It’s historic. It’s iconic. It’s a popular pastime that involves roping, steering, wrestling, screaming, holding on for dear life and lots of dirt and dust. Yes, you’ve guessed it—it’s the rodeo! The Lost Nations Rodeo Company is coming to the Eastern Michigan State Fair this month. The event is billed as a fun and exciting sport. Exciting? Well, yeah, I’ll give it that. But, it got me to thinking: usually sports include two (maybe more) willing participants, or teams. Fun? Maybe not so much for the bucking bulls. They probably just want to get the dadgummit humans off their backs so they can go back to eating and drinking, and all the other things that bulls normally do.

But, whether or not you agree with the controversies surrounding the rodeo, such as the use of so-called “flank straps”—the belt placed around the bull’s flank to encourage bucking—one thing can be said for sure: that bull doesn’t want that person on his back. If he did, he wouldn’t be bucking! There is one thing that bulls, cows and all ruminant animals know: other things like to eat them. These bulls are just trying to get away. They know they are prey, and we, unfortunately, are the predators. Rodeos feed on the fear of predation. This is why the bulls act the way that they do. Their bodies are full of adrenaline, which makes them buck, and jump, and run. Exciting yes. Worth the excitement? I think not.

It’s funny, sometimes things that we’ve done for a long time, normal things, really don’t seem that normal when put into a different context. The Lost Nations Rodeo Company is lost in the nostalgia and lawlessness of the Old West. I like the Old West as much as the next person (really…I went to Tombstone and had a great time!) but, the Old West is just that: old. So, maybe it’s time to recognize the rodeo for what it is: an outdated quasi-form of “entertainment” that induces fear, discomfort, and pain in its unwilling participants. It’s 2021.

The bull has had historic significance in the development of many cultures around the world. He is a symbol of pride, and a symbol of strength. Instead of trying to dominate him, instead of mocking him and playing on his fears, maybe we should give him some peace, and get off of his back.

—Melissa Neigh,