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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Bulls 2, Cowboys 0”

    Shane Hamcolumnist
    Shane Ham

    Despite all the mytho-poetic falderol about “”frontier heritage,”” we watch rodeo for the same reason we watch “”Jackass””: to see men put their testicles in mortal danger for our amusement.

    Sure, rodeo also provides a chance to wear a shirt that snaps instead of buttons, but the real attraction is the potential testicle-crushing. Thus it is with Tucson’s “”Fiesta de los Vaqueros,”” a weeklong celebration of niche marketing and livestock pestering.

    Rodeo originated as a way for cowboys to show off the skills of their day jobs. Obviously that no longer applies. If rodeo were still about professional skills, we would call it “”Fiesta de los Excel Spreadsheet Programadores.””

    To their credit, the Tucson Rodeo Committee doesn’t even pretend that the rodeo is about celebrating Tucson’s history. They freely admit that the Fiesta was dreamed up in the mid-1920s as a way to lure tourists to town during the winter months. (Another potential draw for visitors, the UA Science Center, was still in the planning phase back then.)

    The event grew more lucrative through the years, and today it is so important that Tucson schoolchildren get two days off to see the rodeo parade and play Nintendo Wii. (UA students don’t get the four-day weekend, but we certainly deserve it. The parade is tomorrow, so feel free to cut class in the name of heritage.)

    The common complaint about rodeo isn’t its pointlessness, however; it’s the treatment of the animals. Rodeo events are about subduing animals by tying them up, throwing them to the ground or sitting on them until they become violently agitated.

    Of course, there are rules to protect the animals, which are written and enforced by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Enforcement seems to be on par with the refereeing at Wrestlemania, but as in politics, the scandal isn’t the cheating – it’s the stuff that’s legal.

    For example, the animal welfare (sic) page on the PRCA web site says that “”saddle broncs”” flail about wildly not because they are in pain, but because it is their “”instinct”” to throw apes off their backs. They even quote the vet who oversees Tucson’s rodeo saying that the animals “”thoroughly enjoy”” kicking and twisting for a cheering crowd.

    At the same time, the PRCA rules forbid the use of electric shock on any riding animals. Well, almost. According to Gary Williams, general manager of the Tucson Rodeo, electric shock can be used “”only when necessary.””

    The PRCA rules say that shocks can be administered to “”known chute-stalling animals.”” You may wonder why an animal with an instinct to buck won’t buck unless he is tasered while trapped in the chute. Welcome to the cultural treasure that is rodeo.

    Rodeo organizers and fans defend the sport by insisting that the animals may be jerked, jolted and jeered, but they are not injured. Mr. Williams says that only four animals were hurt at last year’s rodeo, and they were all minor injuries.

    Whether that number is high or low depends on your point of view, but either way, it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem: We shouldn’t torment animals for entertainment.

    My cat will run and buck when she gets wet for the same reason cited by PRCA: instinct. But I wouldn’t throw my cat into a swimming pool, even though I know there isn’t much chance of injury. I certainly wouldn’t charge people to watch me throw her into the pool. Forcing a cat to swim is cruel, and paying to see it is weird. Rodeo is the same, except with a higher denim-bulge risk factor.

    Arguing about it, however, is a waste of time. When it comes to animal welfare, charges of hypocrisy fly in from all directions. Some people are snide about eating animals, but wear leather coats. Some people fight to free Willy, then head down to the zoo to watch elephants slowly go insane. We all draw our moral lines conveniently near our own toes.

    So I won’t be making a midnight raid on the rodeo grounds to liberate the horses and cows, but I will be rooting for them. It isn’t callous to cheer when a bull stomps on some weekend cowboy’s crotch – it’s our heritage.

    Shane Ham is a first-year law student. If you can click the mouse with your hoof, send comments to

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