Sep 12, 2023 - News

Calf roping controversy at Utah State Fair prompts allegations of rodeo cruelty

A roped calf lies on the dirt in a rodeo ring while two horses and a dog look on.

A calf on the ground at the Utah State Fair rodeo. Photo: Courtesy of Wes Burdett

A controversial calf roping at the Utah State Fair is drawing criticism to a new state law that stops local governments from banning rodeos over animal cruelty.

Driving the news: Photos of a fallen calf circulated online after The Utah's Own PRCA Rodeo on Friday night, drawing complaints that the event amounted to animal abuse.

  • "The calf was clotheslined straight back and just laid there on the ground, not moving," Sandy photographer and rodeo watchdog Wes Burdett wrote in a post on Instagram.
  • After the calf stood up, it collapsed again and was dragged by its neck toward the exit, where it got back to its feet, Burdett said.
  • The images were shared on multiple social media platforms, generating hundreds of complaints.

The other side: The state fair posted a video Monday showing the calf's face, with a statement that the calf was "completely healthy."

  • "The Utah's Own Rodeo takes the health and welfare of livestock at our event very seriously," the statement read. The calf was examined by a vet, fair officials added.

Yes, but: Animal advocates say the calf's recovery doesn't erase the harm of the event.

The big picture: Rodeos have long been scrutinized for allegations of animal cruelty, with injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to crushed skulls and broken spines.

The intrigue: A post by the fair's own Instagram account initially apologized for the scene at Friday's rodeo.

A state fair official did not immediately return Axios' call for comment.

The latest: Critics are taking aim at a state law passed in March that forbids cities and counties from banning rodeos and many other "animal enterprises" except to enforce their water safety and land use provisions.

  • The measure's sponsor, state Sen. Scott Sandall (R-Tremonton), specifically pointed to the state fair rodeo as an event the law was designed to protect.
  • "We should be able to, across the state, preserve that heritage," Sandall said in a January hearing.

Zoom out: Several U.S. cities have effectively banned rodeos by prohibiting techniques and tools that are widespread in competition, like electric prods, flank straps and sharpened spurs.


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