Santa Fe New Mexican Opinion Piece
June 6, 2009
Dr. Eugene Aversa

This June marks the 60th year of Rodeo! de Santa Fe. So I, a New Mexico veterinarian, decided to have a closer look at this all-American pastime. But I decided to consider it from the point of view of the animals involved.

I am aware of many forms of animal abuse, institutional and otherwise. However, the rodeo was something about which I was largely ignorant. So I have spent the last weeks watching actual rodeo footage, and what I found seriously calls into question this, "fun-packed entertainment and excitement."

Let's first consider calf roping. A terrified baby bovine is chased on horseback at full speed. The rider then throws a rope around the calf's neck to "lasso" her/him. Now imagine running as fast as one could and having a rope thrown around one's neck and pulled from the opposite direction. The tragic results were seen over and over in the videos I watched.

As you might imagine, the calves are thrown violently backward and suffer from a wide range of serious injuries, including broken necks, broken limbs, crushed windpipes, and are often knocked unconscious by lack of oxygen and blood supply to the brain. They then have their legs tied together and are dragged from the arena by the rope around their necks.

In fact, one calf roper was quoted as saying, "I keep 30 head of cattle around for practice at $200 a head. You can cripple three or four in an afternoon. So it gets to be a pretty expensive hobby."

Steer-roping is similar in nature, however this time the rope is thrown around the neck of a full-grown bovine running at full speed, and the injuries on the video appeared to be even more catastrophic. No doubt this is due to the immense weight of the animal coming to a sudden and violent halt. Broken backs and necks resulting in paralysis and death seemed most prevalent.

The footage of bronco and bull riding was also not without tragedy. Animals crashed into walls, fell backward, and flipped completely over, landing directly on the back and neck, again causing devastating injury. Remember, those animals are not "bucking" for anyone's enjoyment. They're frantically trying to rid themselves of the riders on their backs. Consequently, the injuries seemed caused more by this desperation than anything else.

Rodeo proponents claim that they are not there to hurt the animals. This may be true in certain instances. However, in watching rodeo footage, abuse and lack of respect and compassion seems pervasive. I saw gangs of men wrestling terrified and outnumbered animals to the ground. I saw men literally throw calves to the ground on their backs. I saw obviously paralyzed animals jumped on and sat on. And I saw beautiful, otherwise peaceful beings give up in a pathetic display of submission.

Kerry Levin, DVM, former barrel racer and rodeo veterinarian agrees, saying, "In addition to mistreatment and neglect, animals are often injured during rodeo competition."

Furthermore, I can say, as a veterinarian, that even if no intentional abuse occurred, it is simply not possible to engage in the above-described activities without causing injury and death to the animals. Another veterinarian and former rodeo rider, Peggy W. Larson, concurs in saying, "Based on my extensive training and experience, it is impossible to create a humane rodeo."

I would like to close by quoting the late and very great César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers, who said, "Kindness and compassion toward all living beings is a mark of a civilized society. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting, and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric — violence." Please go to YouTube, type "Graphic Rodeo Abuse" and see for yourself.

Eugene Aversa, DVM, retired from full-time veterinary practice recently. He lives in Santa Fe.

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