Young Mare Dies in Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo Accident

A four-year-old mare named “Strawberry Fudge” died at the Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) rodeo last month as a result of what Bob Budd, the “chairman of the rodeo’s animal care committee,” called a “freak accident.”  Strawberry Fudge, a horse owned by Vold Rodeo Company, was being ridden in a “saddle bronc riding” competition by  Brett Olive of Ford, Kansas.  The horse flipped over shortly after she exited a holding chute, and died sometime thereafter.  Olive was reportedly not injured.  The horse’s death prompted a response from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) calling for a ban on the use of “flank” or “bucking” straps, and a group called SHARK (“Showing Animals Respect and Kindness”) that published disturbing photographs of the accident (and other accidents involving animals at the CFD) on their website.  The Cheyenne, Wyoming event, the “Daddy of ‘Em All” in rodeo parlance, is reportedly one of the largest rodeos in the United States.

The use of flank (or “bucking”) straps and electric prods has been condemned by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), but is defended by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) that purports to regulate the “sport” of  bucking bronc riding.  In a section of the PRCA website entitled “livestock welfare/PRCA rodeo equipment,” the use of flank straps (and spurs and cattle prods) is defended with the argument that bucking is “in a horse’s nature” and the flank strap alone will not cause a horse to  buck.  The PRCA also claims that “veterinarians have testified” that the flank strap “causes no harm to animals.”  The PRCA rules provide that the “fleece-lined strip of leather” should have a quick release buckle and contain no “sharp or cutting” objects.  The cattle prod, described as causing a “mild shock but no injury” and intended to “get the animal’s attention” should nevertheless be “used as little as possible” and the animal should be “touched only on the hip or shoulder area” according to PRCA rules.  The PRCA also claims that spurs “usually only ruffle the animals’ hair.”

If these “tools” are so benign (“fleece,” “mild,” “ruffle”), I wonder why they are used at all.  According to the website “Cowboy Way,” the flank strap “alters the bucking action of the horse by encouraging him to kick out straighter and higher with his hind legs, thus making himself harder to ride.”  The Cowboy Way website also claims “The flank [strap] stacks the odds in favor of the horse. It cannot make him buck.”  Perhaps the veterinarians who have testified to the harmlessness of these tools should take a look at the possible harm to animals caused by altering what is an otherwise “natural” action to prolong it or make it “straighter and higher.”  Horses “naturally” keep their heads down while grazing, for example, but the use of draw reins and other “tools” to force the horse’s neck into a curved position (“rollkur”) is not “natural” and may cause harm.  Horses also naturally gallop from time to time but the practice of whipping a horse to make it gallop faster in a race has been criticized in recent years and is banned in some racing competitions.

Harry Vold Rodeo, one of the largest companies contracting with rodeos to provide animals for competition, is a family business run by the youngest daughter of founder Harry Vold.  Kirsten Vold took over management of the “stock contracting” business in 1998 from her father Harry whose long career providing livestock to rodeos earned him the moniker “Duke of the Chutes.”  All of Harry (and wife Karen) Vold’s six children are involved in rodeo-related businesses.  Vold family rodeo enterprises include “Triple V Rodeo,” “Broken Arrow” and “Wayne Vold Rodeo.”  The Vold family’s 33,000 acre ranch in Avondale, Colorado is home to over 600 horses.  Kirsten Vold also owns and operates “9 Lives Ranches” in Colorado, a guest ranch or “dude ranch” that offers a “Cowgirl Camp” geared to women.

In an interview Kirsten Vold gave to a reporter at ESPN, she is quoted as saying “If you ask me the number one reason why I do what I do, it’s because of the animals.”  And in this interview  published on “YouTube” by “fringecowgirl.com,” Vold says that the “legacy” she hopes to leave is “that my work was always good, that I didn’t lie, and that the animals that I had and that I was involved with, were always taken care of.”

Kirsten Vold seems sincere.  Perhaps her legacy could include leading a call for change on behalf of a horse that she had and that she was involved with named Strawberry Fudge.

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