Yes, I Like Rodeo


About a decade or so ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers, an ag expert from Idaho, if I recall, made a statement which I found to be profound. It was something along the line of, \”If you don\’t take steps to take the governance of animal treatment into your own (meaning the horse industry) hands, someone will do it for you.\”

I was jarred by this statement and it\’s apocalyptic message. I wondered what the horse world would look like for my children, and by what degree their involvement in the horse industry would be dictated by influences outside of our community.

Well, it appears I didn\’t have to wait for the kids to grow up. There are plenty of outside voices already vying for the opportunity to govern the care of animals involved in the horse industry.

Their latest target is rodeo. And, their latest venue was the Calgary Stampede.

When I posted the $15,000 ad the Vancouver Humane Society took out in the Calgary Herald last week on Western Horse Review\’s Facebook page, there was a flurry of responses to it. (It might bear mentioning that the VHS is not an animal humane society in the traditional meaning. It does not run a shelter, nor does it directly care for any animals. It serves entirely as a fundraising organization, for purposes of animal-rights activism.)

To serve the purposes of groups like the VHS bent on bringing down rodeo, rodeo is often portrayed as a gang of neanderthal males engaged in roping, tying, wrestling and declaring their masculinity in the arms-up gesticulation of a calf roper signaling \”time!\” And, that was more or less, the gist of the ad, with the question of \”that\’s entertainment?\”

The truth is, I\’m not really a rodeo person. I consider myself lucky to get to one, perhaps two a year. It\’s not a big part of my life. Or, so I thought. It occurred to me this week though, that here, in the country, rodeo takes on an entirely different persona; it\’s not one that travels down the mainstream, and it doesn\’t attract the masses. Instead, it generally winds its way down dusty gravel roads, and country paths. The kind that run by the log house.

I want to share with you what \”rodeo\” looked like in my life this past week:

It was the call from my city-born and raised nephew, to inform me of his signing up to steer-ride for the first time in his life, at his friend\’s charity rodeo – an event organized by the family, after the mother died of cancer. Last year they raised $40,000 for cancer research.

It was the young man my daughter spent several years in 4-H with, who now bull-rides, and though I hadn\’t spoken with him in over a year, when I asked him if he\’d help my nephew out with a few tips, responded without hesitation, \”sure!\” with a follow-up of query of where and when could they get started.

It was the pretty girl in the cowboy hat at our small town gas station, pumping her own gas, pulling a 1980\’s-vintage trailer with a horse in it, on her way to a barrel race.

It\’s the slightly arthritic limp of my neighbour, as I watch him walk across the hay field, remnants of his glory days when he was a bareback riding champion, back in \’68 I believe.

It\’s the blue polyester pant suit my good friend, who once wore it, and I shared a few smiles over last week as we strolled by the Calgary Stampede\’s tribute to former CS Queens and Princesses, where it was showcased amongst other nostalgic costumes and photos.

The stunning oil portrait of a bucking horse we stood in awe of at the Western Art Show.

It\’s the George Strait I heard on the radio this morning.

Even the odd sight of a brahma bull I drove by last week, magnificently standing under the shade of what must be a hundred-year-old tree.

My neighbour\’s long-retired bucking horses, spending their golden years in a verdant prairie pasture, liberated of any responsibility, other than offering their rugged beauty to passerby\’s.

It\’s the chuckwagon-bred pony, my daughter now loves and calls Princess.

It\’s the kid down the road who\’s going to a renowned university next fall, something his parents wouldn\’t have been able to afford to give him, on a high-school rodeo scholarship.

It\’s my barrel racer blogger pal, who I chatted with several times over last week, as she reported a hectic week at the Stampede grounds.

Our friend, the veterinarian, who worked tirelessly last week caring for chuckwagon horses, and spoke softly of the tragedy of losing several of them at this year\’s event.

As it turns out, rodeo touches many aspects of my life – from the people I know and love, to the animals we all care deeply for, to our music, to our lifestyle.

And so, Vancouver Humane Society, I\’m really sorry about this, but I have to tell you . . . I thought it over, and the truth is, I like rodeo. I might even love rodeo. And, for all of the reasons above, and many more, I\’d like it to stay in my life, my family\’s life and my community culture.

But, I want to thank you, VHS. Thank you for reminding this non-rodeo girl of how indelibly, deeply and eloquently the fabric of rodeo – it\’s people and it\’s animals – is entwined with her own.

And finally, Vancouver Humane Society, I\’ve been to your beautiful city many times. I have to tell you it rather saddened me to think of how many folks in your East End might have benefited from a sliver of the $15,000 of your member\’s donations you spent on that advertisement.

’Course . . . feeding the homeless doesn\’t garner much publicity kick-back.


21 thoughts on “Yes, I Like Rodeo”

  1. Thank You so much for this wonderful article. It is people such as yourself, who are not mainstream rodeo born and raised, that can help us preserve our lifestyle and culture. There was also a terrific interview on the Calgary CBC this past week by a commentator Jim Brown with the fellow from England spearheading the challenge against rodeo. Mr. Brown another non rodeo person) challenged the Englishman to his right to critize other cultures and brought the interview back to the English horse races – which according to the Englishman were just fine.

    Thankyou again Ingrid, we need people such as yourself working with us,
    Rodeo Mom Patti Gerhardi, BC

  2. It is sad the image painted by the activists — that those in rodeo don’t care about the animals that are so much a part of their lives. So far from the truth. Very well said Ingrid. Thank you.

