Rachel Stewart is winner of the 'Opinion Writer of the Year' award at the 2016 Canon Media Awards.

Rachel Stewart: Rodeo doomed to bite the dust

Rodeo is on the way out. It's on the wrong side of history. Photo / 123RF
Rodeo is on the way out. It's on the wrong side of history. Photo / 123RF

So, we all know in our hearts that rodeo is wrong. But with Michael Laws speaking up for it, we now know it's got to be even wrong-er than we originally thought.

Look, I'm no buttercup. As a kid, I rode steers at my rural district sport's day. Actually "rode" is too optimistic. I mostly sat on top for a split second, before going splat. I was your classic farm girl, from the top of my kid-sized Stetson to the soles of my shit-stained gummies.

I've heard all the arguments for and against rodeo. I've seen the offending footage, and I can spot a cattle prod being used on an animal at a thousand paces, or a distressed bull being given a tail twist. Or gonad squeeze.

And like most rural folk, I have an innate mistrust of animal activists. It's bred into us from birth to see them as meddling, misinformed and myopic. Even the SPCA is often viewed as the devil incarnate by farmers. They might be snooping around to see how your stock are looking.

Bloody townies!

But here's the thing. On the treatment of rodeo animals, they're right. And even a cursory listen to the NZ Rodeo Cowboys Association media spokesperson Michael Laws, only serves to seal their fate. That is, the days of legal rodeo are seriously numbered. Public pressure will put paid to it.

Laws spoke with broadcaster Kim Hill last Saturday — in direct response to an interview the week before with anti-rodeo campaigner Dr Peggy Larson. Larson has an extensive involvement with rodeo, as a bronc rider, farmer, veterinarian and a consultant on animal abuse issues, including rodeo. She's a serious contender.

With the opening of our rodeo season, Anti-Rodeo Action NZ brought Dr Peggy Larson to New Zealand from her home in Vermont. To me, she sounded coherent, level-headed, and composed — in contrast to Laws, who came across as combative, dominating and smarmy.

I'm afraid that repetition of the phrase "the truth of the matter is" doesn't help me recognise the "truth". It makes me suspect the polar opposite.

When Hill asked Laws whether he was being paid to be a spokesman, he replied that he thought the question was "offensive". Frankly, if he is being paid — as most people are for performing media services — then, if I were the NZ Rodeo Cowboys Association, I'd be asking for my money back.

Laws went on to deny that the existence of video footage, clearly showing the mistreatment of animals, was of any real consequence. He considered the SPCA to be biased and scoffed at the credibility of animal activists and the nearly 63,000 who've signed a petition to ban rodeo. "They've probably never been to a rodeo," he said.

Well, I have. And I signed it. Dr Larson's been to more than a couple as well.

"Let's be clear, I'm no bleeding-heart townie. I grew up on a ranch with both dairy and beef cattle," she said. "A number of cities across the United States have passed ordinances eliminating rodeo's tools of torture [such as] the electric prod, spurs and the flank strap, all of which use pain to force the animals to "perform". It is no accident that where these devices are eliminated, rodeos disappear. Without torture, there can be no rodeo."

That, right there, is the nub of the problem. Laws likes to call rodeo "family entertainment". I prefer to call it "teaching your kids that rarking up beasts for profit is okay". I liken it to the year in, year out support for the sale of fireworks. Family entertainment? Nah, just a never-ending litany of burn victims, fires and petrified animals. Horses running into fences, dogs disappearing, and cats having firecrackers shoved up their rectum — that sort of great family entertainment-type stuff. It's awesome. If you're a sadist. Plus, it makes money. There's a pattern here.

What kind of society do we want to be? We used to hunt whales once too. Indeed, our illustrious Ministry for Primary Industries, doesn't appear to mind a bit of fisheries bycatch involving Hector's and Maui's dolphins, seabirds, seals — whatever. No worries, mate.

Given that MPI's the watchdog of rodeo breaches, and have a predilection for using volunteer investigators, no one is holding their breath that enforcement of the already meagre regulations will be anything other than token. And just like on fishing boats, video handed to MPI clearly depicting breaches, is met with claims that the footage wasn't clear enough, or similar. No prosecution.

Rodeo is on the way out. It's on the wrong side of history, and the likes of Michael Laws won't save it. In fact, unwittingly, he's likely the best thing to happen to the anti-rodeo movement. Because "the truth of the matter is" that rodeo is toast.

Yee-ha!

Rachel Stewart on Twitter: @RFStew

- NZ Herald

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Rachel Stewart is winner of the 'Opinion Writer of the Year' award at the 2016 Canon Media Awards.

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