Calling All Cowboys: Stop the Madness and Save Rodeo

Stop the Madness & Save Rodeo

Our Western way of life is under attack. There is an ordinance gaining traction in Los Angeles that is a serious threat to the sport of rodeo and all Western sports—bull riding, barrel racing and yes, even team roping jackpots included. While the most common reaction to this is to sling insults toward “the left-coast crazies,” that will only play into these people’s hand, confirm their fiction-based accusations about those who wear cowboy hats and sink our own beloved Western-world ship.

We all must act now, and in a calm, united, professional and proactive manner while proving our points, which include the genuine love the cowboy community has for our livestock, and the positive cultural and financial impacts the sport of rodeo has on our society today.

The Basics

You can read the vague, broad language of the proposed ordinance amending Section 53.00 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code to add a definition for “a rodeo” and adding LAMC Section 53.39.2 to prohibit the use of harmful practices, techniques and devices at rodeos for yourself. Certain types of tie-downs, spurs and “lariats or lassos” are specifically named.

This may all sound silly, and like it doesn’t apply to those of us who do not live in Los Angeles. But make no mistake—the threat is real. There is crossover between the people with rodeo in their crosshairs and those who ended the circus. And if you can’t easily see how a ban on rodeo and virtually all Western activities in Los Angeles could spread straight north to Sacramento and result in a statewide ban, and with that precedent head domino-style to urban centers the likes of Denver, Houston, San Antonio and New York City—well, wake up. Please. Before it’s too late.

The Latest

Given the 2-22-22 Call to Action to Save Western Sports in Los Angeles, it’s the perfect time for our cowboy community to have this conversation and get in gear.

“It was amazing to see all of the organizations—the PBR (Professional Bull Riders), PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), charros, actors, rodeo committees, influencers and fans—come together in a stance to stop the ban that the LA County Commissioner is trying to put in place,” said five-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho, who’s lived his whole life on the Central Coast of California. “These small thinkers (who are trying to shut rodeo and Western events down) don’t understand the positive impact the Western and equine way of life have on people.”

Fernando Sam-Sin

One of the lifelong cowboys, actors and influencers who showed up to speak at the 2-22-22 rodeo rally in LA was Yellowstone’s Forrie J Smith. Mounted officers from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Police were on hand to help keep the peace in the case of counter-cowboy protesters. They, too, will be threatened if this ordinance is passed.

“Every kind of cowboy was there, which was pretty cool,” Luke said. “Based on attendance, it’s obvious that cowboys from every part of our American culture realize and understand how important our Western way of life is to this state, our country and the world.”

Rodeo Committee Contributions

The first California Rodeo Salinas was held the summer of 1911, and Big Week remains one of the greatest time-tested traditions in the Golden State. Sadly, this cowboy committee has been burdened with expensive legal fees for many years in defense of animal-rights attacks. In fact, the ultimate team roping rodeo has spent a fortune defending that event itself. They are now expending every possible effort and resource to fight the threat to our sport’s very existence.

Read: Brooks Dahozy and Walt Woodard Win Team Roping at California Rodeo Salinas 

I’ve talked to countless cowboy people on this subject over the years. I recently paid close attention to a Cowboy Channel panel discussion moderated by my longtime friend, colleague and television producer Jeff Medders. One guest was Tim Baldwin, who serves as California Rodeo general counsel and also chairs the committee’s livestock welfare committee.

“Anytime you see new ordinances passed that restrict, or in this case ban rodeo, it’s something we’re very serious about,” Baldwin said. “This ordinance in LA goes much further than the term ‘rodeo,’ including three or more events, and would encompass stand-alone team ropings and barrel races. The device ban would make team roping unlawful. As a recreational team roper, I’m really upset that LA is trying to make team roping against the law.

“We cannot have this ordinance pass, spread or gain momentum. We’ve seen this in the past with the circus ban that came out of LA, then spread to Sacramento as a statewide law. What’s important here is to stop this in LA, so it’s not adopted in other cities and states. Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the United States of America. To have that city pass a rodeo ban is something we can’t stand for.”

Doctor Doug

Dr. Doug Corey is in our ProRodeo Hall of Fame for fighting tirelessly for our way of life. As the daughter of a ranch-raised veterinarian who competed in rodeo’s timed events for decades, I’ve enjoyed a special appreciation for and friendship with Doug over the years.