  3. Jessica from Turner Valley Alberta

    What a great article! Thanks for writing it. It is to bad that the protesters focus so much on the 3 to 8 seconds that these animals work, and not on the hours of care, work, and attention that the cowboys and cowgirls put into them! These animals get better care than most people receive! And yes, a very true statement to close the article with, well said!

  4. Beautifully put, and right on the money too about the Rodeo and also your quote from a decade ago. “If you don’t take steps to take the governance of animal treatment into your own (meaning the horse industry) hands, someone will do it for you.” more true words were never spoken …. thankyou Ingrid

  5. A great article Ingrid, I just hope all those animal activist’s take time to read and understand, how narrow sighted they are. Rodeo is a way of life, and a great one!

  6. Great article, Ingrid. You conjure such poignant images — I especially loved the pretty girl hauling the old trailer…I could just see her.

    As for me, I participated in rodeo events as a kid at a fabulous camp for three summers. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. As I recall, several kids would come away with a broken arm or such over the course of a summer (ah, for the days before we were litigated out of being able to have any fun…), but I don’t recall ever seeing an animal injured.

    As an adult, I am not involved in rodeo sports, though both my husband and I enjoy watching top level bull riding when we’ve managed to catch it on TV. The one event that I really can’t watch is calf roping. As I see it, those calves are scared, and getting roped and thrown like that can’t feel good at all. Any event that requires the frightening and possibly severe discomfort of an animal is not okay in my book — sorry guys.

    Having interviewed those in the know about what the bucking stock go through, I am not alarmed about that. I don’t think those animals are really hurt, they don’t seem scared (they are well-developed athletes who know their jobs), and I know that they are valuable and well cared for. Sure, if you asked them if they would rather get in the chute and do their job or not, they would probably say “No thanks!” But how many beloved riding horses would say the same thing — most of them, I’m afraid! And how many horses, given the choice of packing around a rider for a couple of hours every day, endlessly repeating the same drills and moves in an arena, would swap their lives with the bucking horses, who only work a few seconds at a time here or there? Plenty!

    As for people participating in rodeo not caring about animals, I know that they do. They may have a different perspective about it, but they certainly care. I was heartened recently when I drove up our own country rode, past a private ranch where they raise cattle and do a little rodeo practice in what little spare time they have. As I drove past, I saw some steers in a pen, ready for the roping practice, and they all had those leather horn protectors on. Now, I can tell you that no one in this rural-heart area would complain or report these folks if they didn’t have those protector thingies on those steers. It was on their own property, with their own cattle. Still, they bothered to do it (I’m sure it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do), and that spoke volumes to me about what kind of people they are, and what they think about animal welfare.

    So, I have mixed feelings about rodeo events. Yes, animals get hurt and even die, but plenty of horses die in jumping events (particularly the cross country phase of eventing), and somehow, we don’t tend to see big protests as the Rolex 3 Day Event. Horses are ROUTINELY made to suffer in the name of “beauty” in the gaited horse world — where are the big money ads to protect them?

  7. Liz Matheson

    that was such a well-written, thought provoking and objective perspective. You are a great writer Ingrid. Thanks for putting “our” thoughts into something that makes total sense.

  8. Bonny Mills, Pink Mountain, BC

    That was a fantastic article, well put, and it paints the true picture of what rodeo means to so many of us.
    It would be nice to see the VHS and others like them put some effort into saving all the animals that really are neglected and abused. Take a look at the mess in the Gulf Coast, use some of the funds to rehabilitate the innocent animals and their habitat.


  9. What a great point of view! Well done, Ingrid. And a thumbs up to responder Susan K…We don’t all have the same opinion, but that doesn’t mean we need to exterminate a sport. There are alot of abused horses out there that would love to be a rodeo horse. If they had the power of rationalization.

    Rodeo stock are valued and well cared for animals. Accidents happen, accidents can happen in the back yard!

    As I watched the Chuckwagon races, one of the announcers told a story about one of the horses in the upcoming race…The Announcer was sent out to pick up this newly aquired horse for the driver. the announcer called the driver to question…”this can’t be the right horse!! You’re kidding, right?” He was rough to say the least, showing years of neglect. It was the right horse. He was a Canadian Derby Winner. A thoroghbred of finest quality. His name is Bear and he runs the Chucks now, happier than he’s been in years. If he had been one of the horses that died at the races during this year Chucks, so be it. He’d a died happy, doing what he was bred for. That is the key…These animals are bred for their sport. Whether it be racing, bucking, jumping, dressage, cutting, reining etc. Take that away, and they are miserable.

  10. Well written! Tragedies such as what Calgary experienced this year are highly unusual. But it does happen, it can happen anywhere. Including at home, in the pasture!
    Rodeo stock are bred for their job and are very valuable animals, and are treated as an asset. A contractor or competitor is as good as his animals.
    These animals are very well cared for. Underlying health issues surface in all species, it happens.
    Some people just have too much time on their hands & feel compelled to butt in where they have little background knowledge.

  11. I also grew up in the country surrounded by farmland as far as the eye could see, but there’s no way I’d continue to support an activity that puts animals’ lives at extreme risk day in and day out. The rodeo IS cruel, whether you are willing to admit it or not. There’s a few errors in this article but I can’t be bothered to correct them because talking to the rodeo set is like talking to a brick wall. Not a whole lot of critical thinking skills engaged with that set. And last but certainly not least, I don’t actually expect this comment to see the online page.

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