Share |

Brief Summary of Rodeos
Madison Steffey (2018)

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.

Overview of Rodeos
Madison Steffey (2018)

The rodeo has experienced decades of protection from claims of cruelty due to its influence in American history and Western culture. Those involved with rodeo grew up with the sense that the kind of treatment of animals in rodeo was normal and okay. Spectators and citizens know rodeo as a symbol of the Old West and similarly observed rodeos as nothing more than a celebration of that culture. As people begin to learn more about animals there have been shifts in what society deems acceptable treatment. This shift is apparent in the rodeo world, even though tradition still has a strong influence on the welfare of rodeo animals.

Federal government regulation of rodeo animal welfare is almost nonexistent. The Animal Welfare Act covers livestock in their definition of “animal,” but immediately makes an exception for horses not used for research purposes. 7 U.S.C. § 2132(g)(2). Any rodeo livestock that would be covered are exempt because the term “exhibitor” does not apply to organizations or participants in rodeos. 7 U.S.C. § 2132(h). Rodeo exhibitors cannot apply for a license and therefore they cannot be regulated by the Act. The Twenty-Eight Hour Law protects livestock being transported by giving time limits on how long they can be held in trucks without rest or food and water. There is no exemption for rodeos, but most rodeo animals are not transported in the trucks covered by the law. Stock contractors like to handle their animals on their own and use well equipped and more comfortable trailers, making the law slightly irrelevant. However, if a stock contractor were to contract with a trucking company that uses trucks that do not provide these elements for the animals, then the animals would at least be protected by the law.

States have been slow to implement provisions to protect rodeo animals. One of the most controversial events is called horse tripping–when a horse is chased and has its feet lassoed, jerking it to a stop, usually making it crash or flip onto the ground. Today, thirteen states have banned horse tripping. Horse tripping bans are being signed into law at a faster rate than other forms of protection. Still, a few other measures exist at the state level. California and Rhode Island have increased the PRCA standard of having a veterinarian on site by requiring a veterinarian to not only be present, but to have full authority when it comes to handling an injured animal. The general standard, created by the PRCA, is to have the judges document if an animal is being abused and to enforce the PRCA’s rules. These state laws give the veterinarian more power and take away power from those who have interest in keeping the show going, rather than focusing on what is best for the animals. These states also require for the veterinarian to have an experienced background in large animals and for a minimum amount of time.

More states exempt rodeos from anti-cruelty laws than provide protection for the animals. Seventeen states exempt rodeos entirely from their cruelty statutes. These states provide no alternative coverage for the animals and, instead, provide zero protection for the livestock, just like the Animal Welfare Act. Other states exempt only “rodeo practices currently acceptable by the Professional Rodeo Association.” Mo. Ann. Stat. § 578.007(5). In this case, horse tripping, use of sharp spurs and electric prods, cruel treatment outside of what is done to get the animal to perform, and unnecessary harm to the animal may still be recognized as cruelty because such activities are not in compliance with PRCA rules. The PRCA rules do not protect livestock nearly as well as cruelty statutes protect animals like cats and dogs, but an exemption like this is better than a complete exemption.

Oregon and Indiana go further by only exempting rodeos that do not cause serious injury or use gross negligence in their practices. Of course, these are vague terms that could easily be limited by court interpretation, but they provide more protections than other states. A rodeo animal that breaks its neck or back, has extensive bruising or internal bleeding, or has broken ankles or tendons should be protected under these statutes.

The most protection afforded to rodeo animals can be found in several city and county ordinances. For example, electric prod bans are found throughout Texas, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, and Ohio. The rule that spurs must be dulled and able to rotate can be found in California, New Jersey, and Florida. Some cities have the PRCA veterinarian present and require an animal control officer to be present and have authority to enter all areas of the arena. Most importantly, it is at the local level where rodeos have been completely banned. Louisiana and Florida have several counties and cities that ban rodeos that use practices harmful to the animals. Chino Hills, Irvine, Laguna Woods, and Pasadena, California ban rodeos entirely.

