Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ears Wide Open and Mouth Shut - Roping Donkeys

I have read a lot on the blogs about the abuse of donkeys used by ropers for roping practice.

I had never been around the practice before, but the stories I read made me pretty much agree it is a horrible thing to do.

Here are some excerpts from some of the reading I had done.

" I’ve personally witnessed donkeys who were victims of roping abuse
who came to my ranch for gentling and training.   Unfortunately once again, there’s no easy “fix” from this abuse.   Although the donkey is removed from the environment which it lived in pure fear and pain,the memories will live forever in their hearts and mind.

 A huge surplus of standard donkeys in Texas and nearby states has led
to inexpensive donkeys used for practice roping.   For a mere $10.00 per donkey at many livestock auctions, some cowboys can’t seem to resist cheap donkeys to practice their roping skills on.  Once the donkey is so highly abused to the point it hunkers down in the practice pen, the donkeys are  returned
to the auction yard waiting for the next cowboy to bid on them.  And the abuse continues.   
 In some cases, ranchers don’t even bother to haul the spent donkeys back to the auction yards. Many simply drive a trailer load of donkeys to a remote location in Texas and turn them loose to fend for themselves."

   l“Horse-riding ropers used Giuseppe to practice roping. They're called either 'headers' or 'heelers,' which means they use the donkeys to practice roping cows, either their back feet or the head. Most of the donkeys used this way are crippled for life, especially if they’re laid down and stretched out. You can easily break the animal’s back,” she told me."

 One afternoon I saw a couple of donkeys in the holding pens behind the cattle chutes. 

 Uh oh. I do board my horses at a roping training facility. It looked like I was going to see firsthand the mistreatment of roping burros.

Here's what I witnessed.

There were four burros. All of them were intact jacks. Their feet were incredibly long and they were wild as Mach hares. They were extremely thin. 

The burros spent a month eating. They were roped, thrown, wormed, inoculated and had their feet done.Then they were left to eat until they had some fat on their ribs.

Once they were healthy they began training. the entire process took less than a week. The burros were herded into the arena one by one and taught to lope a large circle. This was done by having the ropers drive them in the circle them at the hip and whack them with their ropes when they tried to go off circle.

Was this nice? Well, no. Were they hurt? Nope. No rope burns, no broken legs, just driven in a circle. It didn't take the jacks long to sort things out, they are pretty darn smart.

One jack was aggressive and willing to bite. He was kicked back to the pen and not used anymore.

The next phase of the training was to rope them.

The burros were roped around the head. They were drug around until they stopped and faced the rope horse. Then they were given slack. This was a very short lesson. The burros knew to stop and face the ropers within 15 or twenty minutes.

Next the hind feet were roped, one at a time. The jacks kicked and squalled, the second they stopped they were given slack. They were not thrown. They learned to stop when their hind legs were roped even faster than they learned to face off the rope horse.

The aggressive jack went to the sale barn.

The other three spent the summer teaching colts to track, get in position and the basics of roping. Because the donkeys stopped as soon as they were roped the colts learned they could control them without having to feel much pull from the rope.

I did notice one of the Jacks got his legs scurfed up. He was put away until he healed. There wasn't any scarring, no broken bones and he healed clean legged.

By the end of the summer the burros wouldn't play anymore. So they were halter broke, then saddle broke, taught to tie, have their feet done etc.

Then they went to the sale and sold as saddle broke. They had been bought for between $5 and $25 dollars and sold for between $150 and $200.

Here's a few interesting facts I learned while I was watching all this.

BLM burros are diverted to other states and sold at public auctions by the hundreds. I'm not saying the BLM is doing this, but I don't know who else has truckloads of unwanted burros handy.

If you halter break a burro before you rope break it, it won't work. They have to be taught to be driven instead of led first.

The roping burros were very good with their feet and not spooky.

They were broke enough to periodically be tied to the cars of various people in town, all of them victims of the odd sense of humor of my barn owner. The burros were gentle and friendly enough to be led back by the very non-donkey savvy victims. 

I'm having trouble considering this practice barbaric. It seems to me, these ropers give the burros a rare chance to have a life beyond the holding pens of the BLM.


Peanut said...

It probably depends on who's using the donkeys for roping. After seeing what some people do to horses, I wouldn't be surprised if some donkeys are abused and treated as disposable. But it's nice to know that there are also skilled people who treat the donkeys humanely.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read and good to hear someone is trying. Donkeys are so dang cute.

