Veggie Girl Takes a Gander at the Sweetwater Rodeo

As a vegetarian since 1989, I’ve never liked rodeos.

The whole idea of tying up an animal or wrestling him to the ground for sport always just seemed appalling to me.

I had never actually seen a rodeo in person before, but all these years took PETA on its word that  “rodeos are nothing more than manipulative displays of human domination over animals, thinly disguised as entertainment.”

Skill or Stupidity? You Decide.

When we were in Sweetwater, we happened to camp out at the fairgrounds the same weekend the West Texas Rodeo Association was in town. For just the price of our campsite, we had the option of checking out two days worth of events, free. Jim assumed I would want to leave, or at least organize a protest. But something compelled me to check it out. Being a cheapskate I figured I had nothing to lose if I found it as horrible as I always heard it would be. At least I would know PETA wasn’t exaggerating. After all these years, this veggie-burger eatin’, sprout growin’ hippie was going to judge rodeos for herself, I thought.

We watched all sorts of amateur rodeo competitions, like chute dogging, where a contestant (always male, wonder why?) jumps into the steer’s chute and when the gates are opened, hangs on by the horns while the steer runs down the field and then the guy attempts to wrestle the animal to the ground within 30 seconds.

There was also goat tying, where brawny farm girls wearing feed caps ride into the stadium on a horse, dismount, then try to throw down and tie up a tethered goat as fast as possible.

Now, call me crazy, but I think it’s pretty unfair to prod a steer to run down a field, then twist his head nearly 360 degrees around until it falls down and call it sport. Or run after a terrified baby goat that’s screaming to get away, because he knows exactly what’s coming.

On the other hand, I also learned that other competitions like barrel racing or team roping were far more reflective of true skill. Team roping is when two contestants ride alongside a steer and one tries to throw a lasso around a horn while the other goes after the steer’s rear leg with a lasso. You try throwing a lasso at a moving target and see how easy it is. I know I can’t.

Respect All Life, Silly Cowpokes!

Clearly, in the bygone days of the Old West, many of these exercises were of a way of life for cowpokes on the ranch. These competitions weren’t just games, they were a necessary part of making a living. Seeing amateur rodeo gave me a tiny glimpse into that world, and for that reason I was glad I went.

I didn’t see any evidence of livestock mistreatment, but apparently PETA has lots of footage of rodeo animal abuse, and it’s rampant in big money competitions.

Still, so much of what I saw billed as “competition” was just mean, violent and unfair to the animals. I can only hope that in a world where many of us recognize the value in making cats and dogs part of our families, more people will adopt these same compassionate attitudes toward all creatures great and small, not just the ones we consider “pets.”

Judging by the few spectators at the Sweetwater rodeo, this might actually be happening. One can always hope, anyways.

11 thoughts on “Veggie Girl Takes a Gander at the Sweetwater Rodeo”

  1. Annnnnnnnnd the bull and bronc riding……..I don’t think a lot of people realize what they do to make the animals buck? They put a strap or rope around delicate areas (males privates, females nipples) and pull tight to get them to buck while spurring them……I’d like to see the riders go through that, see how they like it……..the cowboys say that oh it’s got some padding, it doesn’t hurt them…yeah, right. Not only that, they travel from show to show jammed tight into trailers, and when they start to age and are no longer “useable”….

