- VIA Robyn McIsaac
- PBR stock contractor Matt Scharping with his bull Magic Train, at the 2017 PBR World Finals in Las Vegas.
Despite public backlash and calls to cancel the event, professional bull riding is set to visit Halifax this spring.
Over 68,000 people have added their names to an online petition urging the Scotiabank Centre to cancel Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Canada’s Elite Monster Energy Tour scheduled for May 26.
Tony Payzant, an HRM based editor, started the petition after she heard the event was headed to Halifax. She said support so far has been “incredible.”
“I’ve been against animal cruelty of any sort since forever. It’s always disgusted me watching rodeo action,” Payzant says.
According to the petition, published on March 2, forcing animals to perform is unethical. It claims PBR’s bulls are mistreated by handlers, fitted with painful flank straps and abused with electric prods.
A spokesperson for PBR denies that electric prods are used to aggravate their animals. Kacie Albert says the bulls, each worth up to $500,000, are cared for “just like star athletes.”
“There is tragically a staggering amount of animal abuse in the world. None of it is happening in the PBR, where we celebrate our animal athletes and give them a great, long life,” writes Albert in an email statement.
Professional Bull Riding has grown from American cowboy roots into an international company and a money-making machine. Professional cowboys attempt to ride harnessed bulls as they buck and jump for arena audiences and fans on TV.
Branded by car companies and energy drinks, PBR has awarded $180 million of prize money and built a multi-million dollar entertainment empire on the backs of bucking bulls.
But animal welfare activist Hugh Chisholm says the focus on overpowering animals is still unethical, especially when the people doing so have become superstars and millionaires.
“To me, the message bull riding gives to kids is that it’s OK for men to ride on animals and try to overpower them,” says the retired Halifax veterinarian.
Chisholm says it’s the appearance of pain that matters—and watching aggravated bulls try to buck off riders seems to be a strange and unhealthy form of entertainment.
“What message does that kid leave with when they go home and interact with other animals?” asks Chisholm, who says he plans to voice his concerns with provincial minister of agriculture Keith Colwell.
This is the first time since 2011 that PBR has come to the city, however, Halifax isn’t the only place where the sport has been criticized. Bull riding competitions in Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg in the past few years drew protests as well.
Local animal rights groups like the SPCA are publicly opposed to Bull Riding events as well—especially in regions like Halifax where rodeos aren’t a cultural tradition.
In an email statement sent on February 5, Scotiabank Centre representatives said they are aware of the controversy but have no plans to cancel the bull-riding event.
“We are aware some of our customers have expressed disappointment with this event; we have also had a fair amount of interest in the event. We will certainly take any feedback into consideration for future planning as we continue to evolve our approach to event attraction.”