I do not like the Tucson Rodeo, but not for the reasons you might suspect. While the event draws its share of animal rights activists in protest, it throws a wrench in the day-to-day life of those who do not take in the parade as participants or spectators. The parade has also been visited by tragedies.
Those who are real rodeo snobs refer to the rodeo by its Spanish title, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros. The parade has been going for 86 years now, and is supposedly the longest non-motorized parade in the continental United States. So “popular” is the parade that Tucson closes schools, from elementary to the University of Arizona for at least the parade day (Thursday), if not the day after as well. Some local businesses also close, which means if you have errands planned you could be out of luck.
Unfortunately, those who go to watch the parade have occasionally been witness to disaster. In 2006, the buggy carrying the Mayor and his wife was rammed by a horse pulling another wagon. The Mayor had a bruised arm, but his wife suffered whiplash and a concussion and had to be taken to the hospital. The following year, a five-year old girl riding in the parade was thrown from her horse and then trampled to death by horses pulling a stagecoach. Complicating matters was the fact that by rule she should not have been allowed to ride in the first place. Children eight years and older are the only ones permitted to ride on their own mounts.
What about the cruelty to animals employed in the actual events of the rodeo itself? Here is where I part ways a bit with the animal rights community. My feeling is that the greater crime has already been committed, centuries ago when we domesticated these beasts and compromised their genetics forever. Selective breeding has made them human creations. What we do after that is at most adding insult to injury. They may still be “sentient beings,” but barely. There is little elegance to a cow, especially when compared to a truly wild ungulate.
Surely I can’t feel the same way about horses! Well, they technically have no place here at all: The Spaniards brought them to North America. Wild mustangs are not wild, they are feral, and do not deserve the same consideration at the truly wild mammals with which they compete for habitat and forage. I am not about to advocate sending them all to the glue factory, but what we need is a dedicated range for a small population. Make it the “Wild Mustang National Wildlife Refuge” or something, but get them concentrated so bison, elk, and other such wildlife can have the landscape that is rightfully theirs.
I remember attending a rodeo as a child in Oregon. I wasn’t that impressed, though I do recall that cowboy Larry Mahan was something of a star, perhaps because he was born in Salem, Oregon. There is no doubt that these men (and women) are athletes, as are today’s ranchers who scratch out a living on the range. The rodeo may simply not be the way to celebrate the buckaroo any longer.