People have been concerned about the welfare of animals used in rodeos since they became a formalized event near the turn of the twentieth century. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) formed around the 1940s and has created some limited rules regarding the treatment of rodeo animals. Although the rules are not as strict as animal advocates would want, they have become standard practice in most rodeos in America. The PRCA is the leading organization of rodeos, sanctioning over 600 annual rodeos. Its members and stock contractors are held to its rules regarding animal welfare. Rodeo organizations that are not members of the PRCA generally follow its guidelines as well.
Despite this, few laws exist that deal with rodeos. The federal regulations that could potentially apply to rodeos have not been updated. Exhibitors of rodeos are explicitly exempt from the Animal Welfare Act and there have been no amendments to account for the harm these animals endure. While the Twenty-Eight Hour law could apply, the only people transporting and dealing with rodeo livestock are stock contractors that use their own trucks and trailers. Generally, these vehicles have enough room to allow the animals to rest or eat so the law is mostly irrelevant.
Improvements in rodeo animal welfare are most noticeable in state and city laws. By 2018, thirteen states have prohibited horse tripping. Rhode Island has an entire chapter in its animal welfare title devoted to rodeos. It is the only state to ban the traditional version of “calf roping” and steer tripping, both of which are criticized by advocates as cruel. Other cities and counties ban harmful devices (like certain flank straps) and some have laws requiring veterinarians to be present with full authority to intervene. Some localities have banned rodeos altogether like the California cities of Chino Hills, Irvine, Laguna Woods, and Pasadena.
Enhanced protection for rodeo animal welfare has not been well received by the industry. Many proponents of rodeo feel that their culture and heritage are being attacked and threatened with extinction by these laws and ordinances. Although some advocates want to see the end of live animals being used in rodeos, most regulations are nowhere near restricting or interfering with how rodeos are performed, let alone eradicating them. There may be room for balance with new laws that protect the animals from injury and stress and preserve the unique culture and tradition of the Old West.