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Mar 28th
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Buck This?

news_rodeoA proposed Santa Cruz County Rodeo has some saddling up, and others up in arms
At last year’s Santa Cruz County Fair, County Sheriff Sgt. Michael MacDonald conducted an informal survey of attendees. He asked them, “If a rodeo were brought to the Santa Cruz County Fairground for the purpose of raising money to support our local schools and children’s organizations, would you attend?” One hundred percent said yes.

As the vice president of the Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) and the founder of its newborn fundraising branch, Stars of Justice, Inc., MacDonald spent the following months busily planning a proposal for just that: a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA)-sanctioned rodeo, hosted by the DSA, to be held at the county fairgrounds this October. It would raise money for after-school programs and youth services.


“The DSA and its members are frustrated with what we’ve seen happen with the youth in Santa Cruz County,” says MacDonald. “The programs that help them have been hurt by the budgets and we find ourselves arresting more and more juveniles for activities they are involved in.” A list of benefactors for the rodeo fundraiser is in the works—in addition to many local schools, some proceeds will also go toward the DSA’s annual Children’s Holiday Party and youth Halloween event.

MacDonald’s plan for a rodeo fundraiser was, in part, inspired by his own history of working as a rodeo grunt, and also draws from the popularity of the Salinas Rodeo, which reportedly drew a crowd of 10,000 on its opening night last year.

The proposal now sits in the hands of the Fairgrounds Board of Directors, which will decide whether or not to approve the rodeo contract at their May 18 meeting. But as the date of the hearing draws near, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: far from 100 percent of Santa Cruz residents are in favor of bringing a rodeo to town.

Saddle Sore

Rodeo did not register on the radar of popular sports in the 2006, 2007 or 2008 Gallup Poll surveys (the last time it did was in 2005, when 1 percent of respondents cited it as their favorite sport to follow). Whether or not one would be a hit in Santa Cruz … no one can know. (The DSA used to host one at the fairgrounds, but it dissolved several decades ago.) But when a small handful of animal rights activists recently heard about the little-known plan for a rodeo in Santa Cruz, they immediately plunged into trying to stop it from becoming a reality.

The opposition started off small (four disapprovers attended the April 20 Fairground Board of Directors meeting to share their concerns) but in the weeks since, numerous animal welfare and advocacy groups have taken a stand—even the Santa Cruz Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The organization stated the following in an open letter to the Fairground Board of Directors: “By the feedback we have already received, it is clear that creating a new rodeo would only anger Santa Cruz County residents and would most likely result in diminished attendance to the annual Santa Cruz County Fair … We ask on behalf of our organization and our 29,000-plus local supporters that you please deny the request to hold this new rodeo at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.”

The opposition has organized as Stop the Rodeo, a group led by Gary Travers, a Santa Cruz animal rights activist and vegan for 30 years, who has asked to go by a pseudonym in order to preserve his ability to do undercover work in the future. He says that even if the rodeo is an American tradition—which he claims it isn’t—it is one worth ditching.

“If it were an American tradition, would that make it right?” he asks. “Slavery was an American tradition. Only white landowners voting was a tradition. There are a lot of traditions we have chosen to leave behind. Something being a tradition doesn’t make it right.”

He pulls out a stack of glossy rodeo photos: one shows an emaciated calf being jerked back while running at top speed; another shows a horse bucking, its body twisted and contorted.

“I look at the way the animals are treated, and it seems quite obvious to me that it is abuse,” he says. “I’m not sure how the rodeo people can see otherwise, but people tend to be able to deceive themselves when they want to.”

The Santa Cruz County Rodeo will include six PRCA events—bareback and saddle bronco riding, bull riding, tie-down and team-roping, and steer wrestling—as well as barrel racing and a children’s calf chasing event.

Stop the Rodeo is also worried the event will set a violent example for children. With 30 years of animal protection work under her belt, JP Novic, founder of Santa Cruz-based nonprofit Center for Animal Protection and Education (CAPE), says rodeos send the wrong message to children. “Our community feels it is important to educate our children about kindness,” she says. “When families bring their children to the rodeo under the veil of entertainment, children don’t make the connection that these animals are being hurt.” CAPE is working on an online TV show to educate people “on why this is a bad idea,” according to Novic.

