This blog was written by guest blogger; Jed Pugsley, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Livestock Program Administrator.
A portion of his responsibilities include promoting the proper care and handling of rodeo livestock at PRCA-sanctioned rodeos and monitoring the current environment to ensure the future of the sport.
Since the announcement from Feld Entertainment (Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) in January of 2017 that they would close their doors after 147 years, I have been asked numerous times what the declaration means for rodeo. I have even seen article after article eluding to the ideology that “rodeo is next.” Almost weekly I receive phone calls and messages from concerned members, fans, industry stake holders and lawmakers asking what is being done to preserve the sport so it does not endure the same fate as the circus. Over the last seven months I have given the circumstances a lot of contemplation and thought.
Born of the hard-working American ranchers who built the West and helped feed our nation, the sport of rodeo directly descends from the everyday ranch work of roping stray cattle and breaking wild horses. The one-on-one competitions of cowboys grew more popular through the years and eventually became organized events. Then came the Cowboys’ Turtle Association – those who were slow to organize and unafraid to stick their necks out to get what they wanted. With association came accepted practices, bylaws and rules established to promote the sport of professional rodeo. Today, the Restated Articles of Incorporation of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association confirm the association’s commitment to the future of all aspects of the sport.
Just as the one-on one-competition has evolved and changed into the sport of rodeo as we now know, so has the livestock welfare program of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Since 1947, when the first rules regarding the welfare of livestock participating in PRCA-sanctioned events were implemented, additional rules, strategies and overall awareness has allowed the sport to prosper despite continued criticism. Many years of hard work and dedication have positioned the PRCA with a defendable and successful approach to livestock welfare. Yet the question remains, “Is rodeo next?”
The rhetoric of individuals and organizations who are critical of the sport is not something that is new to rodeo. Rightly dubbed ‘fake news’ is commonly spewed by these critics as the rodeo and its proponents roll into town. Protests and demonstrations are held during events in an attempt to deter fans. Fallacies are spread as truth to those unfamiliar of the sport. The use of social media by these groups exacerbates the misconceptions of rodeo within a population growing further away from the Western way of life. Despite the continued critiques and antagonists of the sport, rodeo endures. Rodeo persists. Rodeo thrives.
To state the obvious, the sport of professional rodeo is not the circus. Dedicated athletes (both two- and four-legged), stock contractors, contract personnel, rodeo committees and fans allow success in the current environment. Professional rodeo events provide much more than community entertainment on a once-a-year basis; it is indeed “America’s Hometown Sport.” On both a grass-roots and national level, those involved in the sport are the true advocates of animal welfare (the belief system that we have the right to interact with animals in industry, sport, recreation and entertainment, but along with that right comes the responsibility to provide proper care and handling). Animal welfare is not only the backbone of the PRCA’s approach to successful events, but the keystone to a prosperous future. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association proudly leads the way in creating livestock welfare procedures, rules and standards for rodeo. All PRCA-sanctioned rodeos are governed by rules intended to ensure the humane treatment, care and handling of livestock. These rules are strictly enforced by the rodeo judges and office administration.
Often, I am asked to provide suggestions for those wishing to further rodeo and to ensure we can enjoy the sport in the future. My suggestions are nothing new or groundbreaking. Many people have heard or seen them before, as they have been shared by numerous people through the years. They are simple, yet tried and true.
- Don’t be baited into a discussion by “Fake News.”
Critic groups make accusations and/or use edited video in an effort to gain support and credibility by so-called “shedding light on rodeo.” Their approach relies on a reaction from supporters of rodeo. Confronting, fighting or arguing with these groups merely validates their opinions and draws continued criticism. To quote the famed cowboy American icon John Wayne, “Don’t pick a fight, but if you find yourself in one I suggest you make damn sure you win.”
- Respect other’s opinions, but we do not need to agree with them.
No matter how eloquent the words or how skillfully the picture of rodeo is painted, it will never be enough to suffice the critics of the sport. By virtue of this great country in which we live, each person or group is entitled to their own opinion. Critics have theirs, rodeo has ours and we will have to agree to disagree.
- Keep emotions in check.
Many people are passionate about the sport and it is easy to become emotionally involved with criticism. Emotions not kept in check cloud judgment and elicit a reactionary response. An un-timely emotional response opens the door for additional criticism and undue attention. When becoming overly emotional with a particular situation, it is best to take a timeout to regroup and collect thoughts and then proceed on with a clear directive.
- Educate yourself as well as those around you.
We have all been sitting at a rodeo and heard the misbelief that the flank strap is wrapped around the testicles of the bucking stock. What did you say? Maybe you said nothing at all. In this case, as well as many others, knowledge is power. It is the responsibility of each proponent of rodeo to help educate about the sport. In the case of the flank strap, help them understand that the flank strap is positioned similar to a belt and that it never comes in contact with the animal’s genitals. Further explain that the flank strap is there to enhance the bucking action and is utilized as a cue to the animal that it is time to perform.
- Utilize experts and facts.
Combat negative information with positive information and facts. Not every accusation or allegation against the sport of rodeo warrants a response, but that doesn’t mean that positive information and facts cannot be shared independent of the negative. Sharing factual information and utilizing experts further validates the position of rodeo advocates. Facts and quotes from industry experts can be found on www.prorodeo.com and in the PRCA Media Guide. Additionally, extensive resources are available through the Livestock Program of the PRCA.
- Be proud.
Be proud of where the sport came from, where we are at and where we are going. I see no need to make excuses or be apologetic about it and I know my sentiments are shared by many. I am proud to be involved with and represent the sport of professional rodeo and the ever-diminishing Western way of life, and I am proud of the hard-working individuals who have shaped this great sport into what it is today. I am proud to be part of the next generation to share rodeo with new fans, new communities and even new countries. You should be as well.
In conclusion, I pose the question once and for all, “Is rodeo next?”
It very well may be that rodeo will be next to receive an increase in critics, negative media and undue pressure. As iron sharpens iron, so will rodeo continue shape, mold and build the future of the sport. Rodeo endures. Rodeo persists. Rodeo thrives.