A cowboy on a bucking horse in a rodeo championship A rodeo championship in the city of Wanaka in New Zealand - Media Credit: Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Animal Rights Groups Launch Legal Bid To Ban Rodeo In New Zealand

Public opinion is also largely in support of a rodeo ban


3 Minutes Read

Animal rights groups in New Zealand have launched a legal bid to ban rodeo within the country.

The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and domestic animal rights group SAFE say that rodeo is an “unnecessary and unlawful” sport that contravenes the 1999 Animal Welfare Act.

A presiding judge will not have the authority to ban rodeo. But a legal victory will put pressure on the New Zealand government to do so.

NZALA and SAFE are working together to bring the Agriculture Minister and National Welfare Advisory Committee to court for a review of the welfare code connected specifically to rodeo.

“The [Animal Welfare] Act does not explicitly, with a few limited exceptions, allow or prohibit particular activities and it certainly doesn’t allow or prohibit rodeo,” Victoria Heine QC, a lawyer for SAFE, said in court.

Why is the Animal Welfare Act a key tool in the case?

Originating in the US, rodeo has been adopted by a small contingent of self-proclaimed New Zealand cowboys. The sport doesn’t draw crowds in the same way as rugby, but does have a rural following and has been present in the country since the 1960s.

Rodeo has its own animal welfare code, which was drawn up in 2014 and then updated in 2018. SAFE argues that due process was not followed when drawing up this code. As a result, it is in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

The case hinges on a clause that specifically prohibits any “unnecessary distress or pain” from being inflicted on animals. SAFE states that, in contrast, the rodeo animal welfare code normalizes animal mistreatment. 

How are animals at risk during a rodeo?

New Zealand holds approximately 35 rodeo events a year. These include displays of bull riding, calf roping, bareback riding, and cattle wrestling. 

The animal cost of the country’s rodeo scene has been widely documented in recent years. In 2020, The Independent published footage of cowboys punching and kicking animals. During wrestling events, cows are shown to have suffered broken backs, necks, and legs. Electric shock prods and boot spurs are also frequently used.

In the same year, two bulls were reportedly euthanized after sustaining serious injuries. After initially denying the deaths, Mad Bull Rodeo president Garry Clark commented: “Well yeah there was two bulls euthanized, yeah.”

He added: “It’s definitely something we don’t want to happen. Either of them [the injuries] could have happened in a normal farming day, and it’s unfortunate that these things happen, unfortunately.”

SAFE responded at the time, calling the death of animals for sport “appalling” and a contradiction of animal welfare laws.

Will New Zealand ban rodeo?

In a demonstration of changing mindsets, the general population of New Zealand appears to support a rodeo ban. A survey conducted by Horizon Research in 2020, on behalf of SAFE, revealed that 51 percent of respondents want to see the sport outlawed. When asked further questions, 66 percent agreed that animals suffering for entertainment is not a price worth paying. 

Rodeo has already been banned in parts of Europe, Australia, and the US

If the judge presiding over the case rules that the rodeo welfare code was not duly considered, the New Zealand government may be forced to act. It will need to either redraft the code or join other countries by implementing a ban.

The case was heard earlier this week with a ruling expected in mid-October.

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The Author

Amy Buxton

Amy enjoys reporting on vegan news and sustainability initiatives. She has a degree in English literature and language and is raising a next-gen vegan daughter.

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Eric Mills, coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS

GO, NEW ZEALAND! Rodeo is condemned by nearly EVERY animal welfare organization in North America due to its inherent cruelty. Rodeo has almost NOTHING to do with either agriculture or life on a working ranch. It’s mostly macho hype, and exercise in DOMINATION. And it needs to end, world-wide. The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) outlawed rodeos back in 1934, followed by Germany and the Netherlands. Can New Zealand and the rest of the world be far behind?

Irene Muschel
1 month ago

Rodeo are barbaric. They celebrate aggressive cruelty to animals,
profit off the cruelty, foster indifference to animal suffering,
and encourage cruelty to animals in the people who pay to view
these spectacles.

Countries, cities, and institutions that permit this cruelty to continue
are in fact engaging in cruelty to animals.

I hope New Zealand will permanently ban rodeos and thereby set
a national example of morality and compassion.

1 month ago

Bravo, NZALA, bravo! Rodeo should be banned everywhere.

