Gareth Hughes: Why it's time to ban rodeo from NZ

By Gareth Hughes for The Spinoff

Animals shouldn't be dying in the name of 'entertainment', writes Green Party animal welfare spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

OPINION: It's time to ban rodeo in New Zealand.

Imagine being chased out of a cage by a rider on a horse, lassoed around the neck and jerked violently off your feet, then wrestled to the ground and tied up. This is the reality for calves as young as three months old at New Zealand rodeos. Do this to a companion animal like a cat and a dog and you would be jailed. Do this on a farm and you could be investigated and prosecuted. Do it in front of a crowd at a rodeo and it is called entertainment.

This summer in New Zealand, animals are being terrified, hurt and killed for fun. Last week it was revealed a second animal, a horse, died at the Gisborne rodeo. It only became public because someone from the rodeo community took the brave step to come forward and alert SAFE. The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association president Lyal Cocks eventually confirmed the second animal had died saying to RNZ, "After it competed it went out into the yards out the back, and for some inexplicable reason it went into a post and died, it was instantaneous - it was very strange, freakish."

It's not freakish - it's the fourth known rodeo death in the past year. We'll never know how many other animals are dying at training events because rodeos are operating secretively. Many rodeos now refuse to allow people to film the events to try and stop footage from reaching the public. They've clearly got something to hide if they won't allow filming.

For me, it was watching the footage of rodeo events that motivated me to speak out and call for a ban on this cruel and archaic form of entertainment. As an animal lover I was horrified at what I saw. Just search for some of the slow motion video online and you'll see animals terrified, bulls wrestled to the ground by their neck, horses bucking wildly and animals shocked with electric prodders.

Gareth Hughes.
Gareth Hughes. Photo credit: The AM Show

Rodeo events rely on inflicting pain and fear in animals to get them to perform. Rodeos only "work" when animals are running for their lives, riled up and bucking wildly. Common injuries include broken ribs, backs and legs, punctured lungs, deep internal organ bruising, haemorrhaging, ripped tendons, torn or stretched ligaments and muscles, broken necks, torn trachea, spinal damage and disc rupture, bruising, and subcutaneous tissue damage. When the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee looked at rodeo last year they found only one event, barrel racing, didn't have moderate or serious welfare concerns.

Rodeos are banned in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, and specific events like calf-roping are outlawed in many others including Canada and Germany.

Closer to home, Auckland Council prohibits rodeo on council-owned land and a 2016 Horizon poll found 59 percent of Kiwis want to see an end to rodeo, with 68 percent stating they felt closest to the statement that, "Rodeo causes pain and suffering to animals and it is not worth causing this just for the sake of entertainment."

Rodeo fans attempt to take a protester's video camera.
Rodeo fans attempt to take a protester's video camera. Photo credit: Anti-Rodeo Action NZ

A number of vets, and animal rights groups such as SAFE and the SPCA, have also spoken out against rodeo. The Green Party believes animals should not suffer to provide entertainment for people. We support a ban on the use of animals in rodeo events and are calling on the Minister for Animal Welfare to act.

In the past, dog fighting, bear baiting and cock fighting were all considered fun, community entertainment, but thankfully our animal welfare standards have improved and that's no longer the case. It's time to consign rodeo to the history books, where it belongs.

Gareth Hughes is a Green Party MP.