While animal rights groups see rodeos as a major source of cruelty to animals, the cowboys who participate in the contests have a much different perspective.
The cowboys see rodeo animals as "pampered" beasts when compared to their ranch counterparts who are kept either for work purposes or for slaughter in meat packing plants.Rodeo livestock supplier Swany Kirby said bucking horses are probably the "aristocrats" of the horse world. He said they are well fed and cared for and work about eight to 16 minutes per week. He said there is no way that rodeo suppliers would allow animals to be abused because of the investment they represent.
"We've paid as much as $4,000 for one horse. There is no way that we are going to let that horse be abused," Kirby said.
That sentiment is echoed by the rodeo riders. Dan Commier, a top steer wrestler from Oakwood, Texas, said he has never intentionally abused an animal and has never witnessed intentional abuse. He said that like any other sport, there are freak accidents. Commier said he has been around animals all his life and has worked the rodeo circuits at the amateur, collegiate and professional levels for the past 10 years.
"I know when an animal is hurting, I've seen a horse in pain," Commier said. "It's a totally different reaction than you see when they come out of the shoots."
Mike Bird, a bareback rider from Salt Lake City, agreed that rodeo horses are much better cared for than common ranch stock. He said he has never witnessed a case of animal abuse in his three-year rodeo career. He said he has been around horses all his life and knows what constitutes abuse.
Bird noted that the various rodeo sanctioning groups have established strict guidelines on the kinds of equipment that can be used. He said this is done to protect the animals and cowboys caught abusing the livestock face fines and suspensions.
Even at the practice arenas, the level of care is maintained, Bird said. He noted that the livestock supplier at an Ogden arena has been known to ban people from using his animals if he suspects there is any kind of abuse. "He's out there checking your equipment and making sure the animals are not abused."
"I can see where they (the animal rights groups) are coming from but I don't agree with them in any way," said Wayne Bushnell, a bareback rider from Fernly, Nev. Like his counterparts, Bushnell said he has never witnessed a case of abuse. He said he has witnessed only one animal death in his 10 years of rodeo experience. He said that involved a horse that ran head down into a fence and broke its neck. He said he has witnessed one or two other instances of animals being injured because they hit a wall, but he said those are unusual happenings and efforts are made to prevent such accidents.
While the animal rights groups see rodeo events as abusive, the cowboys say that isn't true. Commier said the groups tend to look at the animals the same way they look at humans and that is part of the problem.
"They have to realize that animals are made different than humans," Commier said. "They shouldn't make comparisons with humans."
Bird also talked about the difference in bodily construction and noted that most animals have much thicker skin and that most of the events do not cause problems for the animals. He said that while extra points are earned when the animal bucks harder or reacts more violently, he said that results from the nature of the animal and not from abuse.
"Most of these animals were headed for the slaughter house because they would no longer allow people to ride them," said Bushnell. "The contractors (livestock suppliers) give them new life and they are well treated."
Commier summed up the feeling of most cowboys. "The day I feel I have to abuse an animal to get a better score, that's the day I retire."