Steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging, is a rodeo event in which a horse-mounted rider chases a steer, drops from the horse to the steer, then wrestles the steer to the ground by twisting its horns. Like all rodeo events, there are concerns from the animal rights community that the competition may include practices that constitute cruelty to animals. However, the event also raises a high risk of injury to the cowboy as well.
Historically, steer wrestling was not a part of ranch life or cowboy work. The event originated in the 1930s, and was attributed to an individual named Bill Pickett, a Wild West Show performer said to have caught a runaway steer by wrestling it to the ground. It was later claimed that Pickett introduced it in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1905. After having grasped the horns of a fleeing long horn steer, Pickett would twist its head skyward and bite its upper lip in order to subdue it, after the fashion of the cowdog breed known as bulldogs, whence the event takes its name.
The event features a steer and two mounted cowboys, along with a number of supporting characters. The steers are moved through narrow pathways leading to a chute with spring loaded doors. A 10 foot rope is fastened around the steer's neck which is used to ensure that the steer gets a head start. On one side of the chute is the hazer, whose job is to ride parallel with the steer once it begins running and ensure it runs in a straight line, on the other side of the chute the steer wrestler or bulldogger waits behind a taut rope fastened with an easily broken string which is fastened to the rope on the steer.
When the steer wrestler is ready he calls for the steer and the chute man trips a lever opening the doors. The suddenly freed steer breaks out running, shadowed by the hazer. When the steer reaches the end of his rope, it pops off and simultaneously releases the barrier for the steer wrestler. The steer wrestler attempts to catch up to the running steer, lean over the side of the horse which is running flat out and grab the horns of the running steer. The steer wrestler then is pulled off his horse by the slowing steer and plants his heels into the dirt further slowing the steer and himself. He then takes one hand off the horns, reachs down and grabs the nose of the steer pulling the steer off balance and ultimately throwing the steer to the ground. Once all four legs are off the ground, an official waves a flag marking the official end and a time is taken. The steer is released and trots off.
The preferred method of wrestling the steer to the ground is to lean from the galloping horse which is running beside the steer, transferring the weight of the upper body to the neck of the steer, with one hand on the near horn of the steer and the far horn grasped in the crook of the other elbow. One then lets the horse carry his feet by the steer until his feet naturally fall out of the stirrups. The steer wrestler then slides with his feet turned slightly to the left, twisting the head of the steer toward one by pushing down with the near hand and pulling up and in with the far elbow. Finally the steer wrestler lets go of the near horn, and puts the steers nose in the crook of his left elbow, and throws his weight backwards causing the steer to become unbalanced and fall to the ground.
Rules of steer wrestling include: The bulldogger's horse must not break the rope barrier in front of it at the beginning of a run, but must wait for the animal escaping from the adjacent chute to release the rope. Breaking the rope barrier early adds a 10 second penalty to the bulldogger's time. If the steer stumbles or falls before the bulldogger brings it down, he must either wait for it to rise or help it up before wrestling it to the ground. If the bulldogger completely misses the steer on his way down, he will receive a "no time".
Typical professional times will be in the range of 3.5 to 10 seconds from the gates opening to the waving of the flag. The steers used today are generally Corriente cattle which weigh between 450-650 pounds, and the human steer wrestlers typically weigh 200-275 pounds. While steer wrestlers have a lower injury rate than bull riders or bronc riders, , their injury rate is higher than that of the speed events.
Animal abuse controversies
Like all other rodeo events, steer wrestling is under fire by animal rights advocates. Modern rodeos in the United States are closely regulated and have been responsive to accusations of animal cruelty. 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, groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) notes incidents of "a bull [sic] with a broken neck...following a steer-wrestling competition" Other organizations note that steer wrestling is not an event linked directly to actual ranching practices, stating, "It is an abusive event developed simply to amuse" According to the ASPCA, practice sessions are often the scene of more severe abuses than competitions.
- ↑ [http://classicrodeo.net/EventDiscriptions.htm Classic Rodeo Productions: Events. Web site accessed February 8, 2008
- ↑ http://www.texasescapes.com/ClayCoppedge/Bill-Pickett-and-Bulldogging.htm "Never another like Bill Pickett"
- ↑ "Epidemiologic Analysis of Injury in Five Years of Canadian Professional Rodeo" Butterwick et al. Am J Sports Med.2002; 30: 193-198
- ↑ Mullen, Frank X. Jr. "Rodeo injuries: Mess with the bull, you get the horns" RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL 6/21/2005
- ↑ PRCA Animal Welfare Booklet, accessed online February 5, 2008
- ↑ "Is Rodeo Bronc Riding Cruel?" Web article accessed February 5, 2008 at http://www.cowboyway.com/BroncRiding.htm
- ↑ “Steer Suffers Broken Neck During Top Wrestling Run”. Houston Chronicle, 17 Mar. 2006. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
- ↑ PETA Rodeo: Cruelty for a Buck. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
- ↑ Rodeo Cruelty "Steer Wrestling". Retrieved 5 February 2008.
- ↑ ASPCA "Animals in Entertainment: 5.4 Rodeo" 27 June 2007.
- Pro Rodeo Online Steer Wrestling