“I’ve been very involved in what’s going on in LA since the beginning,” said the Pendleton, Oregon DVM. “This ordinance is very misguided and wrong. It’s really not about animal welfare, but more about personal agendas. The proposed ordinance really doesn’t accomplish anything for animal welfare at all. We all know that rodeo people take extremely good care of their livestock, and that if they’re not in the best possible shape they’re not going to perform well.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to ensure the humane treatment and care of our rodeo livestock. We have strict rules and guidelines in place, and we have a safety rating in professional rodeo of about 99.9 percent. Injuries to animals in our sport are next to nothing. It is extremely rare to have an injury, but if it happens we have veterinarians there to help (just as there are medical professionals on hand to assist the human rodeo athletes). I might also add that most are very minor injuries. The PRCA has zero tolerance for any mistreatment of rodeo livestock.”

Cowboy Coalition

The Western Sports Industry Coalition is a collective voice and diverse powerhouse group working hard to organize the effort needed to counter the deep pockets and relentless attack from those trying to end our cowboy way of life. Members include the PRCA and PBR.

Scott Dorenkamp comes from a legendary Colorado rodeo family, and currently serves as the PRCA livestock program & government relations manager.

“I grew up on a farm and ranch, have competed (as does his fellow steer wrestler son Wacey) and my dad (Fred) had a stock contracting company,” Dorenkamp said. “The things coming at us from left field are based on misinformation. We need to educate people—most importantly, law-makers—so they understand what they’re regulating and don’t just pass something out of the blue.

Read: Roping Steers: How Long Will Downsizing Last?

“The circus ban started in California, then moved across the country. It starts in LA or San Francisco, then migrates out to the suburbs, then statewide, then to the national level. The PRCA has over 70 livestock welfare rules to protect our animals. The animal rights activists’ ultimate goal is no human interaction with animals. If rodeo goes by the wayside, all other equestrian sports, including reining and cutting, are next. If this ban goes through, rodeo, the economic impact rodeos bring to town and our Western heritage are gone.”

The PBR also has taken a strong stand.

“We have a better message on our side, because it’s based on truth and reality, as opposed to fiction and lies,” said PBR Commissioner and CEO Sean Gleason. “When you have the truth on your side, you usually just have to communicate that. The problem is that as Western sports and Western lifestyle enthusiasts, we’re not always the most vocal about these issues. We tend to walk away and hope problems will resolve themselves.

“But when you face these challenges we’re facing now, we’ve got to come together and speak with one voice. When we do that, I don’t think there’s any stopping us. The Western lifestyle is under attack. We need to rally.”

The PBR holds events in Los Angeles and New York City, and has proved hugely popular in large urban areas worldwide.

“I have a lot of people tell me we should leave New York and LA, and let the radicals have them,” Gleason continued. “But last time I checked, they’re both parts of America, and we’re not giving up on any part of America. We are the best animal advocates there are on the planet. Our stock contractors live with and care for these animals every day.

“Everyone who wants our lifestyle to continue needs to go to WWW.WesternJustice.Info, and make a comment. The politicians need to hear from the people. If they’re overwhelmed by support for or against something, they’re going to have to vote that way or they’ll get voted out in the next cycle. We have truth on our side. But we need to continue to fight until we win this thing.”

THE GRAND TRADITION OF CALIFORNIA RODEO SALINAS STARTED IN 1911, AND IS STILL GOING STRONG TODAY. THE ULTIMATE TEAM ROPING RODEO WILL BE UNDER THREAT ALONG WITH THE ENTIRE WESTERN SPORTS WORLD IF THE LA ORDINANCE PASSES, THEN SPREADS. COURTESY CALIFORNIA RODEO

Western Justice

Western Justice is a non-profit, membership-based organization with a mission “to unite the Western industry into a collective voice preserving and protecting the Western lifestyle, livelihoods and industry events.”

In addition to the PRCA and PBR, members are diverse and include the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, American Quarter Horse Association, World Champions Rodeo Alliance, International Professional Rodeo Association, Indian National Finals Rodeo, Pacific Coast Horse Racing Association, Snaffle Bit Futurity, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Compton Cowboys, the Union de Associaciones de Charros del Estado de California, the Ariat World Series of Team Roping and USTRC.

Dave Duquette is the founder and CEO of Western Justice, and has actively dedicated himself to the cowboy cause for 16 years now. Over 50 organizations are involved in this coalition, and he serves on the front line.

“About a year ago, one LA councilman started on this proposed ordinance that will ban ‘torture devices, such as flank straps (certain types of) spurs, wire tie-downs, etc,’ most of which nobody uses in rodeo anyway,” Duquette stated. “We put this culturally diverse coalition together to stop this ordinance, and the animal rights groups went out and touted that they got a 15-0 vote to push this thing forward, which was actually more of a courtesy vote just to have the city attorney draft it. We’ve put together fact versus fiction, and sent it to the city council.