Melissa said...

My mare was roped as a foal. She spent the first two years of her life on a roping ranch and anytime the babies were handled they were roped.I heard the stories of the foals being roped and then tied when I first met her when she moved into the barn I was boarding at. She was still two at the time of her first chiropractor visit; the chiropractor described her neck as a train wreck, the damage most likely a result of her fighting against the pressure of the ropes. Years later with many hours of body work the head and neck trauma has resolved. To this day this super brave mare who I have run into a black bear with and shot guns off of still loses her mind when someone swings a rope near her. I’ve desensitized her to a point but I still curse the asshats that roped her every time I feel the fear crop up in her.

Unknown said...

Just like any other group against something they usually focus on the negative. There's always two sides of a story unless you are an activist, then there's only the horrible, terrible "truth". As my mother always said "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see". I highly DOUBT half these people so against it have actually witnessed the proper use of donkeys for roping. I own a donkey and trim and shoe many more. They are incredibly intelligent creatures.

Anonymous said...

As with most situations with animals the better you treat them the longer they last and are useful. I have one friend who's donkey has lasted well over ten years. "Friendly" is a permanaent resident there and he really knows his job and has trained numerous amatears and kids to rope. He's an asset to the training program so he is treated as an asset.

I'm sure some donekys do get abused, just like horses, dogs and children. This doesn't mean that EVERY roper beats donkeys. There is just a responsible way to do it and a stupid way to do it.

mugwump said...

What I always go back to is financial reality. It doesn't help a pro to abuse an animal. It hurts their reputation and pocket book. Nobody profits from a crippled or dead animal.
Even if a horseman looks at his horses as machines, he won't make money by hurting them.
I was known to be way to attached to my horses during my life as a trainer, but I've seen emotional reactions hurt horses every bit as much, if not more, than practicality.

Half Dozen Farm said...

I think, Mugs, that you have the pleasure of associating with caring professionals. It's not them that worry me.

cdncowgirl said...

I've read some of those blogs regarding the horrific treatment of roping donkeys.
I also have a neighbour that had a donkey he used for roping practice among other things (Dickens was often the star of the Christmas pagent)
I figure its like almost anything with horses... there are those who do it in a barbaric fashion and those who take care of the animal.

Cristy said...

Boy, I'm glad to see a level headed take on this. I have a BLM burro, love her tremendously - pack her and am breaking her to drive. I've read a lot of hysteria about how roping ruins donkeys and how terrible ropers are to burros and animals in general. There are sure a lot of shades of gray, but I know of one donkey in particular who's trained many heel horses - he knows the pattern, runs it reliably, waits to have the rope shaken off and walks off. He knows his job, does it willingly, is well fed and gets some exercise. He's not foundering in some backyard somewhere.... A roping donkey in america is probably pretty lucky, considering the historic and global uses of the animals.

nagonmom said...

This raises memory. Have you ever heard of tying a horse to a donkey to train the horse to lead? Apparently donkeys have really strong necks, and a trainer I know had a collar (think harness not dog) that would be on the donkey linked to a rope/halter/young idiot horse. And most of the time, the donkey would teach the horse to follow, yield to pressure, calm down while being led. Sometimes human intervention was required, if the horse would try to savage the donkey, or if the donkey was dragging the horse who had laid down in protest. The donkey was adorable, well-trained, and broke to ride. He was a valued partner in training.

mrscravitz said...

When referring to "roping" donkeys, I do not think that Training facility's are in reference here. It is the Mexican Rodeos that do this for sport, and they do throw the donkey down. THAT is cruel!

Greenie said...

Nagonmom, I have heard a similar story apparently an old cowboy out here who use to halter break his bull's that way!

Unknown said...

Donky are amazing creatures. Probably one of the most abused worldwide. I've worked with them in egypt doing volunteer work, it's amazing what they can handle.

I think liked everything a good horsemen will treat his donkey as an asset, others won't. I think the way mugs described them being used gives them a great career and a chance to be useful, its a good thing.

I know bull farmers, who use donks to stop bulls fighting in the paddock,they are tough!

mugwump said...

An Image of Grace- This has to be an example of morons who own horses, not horsemen who are ropers.
A properly prepared rope horse can be roped by their head, their feet, anything that sticks out and won't flinch.
A rope horse that panics at the sight of a swinging rope isn't much of an asset.
Both my horses have been acclimatized to a rope since I've been to this barn. It's gone an incredibly long way towards teaching them to be calm, relaxed and accepting when things go flying around their heads and feet.
Your lovely mare was victimized by asshats, not ropers.

doublekarabians said...

