27 Nov 2019

Whangarei rodeo cancellation a blip, not trend - association

6:52 pm on 27 November 2019

The rodeo association says the cancellation of one of its summer events is a blip, not a trend, and is confident rodeo's popularity is not waning in the face of opposition.

Cowboy rides a bucking horse in bareback bronc event at a country rodeo.

Photo: 123rf

Animal welfare group SAFE said the cancellation of next year's Mid Northern Rodeo is partially the result of a business backlash, and the public's turning against rodeos and taking their money with them.

They say rodeo's social license has expired, but the national body said it's doing just fine, is pulling in crowds, and will ride on.

Mid Northern Rodeo committee member Dianna Bradshaw said they don't have enough money to put January's two-day event on near Whangarei, even though it's drawn decent crowds, ticket sales don't bring in enough, and fundraising hasn't plugged the gap.

"It's been happening since the 1960s; it's a huge part of the community. It's used as fundraising for the local pony club so the kids are missing out. It's a huge thing, and it wasn't a decision taken lightly," Ms Bradshaw said.

Protesters bought tickets to last year's Mid Northern Rodeo and tried to film events, but were met with angry spectators.

Spokesperson for animal welfare group SAFE, Will Appelbe, thought protests since a 2017 event have had some effect.

"Footage emerged from that rodeo that showed quite appalling treatment of animals, including an animal handler who was illegal shocking young calves with a cattle prod. Following that many businesses that were sponsoring that rodeo withdrew their support," Mr Appelbe said.

"The reality is business and the public are voting with their wallets, and the organisers are now strapped for cash."

But Lyal Cocks from the Rodeo Cowboys Association said that's rubbish and the other 34 events around the country are doing fine and will go ahead.

"No, it's not a sign of a trend, it's just one club that made, I think, a responsible decision. It is regrettable, but I'd rather they did that and came back with a strong and successful rodeo in 2021."

Mr Cocks said they've made changes over animal welfare concerns, including lifting the minimum weight, so animals under 200 kilograms - including most calves - won't be used.

"The changes we make are not for the protesters, the changes we make are for the good of the sport - the contestants, the spectators and animal welfare."

An independent Animal Welfare Advisory Committee reported to the government about a year ago, and found seven rodeo events were of concern.

Of those, four were rated of moderate concern (calf riding, bull/steer riding, bronc riding and team roping) and two serious (steer wrestling and rope and tie).

"These events regularly cause negative impacts, and potentially quite substantial impacts," the report said of the events causing serious concern.

The Labour Party campaigned pre-election to ban some aspects of rodeo - flank straps, young calves, and electric prods - but have not.

Outgoing Green MP Gareth Hughes has a private members bill waiting to be drawn that proposes to ban all rodeo activities.

"I'm convinced rodeo is on the wrong side of history books. Our attitude to the way we treated animals has changed markedly, and I think hurting them, simply for entertainment, has no place in modern New Zealand [society]," Mr Hughes said.

"Much like once upon a time dog fighting and cock fighting were considered legitimate community activities. We'd be horrified by those activities today."

The minister responsible, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, said in a statement he expects the highest animal welfare standards at rodeos this summer.

"For the first time, the Ministry for Primary Industries will have an Animal Welfare Inspector at every rodeo during the 2019/20 season (35 events) to ensure the code of welfare for rodeos is upheld," Mr O'Connor said.

"Special attention will be given to the requirements for each event to have a veterinarian and an animal welfare officer assigned for the duration of the rodeo."