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In return, rodeo officials are spending $25,000 on a campaign led by Otago Regional Council member and former MP Michael Laws to improve the image of the sport.
The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association and animal rights activists are at odds about the future of the widely attended rodeos.
Mr Laws has publicly defended rodeos and says there is no illegal practice employed by the rodeo industry. The sport operates to a strict code.
The code has been gazetted and passed by the proper authorities, independent of rodeo. They are policy activists in Wellington, responsible for enacting animal welfare legislation.
The next local rodeo is set for Waikouaiti on March 3. On March 10 and 11, the national rodeo finals are to be held in Wanaka.
Wanaka may be an ideal target for the protesters because of the national significance of the event and the likely media coverage which can be gained by trying to disrupt an established event.
On the day of the Waikouaiti rodeo, the Otago Racing Club is holding its Champion’s Day. There is a growing concern about the overuse of whips in both thoroughbred and harness racing. The time may be close for a considered investigation into how jockeys and harness drivers encourage their horses to run faster. It is refreshing to see top horses win without the constant thrashing of a whip.
There is no middle ground with animal activists, who are often prepared to put their own lives at risk to stop events. New Zealand action groups believe rodeos have had their day, but recent numbers do not show it.
An estimated 5000 people attended the Wanaka rodeo earlier this year. Attendees included Defence Minister Ron Mark, New Zealand First MP Mark Patterson, from Lawrence, and Mr Laws.
The thrills and spills of rodeos are being welcomed by people who are starting to resent the cotton-wool atmosphere in which they are often forced to live.
Cowboys Association president Lyal Cocks says rodeo is now better and continues a strong rural tradition passed down through generations.
The internationally recognised sport of rodeo has been part of New Zealand’s culture for more than 50 years, he says.
Just because something has been operating for 50 years does not automatically give it licence to continue and it is up to the association to strictly enforce the code to which it adheres.
With the increasing use of technology, it is far easier for opponents of rodeo, racing, and many other sports, to film and edit events and show them in the worst possible light.
To counter this, the highest of standards must be kept. Queen guitarist Brian May launched a campaign in Britain to stop the hunting of foxes and badgers, gaining many enemies in the process. Mr May has set up a charity to try to halt the hunting of animals and has received threats for his efforts.
The cowboy association drew attention on its website to the harassment suffered on social media by some of its members. It alerted members to the need for them to lay a complaint with either the police or Netsafe if they are bullied online.
People have a right to protest. But also others have the right to participate in the sport and hobby of their choosing — without being bullied online. Rodeos will continue to be an emotive topic as the summer season continues. The Rodeo Code of Welfare was reviewed as recently as 2016 and there has been an increase in the number of training clinics available to novice competitors and riders.
Recognition of these measures should be acknowledged by animal rights activists, along with recognition by the association for the need to keep a close watch to prevent any incidents of cruelty.