Animal cruelty reported at rodeo

Monday, February 15, 1999

The Rockford Register (Rockford, Illinois)

By Chris Green

ROCKFORD – A calf scrambled out of a chute Sunday as fast as it could. A cowboy sitting tall atop a horse spun a lasso over his head and raced after the calf.

The cowboy flung the rope around the calf's neck and with one strong pull jerked the animal off its feet, spinning it around 180 degrees.

The cowboy jumped off his horse, picked up the calf, dropped it on its side and tied the legs together in 9.8 seconds – all to rousing applause.

The final day of the World's Toughest Rodeo at the MetroCentre was billed as Kids Day.

"We come every year," said Tracy Orsburn, who treated her 3-year-old daughter Jasmine, to the show as a birthday present. "The bulls – they're so crazy. There's a lot of danger involved."

Animal rights activist Jim Beam said the rodeo is anything but family entertainment. Beam, who was in the audience, said the public is not aware how animals are prompted into performing on cue.

Armed with binoculars, beam a member of Animal Watch Illinois, attended the three weekend rodeo demonstrations at the MetroCentre, which drew more than 10,000 people.

Taking great interest in the bull and horse-riding events, Beam and Barbara Davis, another Animal Watch member, counted how many times an animal handler shocked bulls or horses with a hand-held prod.

The Rockford Register Start accompanied the Animal Watch representatives Sunday to see and hear the group's concerns.

A reporter witnessed an animal handler, or "stock contractor," discreetly remove a cattle prod from his rear pocket and shock one horse and two bulls.

Beam said bulls were shocked Friday and Saturday, too, each time prompting the animal to buck wildly out of the chute as the cowboy tried in vain to ride along.

"They play to the crowd," he said. "They can tone it down or rough it up, depending on the crowd."

Rodeo-operations Director John Gwatney said the shock prodders are used to move animals along.

He compared animal-rights activists to religious fanatics.

"I don't debate them," he said. "No one is going to win."

The World's Toughest Rodeo played eight cities this year before coming to Rockford.

Debra Weaver, spokesman for the rodeo promoters, said shock-prodding carries a $250 fine, under the rules of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Weaver said the Register Star eyewitness account was the first report of shock-prodding brought to her attention.

"There are over 60 rules in our PRCA book that govern how we treat our animals," she said.

"Our stock contractors take better care of our animals than they do themselves."

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