12 July 2014

Bucking horses and other immoral entertainments

It's Stampede time in Calgary and that means it's time for another debate about exploiting other animals to amuse ourselves. The focus, of course, is rodeo—bucking broncs, calf roping, steer wrestling, chuckwagon racing and other entertainments featuring man and beast. Every year, animal welfare advocates criticize some or all of the events as cruel and Stampede officials staunchly defend those same events. So, is rodeo cruel or not?

In answer to that concern, consider the most iconic of rodeo events—cowboy versus bucking bronco. The first question is, why do the horses buck? There are various possible reasons but one fundamental one. A horse is a prey animal and when a large creature suddenly leaps on its back, it means but one thing: a predator is attempting to kill it. This terrifies the animal and it desperately tries to rid itself of the thing.

This then is how rodeo amuses and entertains the crowd. It subjects a dumb beast—a horse, a calf, a steer—to stress and fear. Over and over and over again. Cruel? Without a doubt.

Rodeo people insist they treat their animals to the best of care, and as far as food, shelter and medical attention is concerned, I don't doubt that they do. The animals are, after all, prize assets, the source of rodeo revenues. Only fools fail to take good care of their assets. I take good care of my car, but my car is not a sentient being. Animals are. Good care of an animal requires attention to its mental well-being as well as its physical, and the repeated infliction of terror does not contribute to mental well-being.

The Stampede has a great deal to offer in the way of fun, entertainment and education. It really has no need to play to the crowd by tormenting animals. It is time to end the barbarism.

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