For generations we've thrown on boots, denim, and large-brim hats and flocked into crowded arenas to catch a glimpse of one of the most classic, all-American past-times: the rodeo. One of the featured events at many rodeos is calf-roping – a cruel practice where mounted cowboys race at break-neck speeds to rope baby calves. The animals receive a severe tail twisting before they enter the arena, spurring them to bolt as quickly as possible until, ensnared by a rider's lasso, they are launched several feet into the air. After crashing to the ground the calves often sustain injuries like broken and fractured bones, throat, neck, and spinal cord injuries, paralysis, and even death as unaffected riders rush to bind their legs together.
Watch a video of the brutal event from the 2001 National High School Rodeo Association finals (the footage is disturbing) here.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) – the world's largest rodeo association - claims that animal welfare is a major initiative of the association. However, among PRCA's more than 60 rules dealing with the care and treatment of rodeo animals, there is not a single mention of calf roping. However, several legislative bodies – including lawmakers in Rhode Island and Baltimore County, Maryland – have taken the reins on this important animal rights issue and banned calf roping in all rodeos within their jurisdictions.
Some rodeo aficionados balk that the removal of a traditional part of the uniquely American sport would detract from rodeo crowd attendance. However, animal welfare organizations counter that the second largest rodeo in Canada, the Cloverdale Rodeo, banned calf-roping in 2007 and is still drawing large crowds and performing successfully. Cloverdale serves as further validation that eliminating inhumane events at rodeos will not alter the overall entertainment level of the sport or detract spectators.
The PRCA can officially amend their rules to ban calf roping in all the rodeos it supports nationwide. Levying severe fines and pulling sponsorship from offenders would go a long way to protect baby calves from harm. We go to rodeos to have an enjoyable time – let's just ensure it's not at the expense of the animals that participate.