand than is the LA "gangster" culture imported from the US in the last decade or two. Nor is it good stockmanship or typical farming practice. It is about dominating and subduing animals by force, and being able to stay on their backs for a brief eight seconds while they go berserk.

Most of us intrinsically know this is wrong. A complaint has been made to the Ministry of Primary Industries and an investigation is under way. Sadly, the Huntly rodeo was not unusual, as the abuse of animals is standard practice due to the nature of rodeo itself. Media - both television and print - have insisted on clichéd "ride ‘em cowboy" images each year, turning a blind eye to the abuse that has been going on for decades. It is time this changed.

In US cities where flankstraps, spurs and electric prods are banned, rodeo has died out. Perhaps it is time we looked at doing this in New Zealand.

Lynn Charlton is a psychotherapist and writer.