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February 13, 2008 > Rodeos and charreadas: American tradition or legalized cruelty?

Rodeos and charreadas: American tradition or legalized cruelty?

By Eric Mills, Action for Animals Coordinator and OHS Community Relations Director

Since 2000, California has boasted the most progressive rodeo animal welfare law in the country, Penal Code 596.7. It requires the following:

1. An on-site or on-call veterinarian to treat injured animals
2. Ban on the use of electric prods
3. Presence of a conveyance to remove injured animals humanely
4. Injury reports submitted by attending veterinarian to the State Veterinary Medical Board.

The law has been amended effective as of Jan. 1, 2008 to include "charreadas," the Mexican-style rodeos common throughout California. But problems remain. I just received copies of the 2007 injury reports from the State Veterinary Medical Board. Do you believe in miracles? A grand total of TWO! In the year 2006, ZERO reports were submitted; and in the year 2005 only ONE. Something is obviously amiss. Animal injuries are commonplace on the rodeo circuit, both professional and amateur. With an estimated 250 plus rodeos held annually in California, one could reasonably expect several dozen such reports to be submitted every year. Five animals died at the 1995 California Rodeo in Salinas. Things are even worse on the amateur circuit.

It seems clear that the "on call" veterinarians are not being summoned when needed, and that animals are suffering accordingly. Not acceptable. State law should be amended to drop the "on call" veterinarian option. Every rodeo and charreada should be required to have a veterinarian ON SITE for animal injuries are often emergency situations requiring immediate attention, sometimes euthanasia. Our state legislators need to hear from us.

All rodeos routinely require on-site paramedics and ambulances to care for injured cowboys/girls, and rightly so. But surely the animals deserve equal consideration. There's a good precedent. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) requires on-site veterinarians at all its rodeo events, as do Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, the Hayward Rowell Ranch, the Solano County Fair, the Cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the California State Fair. All horse shows and thoroughbred race tracks also have veterinarians on site. It seems to me that if you can't afford a veterinarian, then you shouldn't be putting on a rodeo. Regrettably, cowboys get injured, too, but at least they're in the arena by choice. Not so the animals.

Most of the rodeo is bogus from the get-go. Real working ranch hands never routinely rode bulls, or rode bareback, or wrestled steers, or put bucking (flank) straps on animals, without which most would not buck. Nor did they try to rope, throw and tie a calf in eight seconds flat. Any cowboy who mistreated the livestock thusly would likely have been fired on the spot. Can you imagine the public outcry if cowboys abused dogs in this manner? What's the difference, pray? Even when the animals are not injured (and they often are), is their pain, stress and fear worth nothing?
In his 2002 best-selling book, "Dominion," Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote, "If ever there were a completely gratuitous abuse of animals, and often baby animals at that, all done for the sheer thrill and bravado of it, it is rodeo." The PRCA is well aware of the problem, recently changing the name of the calf roping event to "tie down roping," in a disingenuous attempt to delude the public. Can you spell "hypocrisy"?

Calf roping should be banned nationwide; thus far, only the State of Rhode Island has done so. But Pittsburgh, PA banned the use of spurs, flank straps and electric prods back in the '80s; in effect, banning rodeo. The most brutal event in all of rodeo, without a doubt, is single steer roping, aka "steer busting." Fortunately, it is not practiced in California, though it is a PRCA-sanctioned event. It, too, should be outlawed. As for the charreadas (Mexican-style rodeos), things may be improving for the animals, now that our state law has been amended to include these events. There are hundreds of them held annually in California, and they mostly go unmonitored.

Charreadas feature nine standard events, only three of which are near-identical to those of American-style rodeo: bull riding, bareback bronc riding, and team roping. In 1994, "horse tripping" or "manganas" was banned in California. Six other states quickly followed suit (TX, OK, NM, FL, ME, IL), and the City of Las Vegas. In 1993, both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties passed ordinances banning horse tripping, steer tailing, and requiring on-site veterinarians at all rodeos and charreadas.

Like most, I'm a big fan of cultural diversity, at least until it crosses the line of animal abuse. Years ago I asked former PRCA steer wrestling champ Jack Roddy what he thought of charreadas. His response: "That's not rodeo! That's cruelty to animals!" The following week I spoke with the late Henry Franco, former Union City Mayor and manager of the Sunol charreada arena, thanking him for not doing the calf roping event. His response was, "Oh, no, we'd never do that! That's cruelty to animals!" They were both right, of course. Cruelty, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

In closing, the words of the late Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers, bear repeating (from a 12/26/90 letter): "Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves." Words to live by.

All legislators may be written c/o the State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814.
ACTION FOR ANIMALS, P.O. Box 20184, Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 652-5603; e-mail -

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