Disturbing treatment of rodeo animals

Originally published at scoop.co.nz

Recent footage at the mid-Northern rodeo showed animals in distress. Scenes included calves being electrically prodded, a bull crawling out of a chute on his knees and a horse being held down by six men. It’s disturbing.

The scenes aired on Checkpoint on 23 January 2017, and already at least three real estate companies have pulled out of sponsorship. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) have launched an active investigation following release of this footage.

This footage has hit a nerve with people. In general, most decent New Zealanders do not like seeing animals in unnecessary pain. And rodeo places animals at risk of serious pain, injury or death in the name of “sport”. In this sense, it is on par with cockfighting, bullfighting and dogfighting.

Rodeo seems out of place in New Zealand. It is a relic arising out of the working practices of cowboys engaged in cattle herding in Spain and Mexico, and later America and Canada.

Traditional cowboys would display their skills in areas such as calf-roping, which were key to their work on a ranch. Other activities at rodeo such as bull-riding are simply done for the adrenalin and, in my opinion, offer little more than a circus of animal cruelty.

A little-known fact is that many of the bulls that are ridden at rodeos are subjected to this cruelty repeatedly in one season. They are part of the Parklee Bucking Bulls team, which amounts to little more than a travelling circus. The bulls travel widely and are forced to buck in rodeos all over the North Island – sometimes on consecutive days.

Objections to rodeo on the grounds of animal cruelty are well established. These include the use of flank straps to work animals into a demented frenzy reminiscent of the wild west. Steers are thrown to the ground and their necks wrenched 180 degrees. Young frightened calves are roped and yanked off their feet before being trussed up.

In one harrowing scene the footage at mid-Northern rodeo showed a calf being yanked backwards and flipped 360 degrees so his neck bent at an alarming angle. It truly is barbaric and outdated.

Some enlightened places recognize this. Rodeo is prohibited in the UK and some parts of America, Canada, and Australia. New Zealand has yet to catch up and, in fact, formally overturned a petition in November last year by SPCA, SAFE and Farmwatch to ban rodeos.

One of the most unsettling parts of rodeo is that it is considered a family event. New Zealand has a high rate of child abuse and domestic violence, and yet sanctions entertainment based on causing animals distress and fear.

The link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence have been well established. While some may see rodeo as a sport or form of family fun, I see it differently. Rodeo represents the undercurrent of sadism and misogyny in New Zealand that needs to be faced head on.

For example, the Warkworth rodeo hit headlines last year for having a blonde “blow up doll” involved in the children’s lolly scramble. This sex doll is part of a clown’s act. The clown sits in the middle of the arena and pretends she is his girlfriend whom he met on Tinder.

This doll appeared again at a recent bullride event in Paeroa. I was present there and heard commentary about how she would be down at the pub that night with all the single guys. This doll stood in for a ‘blonde bimbo’ and was mocked with suggestive comments and sexual innuendo.

Here’s the extra scary part. There were young children/teenagers present on a day out with their families. They were learning not only animal cruelty but also that the female body is an object of derision and entertainment.

This hyper-masculinity and heteronormativity make the rodeo cringe-worthy and damaging for young children still learning who they are. We don’t want to foster this kind of lecherous attitude toward women in our young. Along with animal cruelty, it’s just plain wrong.

The Wild West has had its day. Let’s not try and revitalise the spirit of long gone cowboys who rode vast plains and herded cattle as part of survival. A tiny little dusty arena, buckles and upturned hats doesn’t a cowboy make.

Boycott rodeo this season and bring New Zealand somewhat closer to making a true stance against violence in all its guises.

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