Student animal activist group claims CSU’s rodeo engages in animal cruelty

Piper Davis

A cattle roping event during the 2013 Skyline Stampede Rodeo. (Collegian File Photo)


A student animal activist group has accused CSU’s rodeo team of animal cruelty after they said they investigated CSU’s Skyline Stampede Rodeo.


The 67th annual Skyline Stampede Rodeo took place April 7, 8 and 9 at B.W. Pickett Arena at the CSU equine center. It is recognized as the oldest collegiate rodeo in the country.

The group, named Rams Organizing for Animal Rights, is composed of 16 active CSU students who say they work to expose the mistreatment of animals and pursue animal liberation. The group also organized a rally in response to the controversial on-campus slaughterhouse, or meat harvesting facility, outside of the campus Administration Building on April 19.

Austin Joseph, a senior studying nutrition and health sciences, and Abigail Bearce, a sophomore studying conservation biology, attended the CSU Rodeo Team’s annual rodeo held in Fort Collins to analyze potential instances of animal cruelty.

“The videos from ROAR at CSU show cows being stepped on and kicked, calves being thrown to the ground and slapped in the face, and a horse being dragged through the dirt,” Joseph wrote in a press release by ROAR.

Joseph claimed they documented abuse that is not sanctioned by rodeo rules.

“A few things seemed like honest accidents, but most of it was meant to happen,” Joseph wrote. “We documented plenty of incidents that were perfect examples of what happens when everything goes exactly as planned, and they still hurt animals. Cruelty is built into the rodeo, and there are parts that no amount of regulation can fix.”

Bearce and Joseph said they oppose the event of calf roping. Calf roping is a timed event where a rider who is mounted on a horse attempts to catch a calf by throwing a looped lasso around its neck. The rider then must dismount the horse, run to the calf and restrain the calf by tying a rope around three of its legs. The calf is tied for six seconds while the official time is recorded.

The event originates from the everyday duties of actual cowboys catching calves to brand them and provide medical treatment.

Calf roping is illegal in the state of Rhode Island as well as in the city of Baltimore, MD. It is not allowed in areas of Australia, Brazil and Canada and is banned nationally in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Joseph and Bearce said they believe the fact that this event is illegal in other areas speaks to the cruelty involved with the event.


“If people were doing this to dogs, there would be an uproar,” Bearce said. “But people seem to lack any compassion for calves in rodeos when they are getting hurt right in front of an audience of people who have normalized this kind of treatment.”

Joseph and Bearce also expressed their opposition of other events such as saddle bronc riding. In the event, flank straps are tied onto the horses to cause enough discomfort for the horse to buck to try and release the strap and spurs are used to aggravate the horse, Joseph said.

The group would ideally like to end certain events in the rodeo, such as calf-roping and saddle bronc riding, but believe it will be more difficult than anticipated because it is an institutionalized problem normalized to the public, especially the youth.

“It didn’t appear to bother anyone when screaming goats were pinned to the ground or when roped calves cried out,” Bearce wrote. “There’s a connection between that and the fact that we saw children dressed in cowboy hats and trying to lasso their friends. These children are taught from a very early age that this type of violent behavior is acceptable and even encouraged.”

Though student members of the rodeo team were asked not to comment in response to the accusations, Wayne Miller, the rodeo club advisor, said he does not believe there were any violations of typical rodeo standards.

“CSU is part of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and collegiate rodeos are run according the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) rules, including those for animal welfare,” Miller said. “CSU rodeo staff have reviewed the video and they do not see evidence of any violations of NIRA rules.”

According to the NIRA Statement of Position on Animal Welfare, the only guideline for steer wrestling states that ropers are forbidden from placing their fingers in eyes, lips or noses of steers. Abuse of animals by any NIRA member or mistreatment of animals that occurs on rodeo grounds will result in disqualification and a fine of $250 for the first offense, with the fine doubling with each following offense.

Rams Organizing for Animal Rights said they hope that they can educate the public on how these events qualify as animal cruelty, encourage others to recognize the problem and teach the community to advocate for the rights of the wellbeing of animals.

“The rodeo only has one demographic and I don’t think these people can see that these animals can feel pain when they are lassoed and dragged to the ground and stepped on,“ Bearce said. “Since this rodeo culture is such a big part of their overall identity, permanent change is going to be very hard and fought by the rodeo community. But that won’t stop us from fighting for what’s right.”

Collegian reporter can be reached at or on Twitter @PiperLDavis.