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There is increasing public concern regarding the welfare of horses and cattle used in rodeos due to the potential risks of injury and distress. The laws relating to rodeos vary widely between states and only provide minimal requirements for the protection of animals. Rodeos involve several different events including calf rope and tie (also known as calf roping), steer wrestling, bull riding and bronco riding. There are many stresses placed on animals including fear and anxiety as well as risk of injury and death.
The Australian Capital Territory prohibits rodeo events under the ACT Animal Welfare Act 1992. Victoria, and to a lesser extent South Australia, have minimum enforceable standards with a whole section on rodeos contained within the animal welfare regulations. Key requirements include the need to obtain a permit to conduct a rodeo, a veterinarian to be onsite during the event and a minimum body weight of 200 kg for rope and tie events. This effectively disallows young calves from being roped, which is a high risk event in terms of injury and stress.
Victoria also does not permit excessive use of electric prodders on cattle and prohibits their use on horses, whereas in all other states and the Northern Territory rodeo electric prodders can be used on both cattle and horses.
In those states where rodeos are regulated, legal requirements are primarily incorporated under animal welfare regulations. Queensland is the only state that does not have specific regulations relating to rodeos, however, the treatment of animals used in rodeos must comply with the Queensland Animal Care and Protection Act 2001. In New South Wales and Tasmania, it is mandatory to comply with a specified rodeo welfare code of practice. New South Wales has developed its own code whilst Tasmania requires compliance with standards developed by the now defunct National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare (NCCAW). Western Australia has also developed a rodeo welfare code but although this is proclaimed under animal welfare regulations, it is not mandatory.
Summary of legal requirements for rodeos in each State/Territory
The following table highlights the inconsistencies in legal requirements in each state/territory for key aspects including electric prodder use, requirement to obtain a rodeo permit and attendance by a veterinarian. Electric prodders are aversive to animals and should only be used when human or animal safety is jeopardised. It is generally accepted that electric prodders should never be used on horses due to their flighty nature and risk of injury. Prodders are not permitted in other circumstances including transporting horses. There is no justification for prodders to be applied to animals used for the purpose of sport and entertainment. It should be noted that flank straps and spurs (both standard equipment used in bucking bull and horse events) are also aversive to animals but there are no legal requirements in any jurisdiction restricting their use.
Key differences in legal requirements for rodeos in each state/territory
* This minimum weight means that calf rope and tie events are prohibited
NB Shading depicts varying levels of protection from strongest (darkest) to weakest (no shading)
Calf rope and tie events are considered to pose the highest risk of injury and distress with ongoing efforts by advocacy groups calling for calf roping to cease. Other countries have prohibited calf roping including Germany, UK and the Netherlands, and some parts of the US, Canada and Brazil.
Some effort has been made to develop national welfare standards and guidelines by the rodeo industry. To be effective, wherever rodeos occur, these standards will need to be mandatory, contain appropriate provisions and should be underpinned by strict regulations in all states/territories to safeguard against serious welfare risks.
However, irrespective of any tightening of legislation or implementation of mandatory standards, the RSPCA opposes rodeos due to the potential for significant injury, suffering or distress of animals who are used purely for sport and entertainment.
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).