Rodeos are against the law in New Zealand.
Yet, each year, more than 30 rodeos take place.
How can this be ?
I’ve written a report, The Legal Status of Rodeo in New Zealand, which is published by the New Zealand Animal Law Association and was launched at Parliament in March.
It explains for the first time how codes of welfare are being used as a cloak to permit unlawful conduct in rodeos.
The Animal Welfare Act aims to ensure that owners of animals and persons in charge of animals attend properly to their welfare.
Under section 10, people are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure the physical, health and behavioural needs of animals are met, in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge.
“Physical, health and behavioural needs” comprise proper food, water and shelter; the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour; physical handling to reduce unreasonable pain or distress; and protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, significant injury or disease.
Section 11 requires people to ensure that ill or injured animals receive treatment to alleviate any unreasonable pain or distress.
Rodeos involve events including calf roping, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping and bareback riding. Devices used in rodeo to force animals to participate include electric prods, flank straps, ropes and spurs.
Animals’ tails are sometimes twisted, and animals may be repeatedly kicked and hit. To make rodeo a good spectator sport, organisers want animals to “explode” into the arena, bucking and running as fast as possible.
This is not normal behaviour, so electric prods, sticks and kicks are used to hurt the animals, causing them to rear up and run to escape from the pain.
Flank straps are tied around the horse’s flank to confine the genitals, causing severe pain and provoking the animals to buck and run away at high speed.
Ropes can be jerked extremely forcefully, resulting in the animals slamming into the ground at high speed and injuring their necks and other body parts. This is what is done to young calves in calf roping events.
Spurs use may leave bruises or open, bleeding wounds where the devices have torn skin. Horses’ skin is much thinner than human skin, so it tears more easily and the horse also feels greater pain.
It is difficult to know how many animals are injured or killed in New Zealand rodeos, as there is no obligation to report deaths and injuries to the Ministry for Primary Industries. MPI and the SPCA attend only some rodeos.
Animals used in rodeos are deprived of the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour. They are sometimes left for extended periods without food or water.
Animals do not want to enter the arena and are made to do so by the use of electric shocks, kicks and beatings. When calves try to run aware to escape from the pain and fear, they are jerked back and slammed onto the ground. This is called “clotheslining.”
Injured animals do not always receive veterinary treatment, as was outlined to me in documents received under the Official Information Act. They detailed a vet’s concerns about rodeos held on consecutive days at which horses were injured and no veterinary treatment was provided and the injuries were not reported.
Instead of protecting animals, rodeo by its inherent nature causes injury – and sometimes death.
Rodeo is purely for entertainment and there can accordingly be no argument that the pain or distress which animals suffer is either reasonable or necessary.
The Animal Welfare (Rodeos) Code of Welfare is drawn up by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to establish minimum standards for the care of animals and best-practice recommendations for people dealing with animals.
NAWAC’s statutory report accompanying the current, 2014 code was 11 pages long and listed nine references.
Nine references are incredibly flimsy for any research and completely inadequate to fulfil NAWAC’s obligation to prepare codes based on good practice, scientific knowledge and available technology.
One of the references cited was a Letter to the Editor. The others were between four and 13 pages long.
The dates of the articles were : 1987; 2000; 2001; 2003 (two articles); 2005; 2010; 2012 (two articles). Only three of the articles were published in the same decade the report was written.
In relation to the incidence of animal injuries in rodeos, the report referred to United States’ figures dating from 1994 and 1998/1999.
NAWAC was divided on calf roping, but a majority agreed it should continue in the absence of evidence that the event caused calves significant pain and distress.
Since then, a 2016 University of Queensland study has found that calf roping is stressful for both experienced and naïve calves.
My opinion is that, if this research had been available at the time NAWAC was preparing the 2014 code, the committee would have banned calf roping.
NAWAC has also not read a German study titled that analysed 14 German rodeos and evaluated the behavioural expressions of horses involved in bare back riding and saddle bronc riding.
The paper found that, in all 137 starts analysed, the horses displayed abnormal behaviour. In the “Rider Down” sequences, 94 per cent of the animals displayed harm-avoiding behaviours including bucking, kicking or vertical tail-whipping.
What is needed now is immediate action to ensure the Animal Welfare Act is properly applied.
Calf roping, steer wrestling and bull riding are in breach of the act’s criminal prohibition against ill-treatment. The holding of rodeos normalises and perpetuates mistreatment of animals in a way which would be unacceptable for companion or farmed animals.
The rodeo code assists in these breaches by cloaking unlawful behaviour with a patina of legality. However, codes are subordinate to the act and therefore cannot actually legalise actions which breach the act’s fundamental provisions.
It is time to repeal the rodeo code and explicitly prohibit rodeos in New Zealand.