“This ordinance is being pushed by a group called Last Chance for Animals, which is headed up by a guy who in his own bio states that he’s never owned a dog or cat or any other kind of animal.”

A Call to Cowboy Action

If you haven’t done so already, please go straight to WWW.WesternJustice.Info, see the Save Rodeo Petition and Comment On the City Council Page action tabs.

“Your comment can be as simple as ‘please don’t ban rodeo’ or you can get as involved and intricate into your comment as you want,” Duquette said. “There will be an automated email sent back to you where you have to confirm your email address. Make sure you confirm it, or your comment won’t count. Not nearly enough of us have commented.

“We’re the NRA of the Western Lifestyle. The Western industry is a $122 billion a year industry. We’re 12 times the size of the NFL. If everyone involved in this lifestyle works together, we’ll be unstoppable.”

Cowboy Crusaders

This fight is nothing new, and cowboy people stepping up is why the Western way of life is still standing today. ProRodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler Jack Roddy spent much of his 25 years on the Rodeo Cowboys Association board of directors fighting this very fight, with fellow California cowboys like my dad by his side.

“I’ve fought these battles for so many years, and it’s extremely important for everyone who cares about cowboys to get involved,” said California native Roddy, 84. “When California sneezes, the West catches a cold. If this ordinance goes through, it’ll trigger nationwide. I’m fearful as hell of this thing. We all need to get involved in this, because if they succeed, they’ll never quit.

“I was born and raised in California, and I spent my time on the (P)RCA board primarily defending rodeo against animal rights activists, who are out to topple rodeo, horse shows, racing, you name it. We’re fighting an enemy with a big bankroll, and they’re very well organized. Their motivation is fund-raising. They play on people’s heart strings to make money. We all need to stand up on this one. Calling all cowboys—college rodeo kids to cattlemen—write letters, pick up the phone, go online and make your voice heard before it’s too late. A lot of people live and love our lifestyle, but they’ve got to get off of their butts. These people we’re going up against aren’t going away. They call them extremists for a reason.”

National Finals Rodeo tie-down roper Joe Parsons has served professional rodeo in several capacities, including being one of the original ProRodeo Hall of Fame board members; PRCA vice president; 15 years on the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund board; and the PRCA animal welfare committee for over 20 years.

“Animal welfare was an issue back in the 1930s and ’40s at Madison Square Garden in New York, and it’s never stopped,” said Arizona cowboy Parsons, 65. “It’s always been a small fringe with tactics that are based on emotion instead of facts. It’s only a small group of people pushing this, but they push the buttons of people who don’t want to do their own homework.

“All most people see is the sensationalized side of most issues in our society today. People who don’t come from our rural culture don’t understand our world. Modern-day rodeo and ranch cowboys are an educated group of people who need to step up for our lifestyle and way of life. Don’t call people names. Invite them to come see what we do and how we live.”

That simple, common-sense approach is actually very effective.

“I went to Madison, Wisconsin 40 years ago when I was PRCA vice president, and met with the city council in 1982, because they were having trouble with this issue there then,” Parsons said. “The rodeo’s still going on today, because one person took the time to educate them about the truth.

“I’ve invited reporters behind the scenes at Tucson. As cowboys, we have to be able to walk the talk. If we say we need to do it, we need to take action. We need to talk to these people and educate them with the facts. No one cares more about animals than the cowboys themselves. Rodeo’s just an extension of our ranch-raised heritage and way of life.”

Another noted example of a cowboy stepping up for this cause was the time World Champion Tie-Down Roper Fred Whitfield went in front of the San Francisco City Council and spoke with Mayor Willie Brown about 30 years ago. Fred put a face on the cowboy sport, and spoke of how rodeo was his ticket out of poverty. Rodeo made a role model out of him. Parsons says Whitfield’s personal touch and testimony kept the doors open on the rodeo at the Cow Palace.

“The people trying to take us down use false facts and propaganda to go after the hearts of people who aren’t willing to do their own research,” Parsons said. “Everyone who wears a cowboy hat needs to take the time to tell our story. Without that, our Western way of life will be lost forever.”

Bucking Tradition

Our Golden State is a beautiful one with deep rural and ranching roots. There’s so much more to California than LA and San Francisco, as the laundry list of tradition-rich rodeos the likes of Oakdale, Red Bluff, Clovis, Santa Maria, Redding and San Juan Capistrano still attests. Oakdale, California will always be the Original Cowboy Capital of the World, and the Salinas Valley is known as “the salad bowl of the world” for its extensive produce production.