The lack of federal or state oversight may be due in part to the traditional self-regulating nature of rodeo. The PRCA exists as a self-governing body with rules designed to protect its livestock. Due to the association’s popularity and power, many non-PRCA sanctioned rodeos follow its standards too. However, many of its rules are not that extensive. Some overlap or repeat other rules and a few do not have anything to do with animal welfare. For instance, the PRCA bans electrical prods but allows them on chute-stalling animals and on saddle bronc and bareback bronc riding, even though one rule specifically states they are prohibited in riding events. The rules also require spurs to be dull and rowels to actually rotate in order to protect the animal’s hide. These type of welfare provisions do not rule out the majority of actions that lead to animal injuries. The fear and stress of being chased and lassoed, tight confinement with other stressed animals, and the physical trauma caused by flanking, being thrown onto their backs, and having their necks jerked back are all serious actions without any industry rules in place to limit or prohibit them.

The PRCA actively works to ensure legislation does not progress far enough to interfere or stop its practices. The organization pays a lobbying firm to seek out and work against legislation that would prohibit certain devices or events. Proponents of the organization and rodeos fear that any restriction placed on them would spiral into restrictions on all of their events and practices, leaving them without the ability to celebrate and perform the traditions of their culture. Along with the lobbying, the PRCA advises its members on how to conduct interviews with the media to spin its message in a positive way. This kind of activity led to the death of an Oregon horse tripping ban. Legislators heard from lobbyists that it was not a serious or common issue and failed to pass the bill, believing it to be unnecessary. Bill opponents stated that this equine tripping bill would mean the rodeo could not perform steer, team, or calf roping. However, none of those events involve tripping the animal and none of them use horses. The fear of legislation and the aggressive pushback is seen in this misunderstanding of the bill.

Ultimately, rodeo animals are protected on a small scale, but lack federal and substantial state regulation. Complete exemptions of rodeos from cruelty statutes may need re-examination by state legislatures. Any changes could be narrow in scope to not upset the commercial farming industry and limited enough to allow the nature and traditions of rodeo to continue. There is compelling evidence that rodeo animals do experience stress and pain directly caused by humans and may need more protection beyond non-binding rules from rodeo organizations themselves or bans by individual cities. This may achieve a balance that recognizes the cultural heritage of rodeos and the need to ensure the health and safety of these sentient animals used for entertainment.


Related articles

Beverly J. Stoeltje, Rodeo: From Custom to Ritual, 48 Western Folklore 245, 244–55 (1989), JSTOR, available at

Related cases

Related laws


General Rodeo Laws

California: § 596.7. Rodeos; veterinarians present at performances; violation of section, West's Ann. Cal. Penal Code § 596.7. This statute regulating rodeos requires that animals involved have access to veterinary care and mandates treatment of injured rodeo animals. This statute forbids the use of  an electric prod once an animal is in the holding chute, unless necessary to protect participants or spectators. Violations of this section are infractions punishable by a fine.

Rhode Island: Chapter 20. Rodeo Animals and Livestock, Gen. Laws, 1956, § 4-20-1 to 9. The purpose of this chapter is to establish guidelines and criteria for rodeo and rodeo related activities relative to humane treatment of rodeo animals and rodeo livestock in the state.

Horse "Tripping" Laws

Arizona: § 13-2910.09. Equine tripping; classification; definitions,  A. R. S. § 13-2910.09. A person who knowingly or intentionally trips an equine for entertainment or sport is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

California: § 597g. Poling or tripping a horse; offenses; exceptions, West's Ann. Cal. Penal Code § 597g. This section makes it a misdemeanor to pole or trip a horse for entertainment or sport. Poling is a method of training a horse to jump by forcing, persuading, or enticing a horse to lift its legs higher over a jump by hitting its front legs with a pole, rope, stick, etc. Tripping a horse is using a wire, pole, stick, rope, etc. to cause a horse to fall or lose its balance.

Florida: 828.12. Cruelty to animals, West's F. S. A. § 828.12. A person who intentionally trips, fells, ropes, or lassos the legs of a horse by any means for the purpose of entertainment or sport shall be guilty of a third degree felony.

Illinois: Sec. 5.01. Horse poling or tripping, 510 ILCS 70/5.01. No person may knowingly pole or trip a horse by any means for entertainment or sport purposes. A person convicted of violating this Section is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation of this Section is a Class 4 felony.

Kansas: 21-6412. Cruelty to animals,  K. S. A. 21-6412. Cruelty to animals includes "(4) intentionally using a wire, pole, stick, rope or any other object to cause an equine to lose its balance or fall, for the purpose of sport or entertainment."

Maine: § 3972. Unlawful use of animals, 7 M. R. S. A. § 3972. It is unlawful for any person to intentionally cause an equine to fall or lose its balance by any means whatsoever. For the purposes of this paragraph, the term “equine” means, but is not limited to, a horse, mare, pony, ass, donkey, burro, mule or hinny. This paragraph does not apply to the lawful laying down of an equine for medical or identification purposes.

Nebraska: 54-911. Prohibited acts relating to equine; violation; penalty, Neb. Rev. St. § 54-911. No person shall intentionally trip or cause to fall, or lasso or rope the legs of, any equine by any means for the purpose of entertainment, sport, practice, or contest. The intentional tripping or causing to fall, or lassoing or roping the legs of, any equine by any means for the purpose of entertainment, sport, practice, or contest shall not be considered a commonly accepted practice occurring in conjunction with sanctioned rodeos, animal racing, or pulling contests.

Nevada: 574.100. Overdriving, torturing, injuring or abandoning animals; failure to provide proper sustenance; requirements for restraining dogs and using outdoor enclosures; penalties; exceptions, N. R. S. 574.100. A person shall not: (a) Intentionally engage in horse tripping for sport, entertainment, competition or practice; or (b) Knowingly organize, sponsor, promote, oversee or receive money for the admission of any person to a charreada or rodeo that includes horse tripping.

New Mexico: § 30-18-11. Unlawful tripping of an equine; exception, NMSA 1978, § 30-18-11. Whoever commits unlawful tripping of an equine is guilty of a misdemeanor. Whoever commits unlawful tripping of an equine that causes the maiming, crippling or death of the equine is guilty of a fourth degree felony.

Oklahoma: § 1700. Bear wrestling--Horse tripping,  21 Okl. St. Ann. 1700. This statute makes it unlawful for any person to: (1) promote, engage in, or be employed at a bear wrestling exhibition or horse tripping event; (2) receive money for the admission of another person to any place where bear wrestling or horse tripping will occur; or (3) sell, purchase, possess, or offer a horse for any horse tripping event. Violation is a misdemeanor with up to one year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

Oregon: 167.383. Equine tripping, O. R. S. § 167.383. A person commits the offense of equine tripping if, for purposes of a rodeo, contest, exhibition, entertainment or sport or as practice for a rodeo, contest, exhibition, entertainment or sport, the person intentionally ropes or lassos the legs of an equine, intentionally causing the equine to trip or fall. The offense of equine tripping is a Class B misdemeanor.

Texas: § 42.09. Cruelty to Livestock Animals,  V.T.C.A., Penal Code § 42.09. A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly trips a horse. An offense is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a state jail felony if the person has previously been convicted as specified.

Utah: Part 5. Horse Tripping Awareness, U.C.A. 1953 § 4-2-501 - 504. This part defines "horse tripping” as the lassoing or roping of the legs of an equine, or otherwise tripping or causing an equine to fall by any means, for the purpose of entertainment, sport, or contest, or practice for entertainment, sport, or contest. It requires certain horse events to report instances of any horse tripping.

Virginia: § 3.2-6570. Cruelty to animals; penalty, Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6570.  Any person who ropes, lassoes, or otherwise obstructs or interferes with one or more legs of an equine in order to intentionally cause it to trip or fall for the purpose of engagement in a rodeo, contest, exhibition, entertainment, or sport, unless such actions are in the practice of accepted animal husbandry or for the purpose of allowing veterinary care, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Map of State Anti-Cruelty Laws (some states exempt rodeo activities in their laws)

Related Links

Links at the Web Center:

Cattle Laws Topic Introduction

Horse Laws Topic Introduction

External Links:

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). As stated on its website: "The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., is the largest and oldest rodeo-sanctioning body in the world. The recognized leader in professional rodeo, the PRCA is committed to maintaining the highest standards in the industry in every area, from improving working conditions for contestants and monitoring livestock welfare to boosting entertainment value and promoting sponsors." See

The PRCA states on its website that the complete set of PRCA Livestock Rules must be requested in writing through a postal address. However, an animal rights organization, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK), has posted what it says are those rules electronically on its website:

Share |