Peggy W Larson, DVM MS JD
Peggy W Larson, DVM MS JD
30 days ago

As a former bareback bronc rider, pathologist and large animal veterinarian, I have both the experience and autopsy proof that rodeo injures and kills animals. Dr. Robert Bay from Colorado autopsied roping calves and found hemorrhages, torn muscles, torn ligaments, damage to the trachea, damage to the throat and damage to the thyroid. These calves never get a chance to heal before they are used again. Meat inspectors processing rodeo animals found broken bones, ruptured internal organs, massive amounts of blood in the abdomen from ruptured blood vessels and damage to the ligamentum nuchae that holds the neck to the rest of the spinal column.
As a former criminal lawyer, children that are exposed to and participate in animal abuse often grow up to abuse humans. I have seen children cry at rodeos when the calves are roped and slammed to the ground. It is time for this archaic rodeo “entertainment” to end.

Plant Based News Admin
Plant Based News Admin
27 days ago

Thanks for your comment Peggy- that is absolutely heart breaking. Thank you for sharing.

Eric Mills, coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS

RODEO QUOTES compiled by Eric Mills, coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS – Oakland (2022)

“Cowboys, sensing—like gorillas—that their time has passed, cling ever more desperately to anachronistic styles, not willing to admit that the myth has degenerated, the traditions eroded to a point where attempting to sustain them falls somewhere between silliness and the outright ridiculous. (–Larry McMurtry, in the book, RODEO, Aperture Books, NYC, 1994) NOTE: McMurtry is author of “Lonesome Dove,” a rodeo cowboy favorite.

“No one on a working ranch would ever have any reason (or desire) to ride a bull, Brahma or otherwise. No one would ever be required to race a horse around three triangularly placed barrels, an activity that quickly ruins the horse for more productive activity. Bull riding and bqrrel racing are rodeo kabuki—their relation to anything that might happen on a ranch is confined to costume.” (–Ibid.)

“If ever there were a completely gratuitous abuse of animals, and often baby animals at that, all done for the sheer thrill and bravado of it, it is rodeo.” (–Matthew Scully, in his 2002 book DOMINION. Scully is a former speech writer for Pres. George W. Bush.)

“Do I think it hurts the calf? Sure I do. I’m not stupid.” (–Keith Martin, chair of the board, PRCA. In the 2/6/2000 SanAntono Express News, “Choosing Champions,” by reporter Elizabeth Allen)

“Yeah, I accidentally killed and injured lots of calves when I was learning. I mean, I plain roped their heads off.” (–a PRCA calf roper, “The mud, the blood & the poop,” by PRCA reporter Gvin Ehringer, Colorado Springs Independent, August 19, 2004)

“The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals I think it’s worse than pain.” (–Dr. Temple Grandin, world-renowned animal behaviorist)

“Do animals feel fear? Nah, they don’t feel fear. They’re an ANIMAL!” (–Russ Fields, Castro Valley, CA rancher and president of the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Committee, 5/19/18 KGO-TV segment)

“As a lawyer, the ‘wild cow milking contest’ reminds me of rape cases I have tried in state court. Appalling!” (–Dr. Peggy Larson, veterinarian & former bronc rider, in a 2015 letter to the Hayward Area Rec & Park District.

“Women should not rodeo any more than men can have babies. Women were put on earth to reproduce, and are close to animals. Women’s liberation is on an equal to gay liberation—they are both ridiculous.” (–a Wyoming steer wrestler in the book, “RODEO: An Anthropologist Looks at the Wild and the Tame,” by Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, Univ. Tenn. Press, 1982)

“The eighteen-year-old rodeo queen and her princess told me that rodeo people, including themselves, ‘hated Democrats, environmentalists, and gays.’” (–from “Rodeo Queens and the American Dream,” by Joan Burbick, Public Affairs, NYC, 2002)

“Rodeo is not a true ‘sport.’ That term denotes willing, evenly-matched participants. Rodeo does not qualify. Rather, it’s a bogus, macho exercise in DOMINATION. For most of the animals involved, the rodeo arena is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse.” (–Eric Mills, coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS)

“If it gets to the point where people think rodeo is inhumane or cruel, they quit coming, and then we’re out of business.” (–Tom Hirsig, CEO, Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, in the July 27, 2018 Wyoming Tribune Eagle) MAKE IT SO!


“Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent toawrds all life will we have learne

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