Arts & Entertainment

Uruguay’s gaucho rodeo challenged by animal rights activists

By Alex Gutierrez Paez

Montevideo, Apr 8 (EFE).- The spectacle of men dressed in the traditional garb of South American cowboys trying to stay on untamed horses is a popular attraction at Uruguay’s annual Semana Criolla gaucho festival here, but animal rights advocates call it abuse and are seeking to have the practice banned.

Though the horse-breaking championship has been part of Semana Criolla since 1925, it was only in 2006 that the Uruguayan Congress voted unanimously to certify gaucho rodeo as the official national sport.

Following the deaths of two horses during the rodeo in 2019, animal welfare campaigners launched a petition calling for the end of the event, collecting more than 92,000 signatures in this nation of roughly 3.5 million people.

“Every year there are several horses that die in the arena, a product of the physical and psychological violence. It turns out to be an ancestral and retrograde activity that hides behind the word ‘tradition,'” the petition reads.

After a horse died last Sunday at the start of this year’s Semana Criolla, opponents of the rodeo have come to the grounds to protest, chanting “It’s not culture, it’s torture.”

The activists are asking for horse-breaking exhibitions to be prohibited first in Montevideo, with an eye toward extending the ban to the rest of the country.

“In Uruguay animal cruelty is not a crime,” Karina Kokar, spokesperson for the group Animalist Platform, tells EFE. “The sanction that exists is an economic sanction that can’t even be enforced.”

The president of the National Institute of Animal Welfare (INBA), Marcia del Campo, says that the dramatic increase in “moral sensitivity in regard to animals” seen around the world in recent years is having an impact in Uruguay.

“This greater awareness happens with all animals and in all activities that involve them, that’s why the ethical aspects become ever more relevant,” she says.

Participants in gaucho rodeo point to its place in national tradition and contend that for many of the horses, the alternative to the arena is the slaughterhouse.

Ranchers will not bear the expense of feeding untamed horses, according to rider Sergio Jordan, so ending the rodeo means “condemning them to go to a meatpacking plant.”

Jordan, who grew up in the country and fell in love with rodeo as a child, says that the horses in the competition are “well cared for.”

“We don’t want to injure ourselves, nor for the horses to get injured, but it’s something that can happen,” he adds.

One of the judges for the horse-breaking competition, veterinarian Carlos Casas, argues that aside from the few seconds a horse finds itself battling a rider, “the animal is eating good forage, is in a comfortable place, and lives a pleasant life.”

He says that despite the “understandable and respectable” protests, the event will go forward. EFE agp/dr

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