Electric Horsemen

Is a rodeo mafia covering up evidence of animal abuse in California?

After years of demonstrations outside rodeos at the Orange County Fair, Rosser eliminated calf roping, team roping and steer wrestling from the 1995 fair and every subsequent run. As a result, the PRCA refused to sanction the fair's rodeos, deeming them "no longer professional" without the ropin' and a-wrasslin'.

But allegations of illegal horse prodding have followed Flying U to other California towns. The Folsom Police Department investigated a claim of animal abuse against Rosser when he supplied broncos to the city's rodeo in July 2002. Donna Lynn Hertel of SHARK says she videotaped a bull rider delivering several rounds of electric shock to a bull in a chute to incite it to buck. Her tape also shows several animal handlers twisting and pulling the tails of steers and calves, and she claims to have seen a man hit a horse in the face with a beer bottle.

Folsom police officials say they did not see enough evidence on the tape to arrest anyone. But just to make sure, they forwarded the video and the results of their investigation to the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA). Hindi claims that when SHARK later contacted the SSPCA to find out how the probe was proceeding, they were told the videotape had been lost. He says SHARK sent a second tape, but was later told by the SSPCA that it too was lost. Since being sent a third copy of the tape, the SSPCA has not returned SHARK's calls, Hindi alleges.

The SSPCA's investigative unit did not return the Weekly's calls.

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Section 596.7(e) of the California Penal Code stipulates: "The rodeo management shall ensure that no electric prod or similar device is used on any animal once the animal is in the holding chute, unless necessary to protect the participants and spectators of the rodeo." Violations of the section are punishable by fines of between $500 and $2,000 for a first offense and $1,500 to $5,000 for subsequent transgressions.

But you know how California has a law that legalizes medical marijuana but medical marijuana users keep getting busted in the Golden State? The exact opposite is true when it comes to the electric-prod law. Despite all the videotaping and eyewitness reports of horse zapping in the hands of law enforcement agencies throughout California, not one conviction has resulted.

Meanwhile, under PRCA rules, those who illegally use prods and similar devices in riding events are subject to fines of $100 per offense, and the contractor who supplied the animals can get slapped with a $250 penalty. But the organization's 20-page Animal Welfare report defends the use of prods, pointing out that they run on flashlight batteries and deliver 5,000-6,000 volts of electricity but at low amperage—the measure of the actual strength of an electric current.

And when it comes to justifying their use, the PRCA uses the legendary Cotton Rosser as their pitchman.

"At a hearing regarding the use of an electric prod in Santa Cruz County, Rosser made a dramatic argument in favor of the device—and he didn't say a word," states the PRCA's Animal Welfare report. "Armed with an electric prod equipped with new batteries, he gave himself a 'hot shot' in front of the county Board of Supervisors and a roomful of spectators. He made the point that if he could endure the mild trauma, so would animals that are much larger and have much thicker skin."

The PRCA goes on to say that the prods are commonly used on ranches and by veterinarians. And pro rodeo's governing body does allow their limited use—only on the shoulder or hip areas, where nerve endings are not as dense and the sensation is weaker—to move animals into the chutes or if a particular beast is known to stall once in the chutes. The rider must also give his permission to have the zapper used.

All kinds of things that go on at rodeos—clown antics, noisemaking, stall shaking—are designed to piss off the animals. The more agitated the beast gets, the better the chance that it will buck and bronc and allow its rider to score higher.

Defending the use of hot shots, Rosser has said they are more humane than other methods, which include whipping, hitting with boards, or kicking and twisting animals' tails.

"I lost seven cowboys last year—they were killed—and nobody seemed to care about that," Rosser told The Orange County Register after Classic Velvet's death.

But Hindi claims the defense of hot shots changes when he confronts stock contractors at rodeos—or the few times he's persuaded an on-site member of law enforcement to respond, something that rarely happens because most cops don't seem to know that shocking horses is against the law. Hindi says that if he confronts rodeo representatives alone, they'll tell him the zappers don't hurt the horses and to get lost. But if he's got a cop, they'll say the devices don't work or that they're not electric prods but sound devices that make rattling noises to get the attention of animals.

Which begs some questions: If the zappers don't work, why do the videos show cowboys using them on the animals? Why do the animals suddenly buck? If they are noisemakers, how can the animals hear them over boisterous rodeo crowds? Why are the cowboys in the videos placing them on the animals' hindquarters and not near their ears?

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