A rodeo is a form of entertainment or sport in which skills such as riding broncos, bull riding, roping calves or wrestling steers are displayed. The RSPCA is opposed to rodeos because of the potential for significant injury, suffering and distress to the animals involved. Rodeos are held in most States in Australia but are prohibited in the Australian Capital Territory.
Roping calves involves releasing the animal ahead of the contestant/roper who is on horseback. The rider will chase and lasso the calf by throwing a rope over the neck. The contestant then dismounts and runs to the animal, relying on his horse to keep the calf from running. After reaching and catching the animal the rider then throws the calf onto the ground on their side and three legs are tied with rope. The contestant must then remount his horse and ride it forward to prove that the tie will hold to the judge's satisfaction.
Clearly, this type of activity can cause serious injuries to the calf as they are suddenly thrown to the ground or suddenly jerked in another direction by the rope around their neck, often with great force. As the horse moves forward this drags the calf along the ground which can also cause serious physical damage. In some cases the animal is pulled backwards off its feet which can cause very severe injuries that may be fatal. Calf roping not only causes physical pain and injury but also subjects the calf to serious mental stress as well. A recent study undertaken by the University of Queensland has demonstrated that calves who had experienced roping previously showed elevated stress hormone levels in the blood after being roped similar to that described above . In terms of behaviour, all calves showed 'white eye', where the eye rolls to reveal about 50% of the white of the eye and they showed increased run speed indicative of an attempt to flee the chasing rider. 'White eye' is believed to be a response to help shut out environmental input which may be overwhelming for the calf to see. For calves who had never been exposed to a holding pen or chute used at rodeos, the same study also showed increased stress hormones after they had been marshalled and simply moved across the arena by a rider and horse. Calf roping is effectively banned in two states, Victoria and South Australia, through a minimum body weight of 200kg being mandated for cattle used in rodeos. In other states, calves can be as little as 100kg body weight for roping, meaning some can be as young as 4 months of age, and there is no requirement for only weaned calves to be used in competition. There are ongoing efforts by the RSPCA and other advocacy groups for all jurisdictions to also mandate a minimum body weight of 200kg for cattle used in rodeos as soon as possible.
In other rodeo activities, devices such as flank straps, spurs and electric prodders are used to encourage the animal to buck and react. These devices can cause significant suffering to the animal.
Where rodeos are permitted to be conducted, the RSPCA advocates the adoption of compulsory registration and licensing. Compliance with national standards for the management, housing and transport of rodeo animals must be made a condition of licensing. Attendance by a veterinary surgeon should also be mandatory at all rodeo events to ensure that only fit animals are used and that any injured animal is treated appropriately or humanely killed.
 Sinclair M, Keeley T, Lefebvre A, and Phillips C (2016) Behavioural and physiological responses of calves to marshalling and roping in a simulated rodeo event. Animals 6(30).
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