Public opposition to the calves` abseiling is motivated by animal welfare risks to the calves used at the event. These concerns are largely formed on the basis of calves` sensitivity, which can be defined as their ability to feel or experience . This ability extends to both negative feelings, such as fear, pain, and stress, and positive feelings, such as satisfaction and relief. The actions inherent in falling the calf`s rope, such as the force a calf would feel if pressed to the ground and the impact on its neck during the lasso, raise animal welfare concerns as they can cause negative feelings – a concern supported by scientific research [5,6]. It is evident that calves attempt to escape from the participant while being hunted and attempt to escape after a lasso, indicating an anxiety and stress response likely intensified by their isolation from other calves. Flight is a stress response that is supposed to increase the chances of survival. In addition, calves are prey, which can therefore limit their expression of pain and fear due to the evolutionary disadvantage of appearing weak or injured. Fear and pain are significant threats to survival and trigger a stress response that the fight-flight-freeze system can produce. As prey, calves are “less pronounced” in painful behavior than humans, as it is evolutionarily advantageous for them to feign the strength of being a more difficult target for predators .
As a result, the indicators of physical pain they experience while riding a calf rope can be subtle and easily overlooked. It should be noted that a lack of obvious external expression of fear and pain does not provide evidence that hunted calves and lasso do not experience these negative feelings. Conversely, if a calf shows behavioral responses consistent with signs of anxiety and/or stress, this indicates a significant threat to the physical and mental state. As already mentioned, animal sensitivity is a property that makes animals worthy of protection. Nevertheless, abseiling of calves is permitted in most Australian jurisdictions. The following video footage of the rappelling calves was provided with permission and shows “white eyes”, roaring and wriggling their tongues, showing the pain and/or fear of these endangered young animals. Warning: This sequence is graphic and requires parental discretion. When abseiling calves, riders pull calves` necks backwards while animals run at full speed. Countless calves have suffered fractures of their back and neck.
Not surprisingly, ropes sometimes overhang the neck of calves and pull animals by one or more legs. The natural reaction of a calf when separated from other calves and pursued by a “predator” is anxiety and causes stress to the young animal. A 2015 study in Queensland showed that even calves that had never experienced a recall before had increased levels of stress hormones in the blood after the rope . All calves in the study showed a “white eye” in which the calf`s eye rolls to reveal about 50 percent of the white of the eye, and they also ran faster when rappelling to escape the pursuer. The “white eye” is thought to be a behavioral response to exclude environmental influences that can be overwhelming to the calf. The same study also found that calves that had never been exposed to a stable or slide had increased stress hormones after being brought through the arena and moved by a rider and horse. Animal welfare risks can be assessed using the five-domain model, which considers and recognises subjective animal experiences as essential for assessing overall welfare . This model highlights the correlation between physical states and external situations that contribute to positive or negative experiences. By applying this model to assess the effects of calf abseiling on calves, it becomes clear that physical and mental condition is negatively affected. For example, calves may suffer physical injuries due to the strength of the rope against their neck or the impact of their body on the ground, and also experience psychological stress due to the constructed predator-prey scenario. In terms of physical pain, the calf can sustain injuries such as internal bruising, damage to the larynx and trachea, and bone fractures [5,16].
Despite these animal welfare concerns, the Australian rodeo industry claims that all animals used in rodeo are intact and “treated like royalty” . This is corroborated by data collected by the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA) through a survey of APRA-affiliated rodeos, which gives an estimated injury rate of 0.072% for all rodeo events and for each “race” of an animal in an event . Recall calf-specific injury rates in Australia are not publicly available. However, it is important to note that in most Australian jurisdictions, rodeos are not required to report animal injuries to a government or other relevant body, and therefore many of the injuries sustained by rodeos may go unreported [18,19]. In New South Wales, rodeos must be held in accordance with a specific code of conduct . Compliance with the New South Wales Code of Practice for Animals Used in Rodeo Events (New South Wales Rodeo Code) exempts rodeo operators from certain anti-cruelty provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW POCTA), including sections 18 and 18A. The NSW Rodeo Code states that sections 18 and 18A prohibit certain acts, “including the use of livestock in an exhibition, show or exhibition where they could be cruelly treated or fed with pain and suffering” . Since recalled calves are excluded from the requirement not to treat calves cruelly, the extent of their welfare is instead covered by the New South Wales Rodeo Code. This code states that all calves used in calf abseiling must weigh at least 100 kg, which is the industry standard, and must not be thrown on their backs by the force of the rope once thrown around the neck .
Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory use similar conditions. Another study by Rizzuto et al. examined the emotional state of calves during two phases of calf recall using a qualitative behavioural assessment approach. Participants in search were shown still images of calves that were chased immediately after leaving the slide and calves that left the arena after the ropes were removed, but were blind to the context of the images . They observed how calves were hunted to be “more excited, anxious, confused, energetic, anxious and stressed” . After releasing the ropes, they found the calves “calmer, more satisfied, exhausted, curious and relieved” . These results suggest that abseiling is likely to induce behavior that humans perceive as a sign of anxiety, stress and anxiety in calves. With respect to overseas developments, two animal welfare organisations have filed a complaint against the Minister of Agriculture and the National Advisory Committee for Animal Welfare in New Zealand for failing to ban rodeo events . The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and Saving Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) argue that rodeo events are incompatible with the New Zealand Animal Welfare Act 1999 and therefore unlawfully violate that law .
This includes calf abseiling, which NZALA and SAFE say is one of many rodeo events that do not minimize the likelihood of excessive or unnecessary pain or anxiety for the animals involved [48,49]. This is an important development, as the challenge will raise awareness of the animal welfare concerns surrounding calf abseiling and may provide guidance for further legal reform in Australia.  Stonebridge M, Evans D, Kotzmann J (2022) Sentience matters: Analyzing the regulation of vau-roping in Australia. Animals, 12, 1071. Timing is crucial. From a standing position, a rider gallops his horse shortly after leaving the slide of the box, which saves him precious seconds by being almost at full speed by the moment the barrier comes off. However, if the rider misplaces his tail to the horse and the horse crosses the barrier before letting go, a penalty of 10 seconds will be added to his time. This is sometimes referred to as a “cowboy speeding ticket.” While all rodeo events carry significant risks, rappelling calves (also known as rope and tether) raises particularly serious concerns.
During the rappelling of the calves, the young animal is released in front of the participant/roper, who is on horseback. The rider will pursue the calf and lasso by throwing a rope on the calf`s neck. The participant then descends and runs towards the animal, relying on his horse to prevent the calf from running by maintaining tension on the rope. After catching the animal, the rider forces the calf to the ground, and then ties three legs of the calf with a rope. After its tail was painfully twisted and raked over a fence railing, this calf sped out of the slide to escape its torment. The calf is roped so violently that it goes into the air before hitting the ground. This process can break the calf`s neck, back or legs. Rodeo animal welfare improvements are most evident in state and city laws. In 2018, thirteen states banned horseback riding excursions. Rhode Island has an entire chapter in its animal welfare title devoted to rodeos.
It is the only state to ban the traditional version of “calf abseiling” and steering tripping, both of which have been criticized by their supporters as cruel.