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Currently the subject of a judicial review

Rodeo is blatant animal abuse and New Zealand must ban it 

Virginia Fallon05:00, Jul 14 2022




Virginia Fallon is a Stuff senior writer and columnist based in Wellington.

OPINION: Throwing and wrestling aren’t the usual actions most people would associate with animals, let alone baby ones.

Yet dozens of times a year New Zealanders strap on their spurs, slap on their Stetsons and indulge in cruel acts designed to prove their dominion over helpless animals. Why? Because they’re allowed to – though hopefully that’s going to change.

After years of protests, petitions and pleas, animal welfare advocates this week took the Government to court to challenge the legality of rodeo.

Safe and the New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) aren’t after a ban but a review of laws around the Animal Welfare Act. They say elements of rodeo breach the act and the agriculture minister and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (Nawac) are responsible.



The Government should be nervous as this is the second time the groups have challenged codes in court. The first resulted in a 2020 ruling that found welfare standards allowing the use of farrowing crates in pig farming brought in by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor were illegal and invalid.

Another victory for animal welfare would be even more embarrassing because the Government backed down on a promise to ban elements of rodeo.

Before the 2017 election, Labour's then-animal welfare spokesperson, Trevor Mallard, said flank straps, electric prodders and calf roping would be banned, and if that meant the end of rodeo, then tough.


The roping of young animals is what protesters want to put an end to.

"Some people say that, if we did this, rodeos would collapse, and my view is that if rodeos can't run without being cruel they should just be stopped," he said.

But three years later O'Connor said there’d be no ban. Instead, Nawac wanted the Rodeo Cowboy Association to set up an independent welfare committee to ensure better monitoring and reporting.

Unsurprisingly, animals continue to suffer and die in rodeos. Among them was a horse killed at the 2019 nationals when it ran, frightened, into a fence, and two bulls died at other events – one had its back hurt in a bucking competition.

Later that year Northland farmer Derek Robinson was convicted of breaching animal welfare laws at a 2016 rodeo by giving a steer an electric shock to make it get up. The case was the first of its kind in New Zealand and was brought privately by NZALA because the government wouldn’t take it on.


The Waimate Rodeo features events including bull riding, steer wrestling, roping, barrel racing, calf and sheep riding.

In the background of these higher profile incidents, rodeo’s casual cruelty continues. Terrified calves are ridden down by “cowboys” on horseback then lassoed, thrown to the dirt and their legs tied together. Normally gentle animals driven mad by flank straps tied around their torsos are whipped into bucking frenzies and steers are wrestled to the ground by tassle-touting heroes throwing themselves from the saddle.

But despite rodeo inflicting needless suffering and pain, Aotearoa is dragging the chain on banning it.

Rodeo didn’t appear here until the early 1960s yet still we cling to it even as events are banned in parts of Europe, Australia and the US where it has a 200-year history.


The Government and other proponents of the practice need to read the room: New Zealanders do not want rodeos here. In a 2020 Horizon Research opinion poll, commissioned by Safe, 60% of Kiwis agreed rodeo causes pain and suffering to animals and the entertainment isn’t worth it.

The SPCA also wants a ban, calling rodeos “unacceptable cruelty” that desensitise viewers, especially children, to animal suffering.

Regardless of the outcome in court, the message is clear: rodeo absolutely must be banned. And once it is, every other so-called sport inflicting state-sanctioned cruelty to exploit animals for entertainment must follow.

Now I’ll get off my high horse.

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