I admit I have a soft spot for rodeo. Perhaps it’s my Alberta roots showing, or just the time I spent in the barns and near the bucking chutes as I worked as a reporter for a small prairie newspaper.
I was a city boy through and through, so the learning curve was steep. What I remember most were the people – both the competitors and the stock handlers – and the passion they had for what they did.
It wasn’t so much a sport, but a way of life – and a not very glamorous one at that.
Money might be made in the upper echelons of the pro rodeo circuit in the U.S., but most Canadian cowboys and girls need secondary jobs to cover their bills.
The costs are high and the pay cheques are small. And yet, they’ll spend months on the road, traveling to the next rodeo even before the one they’re at has ended.
There is a camaraderie they share (although cowboys from the rough stock events and the timed events seem to be cut from different cloth). They see their sport as an homage to the people who helped carve a life in a landscape that required both strength and mutual support.
Cowboys don’t compete against each other. In fact, it’s not unusual for them to share the cost of a horse, help with the hazing, or share a truck and a trailer.
And there is something else most share: an appreciation for the animals that are such a part of their world.
Most have grown up around livestock, learning to ride a horse before city kids see their first bike; learning to handle cattle that are easily three times their weight.
The animals aren’t pets. They’re not coddled. But neither are they abused.
That respect continues into the rodeo ring. Stock contractors understand the value of the animals in their care. They know that if they’re called on to supply bulls, bucking horses, calves and steers, the stock better be healthy. A veterinarian is on site, and most rodeos work in partnerships with the local SPCA.
Cowboys, too, understand the value of the stock. Their horses can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. They are trained athletes that must be cared for properly if they are going to perform at their best. The bulls they ride, the calves they rope and the steers they wrestle also have to be in top form.
To be sure, rodeo is a tough sport, both for the competitors and the animals. But is it abuse, as some claim? Is it cruel and inhumane?
I don’t think so. There is no deliberate attempt to injure or harm the animals. In fact, steps are taken to ensure that doesn’t occur. A cowboy is docked time if a calf is handled poorly; a bronc is returned to the stockyard if it’s too anxious in the chute.
The Chilliwack Fair Board is being asked to re-evaluate the inclusion of tie-down roping (calf roping) and steer wrestling in its annual rodeo.
I’m hoping they measure the facts carefully and rely on more than emotional observations and outside complaints made to event sponsors.
Rodeo is a part of our heritage. Let’s not surrender it easily.
Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress