Welfare of Rodeo Horses: Advances in Care

As I sit in my family room by a fire thinking about professional rodeo and the great strides made in welfare over the years, I realize I'm quite proud of the sport. I am aware that not all people will agree with the sport of rodeo, but my wish is that none will say that the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) has not gone the "extra mile" to ensure the safety of rodeo animal athletes.

Extensive changes have been made at PRCA over the past 19 years of my involvement. The PRCA has an advisory committee that proposes rules and guidelines to create humane conditions for animal athletes. The committee includes stock contractors, contestants, a veterinarian, and a collegiate representative.

To my knowledge, the PRCA is the only organization that has a full-time animal welfare coordinator. Cindy Schonholtz handles welfare issues, and, just as importantly, coordinates education of members and rodeo committees on the humane care and treatment of animals. She is available at PRCA expense to help any group that would like input from a person who lives and breathes equine welfare.

The latest addition to the PRCA welfare program is a veterinary advisory committee (VAC). The VAC is made up of five veterinarians from throughout the country who are not especially close to the PRCA. Two are experienced in the bovine field and three in equine medicine and surgery.

The PRCA has hosted a rodeo industry conference the past three years to discuss welfare issues. This group included organization representatives from colleges, high schools, amateurs, and others. The main goal of the meetings was to create a "Recommended Code of Practice for the Rodeo Industry." This goal was accomplished in 2000. This group will continue to meet to share knowledge, to network, and to unify the industry. A tremendous step will be taken when all rodeo organizations follow similar rules and guidelines. In my opinion, this is happening to some extent now, but as the years go on, it should become more evident.

Another development is the soon-to-be-published Veterinary Guide to PRCA Rodeos. This document is designed as a reference for veterinarians who might not be familiar with rodeo. The guide has been endorsed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

In 1995, the PRCA took a major step in the care, safety, and treatment of rodeo animals by requiring all PRCA rodeos to have a veterinarian on site for all "slack" and performances. Before 1995, rodeo committees were allowed to have a veterinarian on call or on site. About 85% of rodeos had a vet on site before the revision.

Injuries in rodeo are minimal. I have seen many types of injuries, from catastrophic fractures to simple lacerations, but these types of injuries are seen daily in any field of equine athletic use. However, just because injuries happen occasionally does not mean rodeo is cruel or inhumane.

Stock contractors have a large investment in their bucking horses. They make sure these horses receive the best feed and care. Most of these broncs have long, healthy lives, living well into their 20s. The horses work only eight seconds per outing, and probably less than five minutes per year. The rest of their time is spent on good grass with fresh, clean water.

The contestant's horse is an animal of great value; many contestants give them better care than they get themselves! The contestant is always looking for ways to make life easier for his equine partner, because success comes only when they work in sync.

The contestants and stock contractors have come to realize that the welfare of the rodeo horse is possibly the most important issue facing rodeo. Over the years, I have seen attitudes change--first in realizing that a welfare problem exists, and second in doing something about it. More change will come. Without well-cared-for horses, you will not have rodeo as we know it today. I am confident that rodeo will succeed and become stronger because of the welfare issues it has addressed. The rodeo industry must work together to make life better for its equine athletes.

As the fire dies down in my fireplace, my passion for the welfare of the rodeo horse definitely does not fade. I am excited to see the PRCA take a hands-on, progressive, and proactive stance in dealing with welfare issues. Their welfare program is second to none. The PRCA will continue to monitor its events, rules, and guidelines, and it will make changes as needed. It is nice to be associated with the PRCA, with its open-minded attitude and willingness to be the leader in the welfare field. h

Doug Corey, DVM, a private practitioner in Oregon, is an AAEP member who has served on welfare committees for the PRCA, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Horse Council.

About the Author

Doug Corey

Doug Corey, DVM, of Pendleton, Oregon, was the 53rd president of the American Association of Equine Practioners. He practices at Associated Veterinary Hospital in Walla Walla, Wash.

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