Cowboy Blues

MacDonald says that the overall response has been “really great.” The number of volunteers is quickly growing as more supporters hear of the event, and national and local businesses are also saddling up—they’ve garnered sponsorship from Wrangler and Montana Silversmiths, a $25,000 in-kind advertising donation from Entravision, and much more. He expects the event to draw a big crowd, filling the fundraising coffer. “I’m hoping for 5,000 a day, but there is potential for more than that if we get the outpour that Salinas [rodeo] gets,” he says.

Still, he is aware that an opposition is brewing.

“There are people in Santa Cruz County that oppose it for obvious reasons—they support animal rights and believe rodeos are not favorable to animals,” says MacDonald. “I respect their opinion.” He says that SOJ will ensure that the rodeo complies with state rodeo laws and PRCA guidelines, which includes having a veterinarian on site or on call. The San Benito County Large Animal Rescue Team and Felton Large Animal Rescue Company have offered their services. He also vouches for the planned stock contractor, Diamond G Rodeo, which will be providing the “rough stock” (rodeo speak for animals).

“Neither Diamond G nor the DSA has anything to hide in regard to these animals,” he says. MacDonald extends an offer to Stop the Rodeo to pick a representative to attend the rodeo behind the scenes. “They can come with me personally and I will escort them behind the chutes and introduce them to the Diamond G owner,” he says.

Peggy Koteen has been working on rodeo issues in the Central Coast for more than 15 years. She currently runs the San Luis Obispo chapter of Animal Emancipation. Although she says “it would be an act of good will on their part to allow us behind the scenes to video document,” she claims there is no such thing as a humane rodeo—whether or not the guidelines are followed. ”They could put on a humane rodeo if they didn’t use live animals,” she says. “Let them use a mechanical bull. That’s how they could put on a humane rodeo.” Travers is also less than enthusiastic about the offer, calling it “pretty useless.” “We already have solid video documentation that time and time again the rodeo industry violates both the law and their own rules—useless as those rules are—and nothing is done,” he says. “How would it help to have more such documentation?”

Fairground Manger Michael Bethke, who helped analyze the proposal before the staff made his recommendation to the board, says that public comment is encouraged during the decision process. “We welcome comments from everybody in the public, both in writing and they are more than welcome to appear at that hearing date, as well,” he says.  The DSA foresees potential for the rodeo to be “one of the biggest public events in Santa Cruz County and hopefully someday one of the best rodeos offered in the State of California” (as stated on the SOJ website). Stop the Rodeo hopes it never happens, but is prepared to continue fighting even if it does.

“Everyone who has [fought] this sort of thing before says I’m not going to succeed,” says Travers. “They say the board will vote for this—that this is what fairgrounds are all about, this is what they do—so the thing is to try, fight it, and make sure that even if it passes, it doesn’t happen again.

“I hope they’re wrong,” he adds. “But the thing is to try.”


For more information about the Santa Cruz County Rodeo, visit For more about Stop the Rodeo, visit


Comments (7)Add Comment
If you oppose the rodeo, cough up cash!
written by Aguirre, July 26, 2010
All of the complaining does nothing. Donate large amounts of cash to the DSA and they won't have to fund-raise. All of you yellow belly hippies complain, smoke your weed, and only think of the police in a good way when YOU are in need of help.
written by Carsten Hauge, June 15, 2010
Who is this "Stars of Justice Inc."? Do they assume other names depending on what organization they are sponsoring. Are they "Hoses of Staunch Inc." when they ally themselves with the Firefighter association? Do they become "Scalpels of Healing Inc." when they work with the local hospital association?
coordinator, Action for Animals
written by eeric mills, May 17, 2010
For Mr. Kristalyn and others, an excerpt from the "Joint Rodeo Policy Statement" from the Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association (now simply "American Humane"):

"The HSUS and the AHA contend that rodeos are not an accurate or harmless portrayal of ranching skills; rather, they display and encourage an insensitivity to and acceptance of brutal treatment of animals in the name of sport. Such callous disregard of our moral obligations toward other living creatures has a negative impact on society as a whole and on impressionable children in particular. It is, therefore, our mutual policy to oppose all rodeos, to educate the public about our humane objections, and to encourage like-minded individuals and groups to seek the elimination of rodeo cruelties through programs of local activism."

Copies available upon request. I also have a letter written to me in 1990 by the late Cesar Chavez in support of my rodeo work. Mr. Chavez was opposed to ALL rodeos on ethical grounds.