“When I was young, California is where cowboys came from,” said two-time World Champion Team Roper Walt Woodard, who spent the first 50 years of his life in French Camp, California—25 miles from Oakdale—before moving to the current Cowboy Capital of the World in Stephenville, Texas. “They wore white shirts and cowboy hats, and had a pen in their pocket. (ProRodeo Hall of Famers) Sonny Tureman and Ace Berry were rodeo and ranch cowboys, and Phil Stadtler was a legendary area cattleman. I thought those guys were so cool.

Learn: 5 Challenges Heelers Face with Walt Woodard 

“California gets a lot of bad press—in part over politics—but it doesn’t deserve it. If you’re just looking at Los Angeles and San Francisco, you don’t know California. Look at the pictures and get to know the people in places like Oakdale, Woodlake and Cottonwood. California’s the most beautiful state there is.”

Much of the cowboy migration has been based on California’s financial realities. The weather can’t be beat, but the cost of living is crazy.

“Can you imagine what California must have looked like when the Spaniards came along, and how fat their cattle were when they found paradise,” Walt wonders. “Families like the Camarillos were deeply rooted in the culture of the old vaqueros. They figured out how to rope really well out of necessity, because the cattle were big and fat, and they needed to be branded and doctored.

Remembering Leo “The Lion” Camarillo 

“I still love California, and the loss of a great rodeo like Salinas would be gigantic. I’m old school, and I love the tradition that rodeo keeps going. It’s part of cowboy history, and should not be messed with.”

Woodard’s a three-time California Rodeo team roping titlist. Arizona native and 1977 World Champion Team Roper David Motes owns an unmatched collection of 12 Salinas buckles. He, too, lives in Texas now, but spent 25 years living in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

“I’ve watched these animal rights activists my whole career,” said Motes, who this month competes at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Tucson, Arizona, as a 49-year PRCA member. “From what I’ve seen, most are paid and wear leather shoes. It’s sad that they don’t know what they’re talking about. If anyone in rodeo even thinks about mistreating an animal, the rules kick in. Cowboys don’t tolerate animal abuse.

“Cowboy code includes common sense, and peer pressure is big in our culture. We don’t let people do stupid stuff around us, and abusing an animal is not tolerated. In rodeo, we say our prayers and stand up for the National Anthem. We also stand up for our animals. Showing respect is the cowboy way, and that includes our animals, who are part of the rodeo family. We love and need our animals. That’s just how it is.

“A rodeo ban in California or anywhere else would be a devastating loss to American culture. The Western way of life is worth holding on to, and there are community charities that are benefitted by most rodeos.”

Royal Rodeo Ambassador

Though this situation falls under the umbrella of ultra-important cowboy cause, we need cowgirls to stand strong, too. My friend Pam Minick wore the Miss Rodeo America crown in 1973. And she’s never stopped serving this sport we all love so much.

“I learned early in my reign as Miss Rodeo America, dating back almost 50 years ago, that educating people about our sport would probably become a lifelong job,” Pam said. “Thirty years ago, I traveled to Houston to help represent that tremendous charitable rodeo that does so much good work in the community, when PETA reared its ugly head. At the time, the controversial and boisterous talk show host was Morton Downey Jr.

“There was a bronc rider and me on one side, and 100 screaming PETA people on the other side of a debate. Morton Downey listened closely to our story about how rodeo grew from actual work on ranches—much of which is still done today—and how well cared for the animals are. And he listened to the PETA people with little fact on the other side. He finally put his foot down, and screamed to the protesters, ‘Don’t stand there in your wool jackets and leather shoes and talk to me about animal rights!’”

Like Minick, Miss Rodeo America 2020-21 Jordan Tierney is the perfect rodeo representative. The daughter of ProRodeo Hall of Famer Paul Tierney is the sister of current cowboy contestants Jess and Paul David Tierney. She, too, took her role as rodeo ambassador seriously, and will never stop standing up for the sport and lifestyle her whole family lives every day.

“When you dress the part, it opens up conversations with all kinds of people in all kinds of places about our cowboy lifestyle,” said South Dakota native Jordan. “As Miss Rodeo America, I met people in airports and cities that are predominantly rural and not very agricultural anymore.

“A lot of people from outside of our lifestyle ask about our animals, and I enjoyed letting them know how much we sincerely care about them. Our animals are important to our families. They are part of our families. When I was a kid, a calf on the ranch hurt his back. My mom spent the whole summer nursing that calf back to health. That’s who ranching and rodeo people are, and why it’s easy to share our love for our animals with others.”

The time is now, rodeo family. Let’s all step up, stand up, speak up and save rodeo and our Western way of life.