  2. On the plains of Montana where you can hear only the whisper of the breeze through spears of wheat will two cowboys meet on their horses…
    Vern: Our days are numbered Merle, the West is changing under ‘ole Winslows hooves. The young folks are sayin’ we’re abusin’ what should be treated with kind regard.
    Merle: Have you been sniffin’ the farts out of a sows ass Vern, what kind of crazy talk is that? Man’s as much an animal as animals are animals. Men like you and me might be relics but we ain’t fools neither and folk from the outside who don’t understand our ways can hump a seeing eye dog for all I care, we do what’s right on our own terms.
    Vern: I read ya clearly Merele, but maybe all the ropin’ and casterating and branding and quite possibly some of the language we’ve used in the company of these helpless fellers has gone too far, maybe it’s time we try other ways, they say those vegy burgers taste like oatmeal but more savory. I hear Phish is playing in Denver come August.
    Merele: You best consider the path this conversation is taking Vern. Your pappy, my pappy, and our pappys pappys before them knew a thing or two about animal husbandry or is that term too un PC for your softening saddle? (shakes his head). What I’m hearing is commie talk from folks who like to tell others what’s right from wrong before having made the sacrifices of scraping a living off this land as our ancestors had done. Good for them folk, let that Internet keep ’em busy enough to leave us alone. Vern, you need to decide what’s right for you like everyone else in this country, and if you see their ways as more enlightened then fine, so be it, but I’m good for now and will continue to eat and treat the beast as I best see it.
    Vern: I’ve always respected your ways Merele and completely get your position on the matter, but I sense it’s time to try something new and new isn’t always bad.
    Merele: True, new isn’t always bad, but doesn’t mean I have to change my ways now does it? The thing I’ve learned over the years Vern is not to have too many beliefs or opinions, it tends to keep one from enjoying all the possibilities and I’m a happy man Vern. Not just content or at peace but happy, and eating meat or stuffing a pigs intestine with blood and ground belly is a sweet moment by my measure.
    Vern: Understood Merele, understood. Here, I want you to have something, I made it at a Zen retreat.
    Merle: What is it?
    Vern: It’s a God’s eye, you hang on the wall or outside somewhere, brings good luck they say.
    Merle: That’s mighty kind of you Vern.
    Vern: It’s all about kindness Merle.
    Merle: Now their you go with that sweet-in-the-pants talk again…

    The Sun slowly began to set as our pair ambled off in a slow trot while recounting and debating the merits of the old days when people worked and lived lives measured by the seasons.

    Enrico strikes again!

  3. I don’t like rodeos, horse and dog races, circuses and zoos! I also developed a dislike for horse shows through my years of owning horses. I have found in my short lifetime though that the treatment of animals has improved – at least in many areas.

  4. We recently visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH, focused on the brutal story of slavery in the U.S. As we were leaving, my cousin remarked on the fact that slavery was accepted practice in the south, and that oblivious, indifferent slave owners were – through custom and cultural acceptance – able to close their minds/eyes to the gross immorality of “owning” and mistreating human beings.

    He wondered what practices our current society accepts, that will be revealed for all their brutality by future generations. I immediately mentioned “farming” of animals as commodities – chickens, cattle and pigs come to mind. Through the work of PETA (and others), even we omnivores are beginning to realize that animals intended as food deserve a life of “being the animal” instead of “being a crop”. It is easy to be oblivious and indifferent when “meat” comes in a shrink-wrapped tray in the grocery store. Certainly, there is an enormous gap between acceptable treatment of our “pet” animals vs. acceptable treatment of our “food” animals – possible only because we close our eyes to the brutality of their treatment.

    I hope that rodeo attendance will continue to decline as the need for those skills declines. Like you, I have a hard time appreciating the skill when I am overwhelmed by the fear and pain experienced by beings that have no choice whether or not to participate in this “sport”.

    I enjoyed this thought provoking post!

    • I hope that rodeo attendance will continue to decline as the need for those skills declines.

      Hmmmm… I would have to respectfully disagree. The fact is, (most) people want their meat, and always will. And I would much rather see an increase in the need for true cowboys herding free range cattle across America’s grasslands, than feedlot operators pushing a “crop” around with automated gates from a control room, or rain forests being depleted by massive international cattle operations.

      • Jim, I agree. I “misworded” my statement. 🙂

        Actually, what opened my eyes to the issue of “crop” animals was a conversation I had with my cousin, a hunter. I am totally opposed to hunting animals as trophies, but the conversation made me painfully aware of my hypocrisy as a carnivore and wearer/user of leather. Which animal has the better life, the “crop” animal, or the wild animal hunted as food? For me, the answer is clear.

        Though I lean towards the vegetarian end of the spectrum, I do eat (and enjoy) meat. You are correct: free range cattle raised in an environmentally sensitive way on grasslands are better in all ways than industrial cattle operations, and skilled cowboys are key to ranching. Still, and even though I know a skilled (now retired) cowboy who rode rodeo back in the day, I simply can’t watch!

        Safe travels,

    • That’s my hubby, the carnivore.

      One of my earliest observations when I decided to go veg was I realized the hypocrisy that goes along with distinguishing between “pets” and “meat.” What makes one animal edible and one off-limits? Only our willingness to shut out the truth.

      I really love the comparison between the museum and the way animals are treated, thank you for writing and pointing out that appropriate and perfect observation.

  5. Wow, I couldn’t agree more….I HATE to see those animals, any animals, used for our entertainment. I just can’t see that in the year 2010 that’s of any value.


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