Behind the Scenes

This month’s cover story takes a look at the sport of rodeo. Whether you are a fan or not, rodeo is one of the fastest-growing equine sports in the world. It is run by very forward-thinking people in regard to animal welfare. Rodeo is a unique

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This month’s cover story takes a look at the sport of rodeo. Whether you are a fan or not, rodeo is one of the fastest-growing equine sports in the world. It is run by very forward-thinking people in regard to animal welfare. Rodeo is a unique sport in that horses are used as partners–such as for steer wrestling, calf roping, and team roping–and competitors–saddle and bareback broncs. This article is not meant to be an exposé on rodeo, but rather a look at the sport from the eyes of the participants and those responsible for helping improve the welfare of all livestock used in rodeo. I love to watch rodeo, from the run-and-gun of barrel racing to the fast-growing sport of team roping. It’s amazing to watch the big men who slide off galloping horses to wrestle steers who outweigh them sometimes three-fold. It’s fascinating to see agile men and horses team to rope and tie calves or hold a steer between them.


These sports grew from a cowboy’s life on the range. While the steer wrestlers of old probably were more show-offs than cowboys actually working cattle, the roping and holding of stock for medication and branding has been done since this country began settling the West. There always have been men who were known for “sticking” to any horse, no matter its proclivity or ability to buck.


Changes for the benefit of the animals have been numerous under the guidance of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA, online at www. prorodeo.com/Sport/Animals). They include a rule that prevents a calf roper from jerking the calf off of its feet; horn protection for steer roping cattle; having a veterinarian on the grounds (not just on call) for all events, including “slack” (morning events used to weed out competitors); a system whereby anyone on a rodeo grounds can report misuse of any animal; and regulations on equipment–such as spurs and flank straps–to protect the animals.


While many rodeo groups follow rules set forth by the PRCA, there are rodeos that aren’t as strict on welfare issues. This is where you, the audience, can have an effect. You should make sure any rodeo you attend as a fan or competitor follows welfare guidelines. Whether you are a rodeo fan or not, we hope you can appreciate that the many men, women, and horses who partake of this sport are just as serious about their animals’ welfare as are those who ride hunters, eventers, or reining horses

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Written by:

Kimberly S. Brown is the editor of EquiManagement/EquiManagement.com and the group publisher of the Equine Health Network at Equine Network LLC.

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