Romanticizing rodeo abuse

  Dear HCN,

Rebecca Clarren's review of the book Riders of the West (HCN, 10/8/01: Indians are cowboys), about the Indian rodeo circuit, contained a sentence I found most disturbing: "It depicts how rodeo helps Indian youth create a legacy of hope and pride, transcending the severe poverty and rampant alcoholism that often await them beyond the arena." This is eerily reminiscent of the argument that was employed for cockfighting, another animal "sport," by its proponents in the 2001 New Mexico Legislative session: that cockfighting is a wholesome family activity which keeps youth from turning to drugs and gangs.

In reality, the institution of the rodeo, so popular in the West, promotes rampant animal abuse. Devices such as electric prods, sharp sticks, caustic ointments, and the bucking (flank) strap are employed in order to induce rodeo animals to perform. Calf-roping is particularly egregious. These young cows sustain severe bruises, broken bones, internal bleeding, and even paralysis, often having to be destroyed after only one rodeo because of injuries. Many horses suffer a similar fate. And it's an established fact that people who practice violence toward animals often move on to commit violence toward humans.

Romanticizing the rodeo and claiming that it's a healthy activity for kids is unjust, unfair, and simply untrue, both to the animal victims that are forced to participate and to the rodeo participants themselves.

Ardeth Baxter

Santa Fe, New Mexico