Welfare of animals used in rodeos
Ratification Date: 20 Jul 2023
- At least one veterinarian must be engaged and in attendance at all rodeos and rodeo schools.
- The AVA does not support calf rope-and-tie events.
- The AVA does not support steer wrestling events.
- The AVA only supports the use of electric prodders as a last resort where human or animal safety is at risk, and only under the direction of the attending veterinarian. Electric prodders must not be used on calves of any age.
- The AVA supports implementation of nationally-consistent legislation for the regulation of rodeos across Australia; there must be adequate monitoring to ensure compliance with this legislation.
Rodeo events can pose animal welfare risks including pain, injury, fear and distress.
Rodeos are an animal-based sport that provides human social interaction, a sense of community involvement and opportunities for athletic and skilled activities for participants, especially in a number of regional and rural regions. Rodeos inject significant economic stimulus to regional Australia from visitors outside of the immediate community. Despite this, the welfare of the animals involved in the sport must be carefully considered and any negative animal welfare implications must be assessed on a risk-reward basis.
There are several events hosted at rodeos across Australia including roping (calf rope-and-tie; breakaway roping; team roping), bucking (bull and bronco) and steer wrestling. Each event poses different inherent animal welfare risks, including significant evidence that animals experience fear as well as physical injury1-8.
Treating animals in ways which intentionally impose fear, pain or discomfort to bring about behavioural change can contravene the goals as described in the Five Domains Model: to avoid injury or functional impairment (Domain 3) as well as to allow choice and agency to avoid threatening situations (Domain 4)9.
There is a lack of published data on the injury rate of animals used in rodeo events. Industry data from a large survey of rodeos by the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA) indicated an overall injury rate of 0.072% with veterinary attention required in 0.036% of animals10. This data was originally collected for a regulatory purpose required under legislation. The details and scope of data collection are not entirely clear. It is also noted that this data is likely to be only a small indication of the actual harm aside from physical injury (including fear, pain and distress) caused to animals.
The Australian Rodeo Federation has developed a national database for collection of animal industry statistics. However, this information is not publicly available.
Calves display various behaviours indicating they experience fear and distress during this event, including escape attempts, mouth gaping, tongue protrusion, eye white (when the eye rolls to reveal over 50% eye white to pupil ratio – considered an indicator of stress in animals1,11,12) and vocalisation2,13. These behaviours are reported to not be observed after the calf is released3. The calf is at risk of injury including damage to the neck, shoulders, trachea, larynx, thorax and thymus3,4,5. Mis-ropings (when the rope misses the head and neck and catches 1 or more legs or a part of the body) can cause damage to muscles, bones and joints.
The welfare concerns associated with this event are considered to be relatively greater than some other events, due to the fact that very young naïve animals are used, and the greater risk of harm due to the nature of the activity – extreme and abrupt jerking on the neck when lassoed.
Animal welfare regulations in Victoria and South Australia state that cattle used in rodeos must weigh more than 200kg. This ruling effectively bans Calf rope-and-tie as rodeo industry regulations state that calves cannot weigh above 130kg for this event. Rodeos and therefore calf roping are completely prohibited in the ACT. A recent legal paper recommended all Australian jurisdictions should prohibit the practice14.
Steers display various behaviours indicating they experience fear and distress, including escape attempts. The welfare concerns associated with this event are considered to be relatively greater than some other events, due to the extreme twisting of the neck in order to drop the steer to the ground. Consequences of this sudden neck twist may include trauma to the neck, including the vertebrae, and winding due to compression of the trachea.
The 2018 report from the NZ National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee4 found it was likely there was at least moderate pain experienced from the ‘throwing’ action imposed by the contestant when the neck twist was applied using the horns and chin as leverage. The report also commented that some bruising, muscle and ligament sprain, and tendon damage was likely to persist after the event, and that the animals who are pursued exhibit a flight response and there are no opportunities for the animals to engage in positive behaviours.
Modern rodeos under the industry regulatory bodies use especially bred and trained bulls supplied by a stock contractor. The use of young poorly trained bulls without regulation is not recommended by the industry.
Bulls display various behaviours indicating they experience fear and distress. Behaviourally the “fight or flight” response can be seen when the bull charges the rider after they fall/dismount. Injury to bulls may occur including leg fractures, back injuries from exaggerated bucking style, or pressure to the urethra.
A North American study reported abnormal behaviours in a third of bucking bulls before they were released from the chute.6 The high number of people around the chute as well as noise and stimulus prior to the release of the bull should be limited to reduce these behaviours.
Bulls are trained to buck when the flank rope is applied and stop when it is released. More information as to the effect of training and whether alternative techniques that would replace the flank rope are needed.
Horses display various behaviours indicating they experience fear and distress, and these behaviours can also indicate pain.7 Horses buck until the flank strap is released by a pick-up rider. Horses in these events are at risk of injury to the head, neck, shoulders, ribs, legs and back due to escape attempts in the chute, falls or hitting railings. The horses should be managed to reduce stress and negative welfare states. Spurring action may cause soft tissue injuries. The use of spurs should be monitored closely by the regulatory bodies.
