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PLASKON: This year 6 million people watched rodeos on TV according to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or PRCA. But watching it on TV is different than in person according to Las Vegas Veterinarian Adam Hadlam who has worked several Rodeos.
HADLAM: If you have ever watched on TV there are things that are omitted that they won't show you because they are concerned about people getting upset about what is happening to the animal.
PLASKON: He says, using electric prods and methods of roping in what's called steer-breaking are common is the reality of life on the ranch.
VIDEO SOUND: Will Rogers Memorial, Rumford Rodeo Company Vinita OK, August 28, 2004
PLASKON: This steer breaking was caught on tape at the Oklahoma Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo back in August. A steer runs out, the cowboy and his lasso in hot pursuit. The rope lands square on the steer's horns. What's not shown on TV says Hadlam is that the cowboy then lets out slack on the right side of the steer and then rides to the left. Then because of the rope placement when the slack runs out as the steer runs full speed its head is suddenly jerked head-first underneath it's own weight slamming to the ground.
VIDEO SOUND: Announcer: OOOOO
PLASKON: This steer lies motionless, as the cowboy triumphantly wraps up the animals limp legs. Once untied the steer can't put any weight on its hind legs. The announcer re-assures the crowd.
VIDEO SOUND: When we think an animal might be hurt, we bring them out on a red carpet.
PLASKON: Veterenarian Hadlam says the animals seem to thrive on the action of the rodeo. Even though it's dangerous, it's better than being out on a ranch or in a feed lot somewhere.
HADLAM: If I was a steer or I was a cow, a rodeo is where I would wanna be. If you compare to what happens out on the range the alternative is that a lot of other animals don't ever get treated.
PLASKON: He says animals at the National Finals Rodeo are treated like royalty compared to smaller regional events but he's confident that other rodeos have good veterinarians too. Steer busting is common and not considered abuse under the law. Animal activist Steve Hindi does call it abuse. He filmed this entire incident. And recalls a tractor coming out to get the injured steer in Oklahoma.
HINDI: Dragged them into the pen and let him slowly die over the next hour. That vet was never seen again, and she never checked the injured animal. She was there as a public relations tool only.
PLASKON: For the past 12 years Hindi's organization, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK has filmed rodeo personnel coast to coast. He says that at 3 out of 4 rodeos SHARK activists have witnessed and filmed abuse including repeated punching of caged horses and livestock, shocking them in the face with high voltage tazers known as Hot Shots - and doing it to put on a show.
PLASKON: In this clip supplied by SHARK, a cowboy shocks a horse in a stall repeatedly until its visibly aggravated. It leaps out of the gate when it opens, bucks for a few seconds then stops resting calmly with the rider still on its back. This video trumps the common claim that all the animals in rodeos naturally buck when a human sits on them says Hindi:
HINDI: Born to buck, that's not true. When a horse doesn't want to buck, then the prod comes out. They grab them by their ears and sticking their thumbs down the ears
PLASKON: Veterinarian Hadlam recognizes that Hot Shots, that can deliver 5-thousand volts of electricity are used inappropriately:
HADLAM: And I do think that it is used in rodeo where it shouldn't be used but it is also used in ranches and elsewhere where it shouldn't be used."
PLASKON: For instance ranchers themselves get shocked with them.
GOICOECHEA: If you have ever been hit with a hot shot and most of us out here on these ranches have been and we recognize how it does hurt, but it doesn't tear your arm off.
PLASKON: Pete Goicoechea is a State Assembly Member and a White Pine county rancher. He's currently nursing a pulled hamstring from chasing cattle. But that's not slowing him down, having attended political meeting this week and heading back into the mountains yesterday.
GOICOECHEA: In fact we are just headed north and we are gonna gather a bunch of cows up in the Ruby Mountains. It is 2 below and we have 6-8 inches of snow.
PLASKON: He hasn't seen the SHARK videos, but says steer busting as seen in rodeos is typical on the ranch and one humane way cowboys catch steers.
GOICOECHEA: The alternative is you catch him around the neck and hold him until he chokes down. I don't know what is more humane get knocked down once like in a football game or get choked.
PLASKON: As far as the Hot Shots, Goicoechea says that used minimally they are a more humane way to get an animal to move rather than beating them with a pipe or whip. The animal rights organization SHARK will be displaying dozens of its videos near NFR this weekend on 4 big screen TV's. They want to sway public opinion in favor of legislation aimed at protecting the animals, such as prohibiting the use of Hot Shots on livestock while they are confined to stalls. Such legislation has been passed in California and Illinois. When rodeo personnel have ignored the law in those states SHARK videos have led to convictions. Nonetheless, Assemblyman Goicoechea doesn't think legislation is a good idea in Nevada.
GOICOECHEA: I think it would be ridiculous to put any restraints on that. Are we going to make it illegal to play football? You will see more people hurt in football than in an NFR performance. It's typical but you will say they are doing it out of their own free will, but again it is all dollars and cents.
PLASKON: The analogy, he says, between rodeo and football is that those who are hurt take the risk because they stand to make a lot of money. And the stakes are pretty high for cowboys, last year Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association members cracked 6 figure incomes. Cowboys at NFR in Las Vegas stand to earn more than ever, 5.1 million dollars in prize money. The animals may not make any money, but in a macabre twist participating benefits them says Goicoechea.
GOICOECHEA: The ultimate destination for them is the food chain and the longer they are in the rodeo that's keeping them out of the food chain.
PLASKON: According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which puts on the National Finals Rodeo, treating animals well is the key to a successful event. It has more than 60 rules governing their care. Representatives told KNPR that it's rules go beyond current law. Some rodeo practices may be tough to swallow, but Assemblyman Goicoechea says they allow people from all walks of life to put on a pair of boots and a hat and join in western heritage. 170 thousand spectators are expected at NFR.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR