Are American Rodeos More Acceptable Than Spanish Bullfighting?
An Animal Rights Article from


Stephanie Ernst
July 2008

Watch FAACE (Fights Against Animal Cruelty To ALL Animals) video, Rodeos in Europe.]

I know I don't have to point out this parallel to everyone, but it does seem pertinent to at least mention, for those whose thoughts may not go in this direction right away, that at its heart, this issue is no different from, for example, Westerners going nuts about how "barbaric" it is for some other cultures to eat dogs while this culture tortures and eats pigs. Something to think about for those who oppose unnecessary violence and recognize that there's no meaningful difference between rodeos and bullfighting but who may still be funding even more torture and violence and killing by eating animals and animal products.  

Helloooo, American arrogance and blindness. In the discussion on the post "It Is Our Job to Fight for All of Them, Not Only Some of Them," reader and member Lisa R. shared this troubling news report: From Bullfighting to Rodeos: Culture Shock in Spain. The very premise is that rodeos are somehow a more humane alternative to bullfighting, that those silly Spanish need wise Americans to show them how to exploit and injure animals humanely. Um, no.

The report begins:

For years, animal rights groups in Europe have tried to get Spain to ban bullfighting, an age-old tradition that results in the deaths of thousands of bulls every year.

Now American promoters are offering rodeos as an alternative to the sport. Dozens of America's top rodeo cowboys have taken their show to Europe, and their tour starts at bullfighting rings in Spain.

In the municipal bullring in Guadalajara, a small city near Madrid, a bilingual emcee tries to fire up the crowd as "Miss Rodeos" waving the Stars and Stripes ride out on Harley-Davidsons. The cowboys rope, steer and ride broncos, as the high-decibel sound system shakes the arena's foundations.

It's remarkable but oh-so-American that while animal advocacy groups in Spain and its more immediate neighbors are trying to end a form of violence against animals, American rodeos are taking advantage and trying to convince other nations that our forms of cruelty and killing are superior. The rodeo is itself an inexcusable exercise in traumatizing, injuring, and -- yes -- even causing the deaths of animals, for no valid reason, while humans cheer on and celebrate each other's brutality.

All it takes is one visit to the SHARK Web site, including the Rodeo Cruelty section, where you can find far more reports and videos from rodeo investigations than you ever want to see, to know instantly that there is nothing humane, nothing honorable, about rodeos. Animals are shocked, taunted, and tortured with pain -- and that's even before they're released to be chased down, jerked and yanked around, broken (in the literal sense), and tied up or "dominated" for the crowd. The animals don't run and thrash because they're wild or because they too are engaging in some sort of competition. They run and thrash because they are terrified, because they are trying to escape pain, because their abusers are chasing after them to cause them even more pain, while lights flash and sound systems blare and people scream and laugh all around them.

I'll remind skeptical readers again that I'm not a born-and-raised city dweller. I grew up in the rural Midwest. I am the grandchild, niece, and cousin of farmers, hunters, and rodeo fans. So I say all these things not as an oblivious, arrogant outsider, not as someone who looks down on people who consider this "entertainment" as cruel brutes. I have to believe that a number of people who support rodeos don't do so because they enjoy violence and don't care about animals; they watch and cheer at rodeos because it's simply what they've always known, because what they're watching hasn't really clicked for them, because despite what's going on right in front of them, ingrained notions of culture and tradition keep them from really seeing the brutality, the fear, and the violence for which they are paying and for which there is no need. And it doesn't help that rodeos outright lie, to their audiences, to news outlets, to investigators, and to law enforcement, about what really happens to animals before, during, and after their terrifying moments in the ring. But whatever the reasons some people still support the rodeo, it is still wrong. And it is not something we need to be exporting to other countries; it's an institution we need to be educating about and abolishing even here.

Finally, there are indeed groups in Spain working tirelessly to end the gruesome violence against bulls in that country, including, for obvious example, Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality, whose campaigns and investigations I have admired for multiple reasons -- not the least of which is the consistent message in opposition to all violence against and exploitation of animals that accompanies their work. (Indeed, see the group's response to the rodeo tour through Spain here.) If we want to help bulls in Spain, we would do well to support (and model after) the efforts of activist groups such as Igualdad Animal. Trying to substitute a form of American cruelty for a form of Spanish cruelty is hardly a solution. (Nor, for that matter, do the campaigns calling for boycotts of entire countries -- when many in said countries oppose the violence too -- strike me as productive.) As Lisa said in her comment linking to the NPR report, this bizarre suggestion that our friends in Spain should merely replace bullfighting with rodeos is "an example of why we should be clear that we advocate for the end of exploitation, and not just lesser evils." 

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