Saddle bronc and bareback riding
Bronc riding, either saddle bronc or bareback bronc competition, is a rodeo event that involves a rodeo participant riding on a horse (sometimes called a bronc or bronco), that attempts to throw or buck off the rider. Originally based on the necessary horse breaking skills of a working cowboy, the event is now a highly stylized competition that utilizes horses that often are specially bred for strength, agility, and bucking ability. The event has provoked concerns among some animal welfare advocates that some of the practices used in the event may constitute animal cruelty.
Each competitor climbs onto a horse, which is held in a small pipe enclosure called a bucking chute. When the rider is ready, the gate of the bucking chute is opened and the horse bursts out and begins to buck. The rider attempts to stay on the horse for eight seconds without touching the horse with his free hand. On the first jump out of the chute, the rider must "mark the horse out." This means he must have the heels of his boots in contact with the horse above the point of the shoulders before the horse's front legs hit the ground. The rider that manages to complete a ride is scored on a scale of 0-50 and the horse is also scored on a scale of 0-50. Scores in the 80s are very good, and in the 90s, are exceptional. A horse who bucks in a spectacular and effective manner will score more points than a horse who bucks in a straight line with no significant changes of direction.
Saddle vs. bareback bronc riding
Saddle bronc and bareback bronc styles are very different. In saddle bronc the rider uses a specialized saddle with free swinging stirrups and no horn. The saddle bronc rider grips a simple rein braided from cotton or polyester and attached to a leather halter worn by the horse. The rider lifts on the rein and attempts to find a rhythm with the animal by spurring forwards and backwards with his feet.
The bareback bronc rider does not use a saddle or rein, but uses one hand to grip a simple handle on a surcingle style rigging placed on the horse just at the horse's withers. The rider leans back against the bucking horse and spurs up and down motion with his legs, again in rhythm with the motion of the horse.
The bucking horse is usually a gelding, a castrated male horse. Because bucking horses usually travel in close quarters and are housed in a herd setting, geldings are generally less disruptive and more prone to get along with one another. However, mares are also used, and while a mixed herd of mares and geldings is a bit more prone to disruptions, they can be kept together without great difficulties. Stallions are less common, because they can be disruptive in a herd and may fight if there are mares present.
The modern bronc is not a truly feral horse. Most bucking stock is specifically bred for use in rodeos, with horses having exceptional bucking ability fetching a high price. Most are allowed to grow up in a natural, semi-wild condition on the open range, but also have to be gentled and tamed in order to be managed from the ground, safely loaded into trailers, vaccinated and wormed, and to load in and out of bucking chutes. The also are initially introduced to bucking work with cloth dummies attached to the saddle. Due to the rigors of travel and the short bursts of high intensity work required, most horses in a bucking string are at least 6 or 7 years old.
Animal abuse controversies
Modern rodeos in the United States are closely regulated and have responded to accusations of animal cruelty by instituting a number of rules to guide how rodeo animals are to be managed. In 1994, a survey of 28 sanctioned rodeos was conducted by on-site independent veterinarians. Reviewing 33,991 animal runs, the injury rate was documented at .00047 percent, or less than five-hundredths of one percent. However, the same may not always be true for rodeos in other parts of the world, particularly in third world nations.
However, accusations of cruelty in the USA persist. Several animal rights organizations keep records of accidents and incidents of possible animal abuse. They cite various specific incidents of injury to support their statements, and also point to examples of long-term breakdown, as well as reporting on injuries and deaths suffered by animals in non-rodeo events staged on the periphery of professional rodeo such as chuck wagon races and "Suicide Runs." However, in terms of actual statistics on animal injury rate, there appear to be no more recent independent studies on animal injury in rodeo than the 1994 study.
There are powerful economic reasons to treat animals well. Bucking horses and bulls are costly to replace, a proven bucking horse can be sold for $8000 to $10,000, making "rough stock" an investment worth caring for and keeping in good health for many years.
Health regulations mandate vaccinations and blood testing of horses crossing state lines, so rodeo horses receive routine care. An injured animal will not buck well and hence a cowboy cannot obtain a high score for his ride, so sick or injured animals are not run through the chutes, but instead are given appropriate veterinary care so they can be returned to their usual level of strength and power. PRCA regulations require veterinarians to be available at all rodeos to treat both bucking stock and other animals as needed.
Activists also express concern that many rodeo horses end their lives as horsemeat. While it is accurate that some rough stock animals are slaughtered for horsemeat at the end of their useful careers, other bucking horses are retired at the end of their rodeo usefulness and allowed to live into old age. The issue of horse slaughter is not correlated directly to the rodeo industry, any unwanted horse can meet this fate, including race horses, show horses, or even backyard pasture pets. It is an issue that crosses all equestrian disciplines.
Flank strap controversy
A "flank strap" (or, "bucking strap") is used to encourage the horse to kick out straighter and higher when it bucks. The flank strap is about 4 inches wide, is usually covered in sheepskin and fastens behind the widest part of the abdomen. Flank straps that hurt the horse are not allowed by rodeo rules in the United States.
However, a bucking strap has to be an incentive, not a prod, or the horse will quickly sour and refuse to work. A horse in pain will become sullen and not buck very well,  and harm to the genitalia is anatomically impossible because the stifle joint of the hind leg limits how far back a flank strap can be attached.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has stated that burrs and other irritants are at times placed under the flank strap and that improperly used flank straps can cause open wounds and burns if the hair is rubbed off and the skin is chafed raw. However, while the implied argument behind this claim is that pain "makes" the horse buck, in actual practice, irritants or pain in general actually interfere with a horse's ability to buck in an energetic and athletic fashion.
The city of Pittsburgh has specifically prohibited the use of flank straps as well as electric prods or shocking devices, wire tie-downs, and sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels at rodeos or rodeo-related events. Some other cities and states have passed similar prohibitions.
- Earl W. Bascom, pioneer rodeo equipment maker
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Partian, Chris. "Diamond in the Rough." Western Horseman, July 2007, pp. 132-140
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 PRCA Animal Welfare Booklet, p. 6, accessed online February 5, 2008
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Is Rodeo Bronc Riding Cruel?" Web article accessed February 5, 2008 at http://www.cowboyway.com/BroncRiding.htm
- ↑ SHARKAnimal Abuse Inherent in Rodeo. Retrieved 6 February 2008.
- ↑ Renate Robey, “Horse Euthanized After Show Accident,” Denver Post 16 January 1999.
- ↑ Steve Lipsher, “Veterinarian Calls Rodeos Brutal to Stock,” Denver Post 20 January 1991.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 PRCA Animal Welfare rules and discussion, web site accessed February 5, 2008
- ↑ "Rodeo History" Long Rodeo Company. Accessed February 5, 2008.
- ↑ "Ty Murray Gives Retired Bucking Horses A Place To Rest." My Equine Network web site accessed February 9, 2008
- ↑ People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Rodeo: Cruelty for a Buck. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
- ↑ "The facts about flank straps" Rodeo Tasmania. Web site accessed February 8, 2008
- ↑ Buck the Rodeo Ordinances and State Laws.
- PRCA Home Page Links to rules and videos of events