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Cowboy in action ... Patrick McCarthy, of Wanaka, lands his noose in the rope and tie at the Outram Rodeo earlier this month. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

by Chris Tobin

Abuse being hurled at families attending rodeos this summer by animal rights activists has appalled president of the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association, Lyal Cocks, of Wanaka.

“People have the right to protest peacefully but the abuse I have witnessed being yelled at the families attending some rodeos this year is detestable.”

Debra Ashton, chief executive officer of animal activists group Safe (Save Animals from Exploitation), of Wellington, said her organisation did not condone abuse of any kind.

“The thing is, I am not aware of anything like that [abuse of families]. We support legitimate peaceful protest and we don’t condone abuse.”

The annual Waimate Rodeo will be held in Waimate on Sunday and she said a mixture of Safe members and supporters would be attending.

Mr Cocks said anti-rodeo people were small in number, yet too often the media gave them extensive coverage.

He gave one example of a recent media report on the Wanaka Rodeo.

“There were around 4000 spectators attending to watch top-class rodeo competition and I did an extensive interview, but the first half of the report focused on about 20 protesters at the entrance to the rodeo – hardly balanced and fair reporting.”

Mr Cocks said NZ Rodeo was also concerned by what he called defamation and demonisation tactics being practised by some anti-rodeo animal activists.

“The regular abuse and harassment that rodeo personnel and supporters receive, via social media especially, is nothing short of bullying.”

Ms Ashton said Safe used social media as part of its campaigning.

“But we make it clear if people want to engage, they have to do it in a peaceful and respectful way. We don’t condone bullying.

“If comments go off the radar we will pull them down but there are other pages out there and we can only manage our page.”

Mr Cocks said a government review of rodeos was undertaken last year and they were working with MPI and the national animal welfare advisory committee to implement its recommendations.

Rodeo NZ was also working with those organisations as well as the national veterinarians association and SPCA to “provide oversight”, he said, and was collecting information on the use of animals in rodeos to show that animal welfare was “good”.

Despite negative publicity, Mr Cocks said rodeos around the country were in a good state.

“Some sponsors have stopped providing support for various reasons but others have come on board and so it is not impacting rodeos significantly.

“And much support is provided by businesses and companies .. through the provision of services and capital products.

“The hundreds of contestants and spectators that come into towns that host rodeo sporting events contribute a significant economic benefit to the local communities.”

He expected rodeos would continue to be scrutinised closely by animal rights activists, which he believed was unfair.

“Why should a bull being ridden for eight seconds or less, or a 100kg calf being roped for less than 30 seconds be more scrutinised than a fish being hooked in the mouth and played for what could be hours just for human pleasure?

“If the scrutiny of rodeo was only about animal welfare, then why is animal welfare not being equally scrutinised in other sports, farming practices, hobbies and social pastimes?

“Have people ever considered the stress a sheep goes through when it’s shorn? Should zoos be permitted to operate?” he asked.