A rodeo is a form of entertainment or sport where horses and cattle are used to demonstrate riding and handling skills. Events include bronco riding, bull riding, calf roping, team roping and steer wrestling. The RSPCA is opposed to rodeos and rodeo schools because of the potential for significant injury, suffering or distress to the animals involved. Based on observed behaviour, there is very little evidence that the animals ‘enjoy’ the rodeo experience. Rodeos are held in all states and territories in Australia except for the Australian Capital Territory where they are prohibited.
Bronco and bull riding
Rodeo horses and bulls buck repeatedly as an instinctive reaction to being repeatedly kicked with metal spurs and to the tightened flank strap around their sensitive underbelly. Horses and cattle are prey animals and their reaction to being ridden in this way is the same as their reaction to being attacked by a predator, a situation where they experience increased fear, stress and panic. It is not uncommon to see horses and bulls hurl themselves at solid objects in order to rid themselves of the rider. Only when the rider has been thrown or dismounts and the flank straps loosened do they quieten down. Also, some ridden animals are so distressed that they then charge the rider on the ground, further demonstrating this very strong fear response. A study of bull behaviour at rodeos determined that nearly one third of animals assessed showed signs of distress leading up to the start of bull-riding events and that those who did not react may have either become habituated to the aversive situation or have given up and endure the negative experience .
A relatively new form of rodeo being promoted in Australia is professional bull riding where bulls are ridden while subjected to loud noises and pyrotechnics amid clapping and cheering. In December 2017, a bull suffered a broken leg and had to be euthanased during one of these events in Adelaide. Forcing animals to endure this suffering for sport and entertainment is unnecessary and inhumane.
Although all rodeo events pose significant animal welfare risks, calf roping (also known as rope-and-tie) raises serious concerns, as it subjects young vulnerable animals to unnecessary harm and distress. Calf roping 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 by maintaining tension on the rope. After catching the animal, the rider forces the calf to the ground to then tie three of the calf’s legs with rope. Injury risks include damage to the calf’s neck (soft tissue, windpipe and spine), bruising, broken ribs and choking. A Queensland study has shown that rodeo calves experience stress . A further study by the University of Sydney has also revealed that observers who assessed still images of calves being chased could recognise that they were frightened, stressed and anxious .
Calf roping is effectively banned in two states, Victoria and South Australia, through a mandated minimum body weight of 200 kg for cattle used in rodeos. In other states, calves as light as 100 kg can be used for roping and there are no laws prohibiting the use of unweaned or recently weaned calves.
Steer wrestling and team roping
Steers between 180kg and 300kg are used for both wrestling and team roping events. Steer wrestling involves a competitor on horseback chasing the steer released from the chute, to then jump off the horse to grab the steer by the horns and twist the neck 1800 to force the steer to the ground. In addition to the fear of being chased and handled in such a rough manner, during this event some steers have had their horns damaged with deaths occurring due to their neck being broken. Other injury risks in steer wrestling include damage to the animal’s windpipe and muscle and tissue bruising. With team roping, two riders chase the steer who has been released from the chute with one rider roping both of the steer’s hind legs and the other roping the steer around the head, neck or horns to force the steer to stop. The steer in many cases is fully stretched out by the ropes holding their hind legs and head and will be forced to the ground as they are unable to use their hind legs to stand. Due to the chasing and roping, many steers appear to be confused and distressed; in addition, the animal has no control over their situation which can cause fear, stress and anxiety.
The RSPCA is opposed to rodeo and rodeo schools. However, where rodeos are permitted, the RSPCA advocates the adoption of compulsory and enforced animal welfare standards through a registration and licensing system which includes management, handling, housing and transport of rodeo animals. Attendance by a suitably qualified veterinarian should also be mandatory at all rodeo events to ensure prompt and appropriate veterinary care is provided to animals as required.
What you can do
All rodeo events will cause stress, fear and pain as well as injure animals for the sake of sport and entertainment. Subjecting cattle and horses to these experiences is not justified. You can help stop rodeos by raising awareness of the risks to animals inherent in rodeos, especially if a rodeo is held in your local community. You can also meet with your local member of parliament and write to the Minister responsible for animal welfare in your state/territory to urge rodeos to cease.
 Goldhawk C, Bond G, Grandin T, Pajor E (2016) Behaviour of bucking bulls prior to rodeo performances and relation to rodeo and human activities. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 181:63–69.
 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).
 Rizzuto S, Evans D, Wilson B, McGreevy P (2020) Exploring the use of a Qualitative Behavioural Assessment approach to assess emotional state of calves in rodeos. Animals 10(1) 113 doi.org/10.3390/ani10010113.