It has been reported that flank straps could cause mild discomfort and that there would be negative mental experiences associated with the painful and/or irritable stimuli associated with the event (e.g. spurs and flank straps)4. Investigations to evaluate replacing the use of a flank strap with training using positive reinforcement for bucking on cue are recommended. Overall, the competing horse will experience more negative than positive impacts.4
Goldhawk et al (2021) reported 71.5 % of horses balked during loading into the pen where they are released for their event. Of those animals, 36.8% balked more than once. During loading 83% of balking events had a human located in front of the line of movement and the odds of a horse balking increased with increasing number of handlers. The authors concluded that the decrease in vigour of behaviour with increasing experience and potential for associative learning of performance cues is more likely to represent habituation to the specific rodeo than learned helplessness.6
AVA interaction with the rodeo industry
The Australian Professional Rodeo Association does not recognise the AVA as a provider of animal welfare advice which is in contrast to the situation in New Zealand. Following the New Zealand National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee report on rodeos and its recommendations to improve welfare outcomes in the industry in 20184, the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association constituted an internal Animal Welfare Committee that included membership by the New Zealand Veterinary Association.
Legal reform is needed to prohibit this event in those jurisdictions where it continues.
Legal reform is needed to prohibit this event in those jurisdictions where it continues.
Bull & bronco riding
These events must be performed with veterinary attendance and non-regulated events with poorly trained or immature animals are not condoned. Further investigation is required to understand the training methods involving the use of flank straps for both bulls and horses to determine if the flank strap could be replaced with a non-aversive cue to avoid negative physical and mental impacts. When the animals are in the chute the number of handlers should be limited to reduce stress and their position should be monitored to prevent baulking.
A national approach is recommended to provide consistent high legal standards to safeguard the welfare of all animals used in rodeos in Australia. It is important that regulators monitor and enforce these standards to ensure that legal requirements are being met.
Attendance of veterinarians
It is recommended that all rodeo and rodeo school organisers engage and appropriately remunerate at least one attending veterinarian and a suitably trained and competent animal welfare officer.
Use of electric prodders
Legal reform is needed to ensure that electric prodders are only used as a last resort when human and/or animal safety is at risk. The type of electric prodder that can be used, maximum charge delivered and the area of the animal’s body where it can be applied should be regulated. An electric prodder must only be used under the direct supervision and approval of the attending veterinarian. Electric prodders must not be used on horses or on calves of any age used in rope-and-tie events.
Provision of welfare advice to the rodeo industry
The AVA should proactively engage with the rodeo industry in discussions on animal welfare.
Review of bucking events within 3 years
Due to the concerns relating to the use of spurs and flank straps and an increasing focus on rodeos in the public domain, a review of bucking events within three years of the revised policy being ratified should be undertaken.
- Sinclair M, Keeley T, Lefebvre AC et al. Behavioural and physiological responses of calves to marshalling and roping in a simulated rodeo event. Animals, 2016 6,30.
- Dixon S, Evans D, Vindevoghel T, Ward MP, Quain A (2023) Behaviours Expressed by Rodeo Calves during Different Phases of Roping. Animals 13(3), 343. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13030343
- Rizzuto S, Evans DL, Wilson B et al. Exploring the use of a qualitative behavioural approach to assess emotional state of calves in rodeos. Animals 2020: 10, 113. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010113
- NZ National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. Rodeo events: How do they impact the sentient animal? 2018 https://www.mpi.gov.nz/dmsdocument/46132-NAWAC-RODEO-5-DOMAIN-WORKSHOP-REPORT
- Roy A. Report on the analysis of the data collected during the Montreal and St-Tite rodeos in Quebec. 2018: Rodeo File (umontreal.ca)
- Goldhawk C, Guilherme B, Grandin T et al. Behaviour of bucking bulls prior to rodeo performance and relation to rodeo and human activities. Appl An Behav Sci 2016, 181:63-69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.05.015
- Dyson S, Berger J, Ellis AD et al. Development of an ethogram for a pain scoring system in ridden horses and its application to determine the presence of musculoskeletal pain. Journal of Vet. Behav. 2018, 23:47-57.
- Goldhawk C, Grandin T, Pajor E. Effect of animal’s experience and rodeo procedures on behaviour of bucking horses at a large commercial rodeo in Canada. Appl An Behav Sci 2021, 234, 105199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2020.105199
- Mellor et al (2020) The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including human-animal interactions in assessments of animal welfare. Animals 10, 1870 doi:10.3390/ani10101870
- Welfare of animals integral part of professional rodeos. "Animals in rodeo". Australian Professional Rodeo Association. 2016.
- Sandem AI, Braasted BO, Boe KE. Eye white may indicate emotional state on a frustration-contentedness axis in dairy cows. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2002, 79:1-10.
- Sandem AI, Braasted BO. Effects of cow-calf separation on visible eye white and behavior in dairy cows – A brief report. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2005, 95:233-239.
- Grandin T. The feasibility of using vocalisation scoring as an indicator of poor welfare during cattle slaughter. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1998, 56:121-128. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(97)00102-0
- Stonebridge M. The legality of calf roping in Australia: A Ford vs Wiley proportionality analysis. University of Queensland Law Journal 2020: 41(1):59-88. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.20220519067253
This policy clarifies the AVA’s position on rodeos and some of the unacceptable practices being used in some jurisdictions. It is a platform to advocate for change to improve the protection of animals and the application and enforcement of minimum animal welfare standards to this activity.