I have heard and seen them advertised to teach show calves how to lead. They are tied to each other and the donkey just drags the calve around till it finally learns to give to the pressure. Much easier on the small farm child that is showing cattle than him actually trying to lead a big obnoxious steer. The ad I saw rented them out for the summer for this.

The Dancing Donkey said...

If this was the "norm" for donkey roping, I'd support it with no qualms. Unfortunately, I think your experience is the exception not the rule, especially in the competitions. Sadly, the kind of training you describe does not fill grandstands.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Dancing Donkey here. You make it sound all sweet and gentle. Yet, in the rodeo arena, everything one knows about handling stock goes right out the window, to make that quick time. THAT's what's wrong with rodeo roping. It's not how to treat livestock. ANY livestock.

Move them slow. What's the fricking rush, anyway?!

A said...

To Anonymous that wants to know what the rush is...Have you ever worked cattle? Yes, slow is preferable, but sometimes it's not an option. When you have a herd of cows and calves to sort, you have to be efficient. Slow does not work. If it's 6am when you start, you've got a short window of time to handle them all while it's cool, before they get over stimulated and get cranky. Piddle around too long, it'll get hot and they get hard to handle.
You paint with a broad stroke by lumping everyone in the rodeo arena in one blob. The ones that you see at small town local rodeos are not the majority. Those that are professionals that make their living with their horse and with cattle can't afford to mistreat any of their animals. There are children in this world that aren't as well managed and cared for as some of the horses that belong to PRCA ropers are.

Anonymous said...

OMG, there we go again. "Children that are not cared for as well.."

I noticed you didn't mention the great care the livestock receives in PRCA rodeos. What utter bullshit. Sure the horses are cared for. Calgary Stampede has finally admitted they cull their stock, and send 'em to slaughter. The biggest proponents for horse slaughter are you western folks, you know.

And yes, I have worked cows. Slow. I lived. Buddy of mine was killed working with his stock. It's dangerous work, and when you rush it, you are stupid. And you are at the rodeo.

Rodeo is all about the threat of death. Makes me sick.
But hey, keep on hanging animals by the neck. It IS the western way, after all.
Tell me, will you cheer wildly at the Wild Pony Races this year in Calgary? I can hardly wait to see that cruelty fest again. A rodeo supporter has likened the Wild Horse Races to demolition derbies with horse-flesh. Yummmy.

Western is infested with cruelty. Get a grip.

Anonymous said...

In a choice between being sent to slaughter, or going to a rodeo? I'd choose slaughter, thanks. At least the fear is over quick. Just LOVE how you western folks are so quick to defend needless noosing of an animal's neck.
Here's your bestest rodeo of them all. Sure fast is good

Clancy said...

I know it is difficult to hear that someone considers a practice we take for granted as something barbaric and horrifying. Unfortunately it is easy to think what we see around us is 'normal' and become desensitised to it, where people unfamiliar with it can see it for what it is, or at least see it very differently.

I don't see any justification for roping donkeys or in fact for roping any animals for 'sport'. I understand it may sometimes be necessary for animal management reasons, but to promote it as a sport is up there with bull baiting and dog fighting to me.

If roping is so harmless, maybe a cowboy/girl can volunteer to be the 'donkey' and be roped? I'd have no problems with that because the human has a choice. I suspect slaughter might be preferable to being used like this.

I hope this sport soon goes the way of other practices that used to be considered 'normal' - foot binding, slavery, women not having the vote, kids working at 8 years, etc.

Anonymous said...

whatever. Western yahoos, be ashamed. YOU teach kids this is okay? Seriously? wow, just, wow. I hope this makes you sick, too Mugs
Because as long as y'all say nothing, on and on and on it goes.
Disgusting. Mexican horse tripping pales in comparison.

Babygoose said...

The event at Van Horn is an actual donkey roping competition. They run the donkey out of a chute and rope it just like a steer. But the donkey has no protection like horn wraps. It is roped around the neck, yanked around for the heeler, and stretched. I saw from pictures from last years competition and I saw pictures of donkeys getting whipped around so hard their hind legs airplaned out beind them. We are not talking practice roping on trained donkeys. Or dropping a loop around the hind legs of a donkey being poined by a halter.

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