Eric Mills, coordinator
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written by Shelley Frost, May 17, 2010
Hosting a rodeo to help underprivileged children avoid lives of crime is counterproductive. The violence in the rodeo ring portrayed as entertainment can desensitize youth. The Sheriffs department would better serve themselves and the children of Santa Cruz County by not adding another violent spectacle and instead host an event that promoted community service and compassion for all living things.
written by Christine, May 17, 2010
I'm surprised that the sheriffs association is proposing this, when there are clear studies showing violence against animals is a pathway to violence against people.

Considering the gang problem that is surfacing in Santa Cruz County, shouldn't our sheriffs put their effort into preventing violence versus hosting what is akin to a Sheriff condoned cockfight. Violence against animals=profit=youth outreach? Something is very wrong there.

If some of you reading this counter that this is not violence against animals, I ask you to not believe what I'm telling you, but to see for yourself. Many, many, groups have documented the extreme disregard for animals in PRCA sanctioned events. What has this documentation accomplished overall? Not too much if no one is watching. If your not sure who to believe, believe what you see:

Can't watch the videos, read the FACTS about the PRCA, and rodeos in general.

If you feel that abusing animals for entertainment(this IS what it boils down to) has no place in Santa Cruz County please consider submitting a comment to
Buck This?
written by Andrew Kristalyn, May 16, 2010
I love animals and I support the Santa Cruz Rodeo. I was excited to see Sgt. MacDonald’s proposal to form a rodeo in Santa Cruz County to help the schools and children here in Santa Cruz. My emotions quickly turned to disappointment and then to anger as I read Elizabeth Limbach’s article.
I have been involved in Rodeos both as a spectator and a competitor for the past 20 years. I have a deep respect and love for both the animals and the men and women that make up the rodeo community. To go so far as to compare them to slave traders and animal abusers, is a slap in the face. Mr. (and I use that term very lightly) Travers, My name is Andy Kristalyn and I dare you to drop your “pseudonym” and make that claim face to face to anybody involved in rodeo’s. The level of ignorance shown by JP Novac and (CAPE) claiming that rodeos teach children the promotion of violence is outrageous. Most children have never or will ever have a better opportunity to see such a wide variety of animals up close and personal. Having the chance to see these animals as the majestic competitors they are, and the deep connection and bond between humans and animals. Rodeos often light a child’s fire of curiosity and wonderment which often leads to joining organizations such as the Four H, were children learn about animals and how to take care of them.
I challenge CAPE, and whoever else, to take Mr. MacDonald’s invitation to meet the Diamond G contractor, go behind the chutes, meet the vets, and educate themselves. The men and woman that participate in rodeo have the deepest respect for animals, and work hard to provide the highest level of care for those animals.
In a time when our schools and afterschool programs are in vital need of financial assistance I commend Sgt. MacDonald’s efforts to help. The opening night of the Salinas rodeo drew over 10,000 spectators. Just think what that could do for our kids. I have yet to see any of the organization’s mentioned in Limbach’s article generate that kind of support for the community. Santa Cruz prides itself on being diverse and accepting of new and different things. Please continue this tradition and support the Santa Cruz Rodeo.
Coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS, Oakland
written by Eric Mills, May 12, 2010
Dontcha love it, abuse one group of sentient creatures (animals) to help another (kids)?

Be aware that EVERY major animal welfare organization in the country opposes all rodeos due to their inherent cruelty, and for the negative message they send to impressionable young children about the proper treatment of animals. I have a 1990 letter from the late Cesar Chavez opposing all rodeos.

NOTE: The PRCA requires an ON SITE (not just "on call") veterinarian at ALL of their events. This has been their policy since the 1995 fiasco at the California Rodeo in Salinas where FIVE animals died (three horses, a wrestling steer, a roping calf).

At the 2009 Salinas rodeo three roping calves (babies!) suffered broken legs and had to be euthanized. No publicity, of course. This was confirmed to me by the Monterey SPCA and the attending veterinarian. Amazingly, the vet was unaware of the California state rodeo law (Penal Code 596.7) which requires that all rodeo animal injuries be reported to the State Veterinary Medical Board within 48 hours of the rodeo's end. Even more amazing, in the 10 years of the law's existence (Action for Animals was the sponsor), only EIGHT injury reports have been submitted. It's obvious that the "on call" vet option isn't working, and animals are suffering needlessly. There should be 50-60 such reports every year. Even the PRCA's own injury surveys document that an animal is injured or killed at, on average, 57% of their events.

For most of the animals, rodeo is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. They (and we) deserve better. Surely Santa Cruz County can come up with a more compassionate, life-affirming entertainment/fundraiser than rodeo.

Eric Mills, coordinator
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