Utah has a long and authentic history of pioneers, traders, and cattlemen who “tamed” the wild west. These people lived on the range, grazed their animals, and made their living in a rugged, hostile environment. We called them “cowboys” or “wranglers.” Even today, they exist here in Utah – they are rare, but they are true cowboys who raise cattle on the open range, roping and riding for a living. They care about their animals, because it is their life’s work, and in this modern age of factory farming, truly a labor of love, and better for all involved.
And it is fitting to honor their way of life with a celebration that is also authentic and captures their spirit and determination. People here are proud of their heritage, and rightfully so.
Unfortunately, the rodeo as we know it today, does not accomplish that, because it is a sham.
Rodeo was born from Hollywood Westerns, not reality. The 1930s was truly a decade of Silver Screen cowboys, with such legends as John Wayne and Gene Autry. Scores of “old west” movies were released during the 30s, no less than 45 of them in 1936 alone, when Ogden Pioneer Days was established.
The rodeo “cowboy” image feeds from a stereotype that never really existed – and is now a commercial enterprise which pointlessly harms domesticated, tame animals — apparently to prove that we humans are “superior” to livestock. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m pretty secure about that myself, being one who has opposable thumbs, linguistic skills, and walks upright. Why do animal advocates protest the rodeo? This clip sums it up pretty well.
What can we say about a “sport” in which a tame, domesticated animal is tormented into bucking a rider off its back? They buck because they have tight strap cinched around their flanks and genitals – if that isn’t enough, they are shocked, and the “cowboys” twist their tails until they are sufficiently enraged and in enough pain to bolt from the chute. Want to know how fierce rodeo bulls really are? This clip should enlighten you.
As far as authentic skills, real cowboys have never ridden bulls (unless as a drunken dare – but it would be news to me if Utah began formally celebrating drunken dares)… and the goal is not to teach the bull to allow a rider on its back, but to make the bull throw the rider. Even 12 year old boys are allowed to participate in this event, sometimes with tragic endings.
What else can we say about a “sport” in which adults put 4 to 6 year old children on the backs of animals so they can be thrown to the ground (“mutton busting”)? Sheep were never a transportation animal, so this is hardly an authentic cowboy skill either… moreover, I know I’m not alone in thinking this is a form of reckless endangerment to children. I don’t understand how this could possibly constitute “entertainment” for parents to watch.
And so on it goes… steer wrestling… timed calf roping… real cowboys don’t wrestle steer to the ground, and they would not risk injuring a young calf with the rough jerking and dragging by the neck that we see in rodeo events. Compare these two clips for yourself -
Rodeo Calf Roping:
Real Cowboys Roping Calves. Can you imagine the stampede you’d see if the cowboys roped animals like rodeo performers do?
As a vegan, I’m not keen on branding animals with hot irons or other facets of raising animals as food – my personal choice is to not support these practices by not buying meat, dairy, or leather – but clearly, the authentic cowboy lifestyle bears little resemblance to what performers do in the rodeo as a “sport.” Real cowboys do what is necessary to raise the animals… there is an enormous difference.
And so our tribute to the real cowboys should be something more honorable and more honest than mindless, pointless cruelty to the very animals that provide a living for them, including horses, which have served them so faithfully in the west.