The steer leaps from the chute, kicking up a trail of dust. A horse jolts behind, carrying a rope-slinging cowboy.
As the cowboy snares the beast's head and horns, the rope slacks at the steer's feet. But in the momentum of the moving horse, the rope tightens, yanking the steer's legs skyward while its head slams into the dirt. The cowboy rushes to tie its legs.
The rodeo crowd mellows as the steer -- a castrated bull weighing some 600 pounds -- lies still. Its eyes blink as several rodeo hands roll its motionless body onto a flat wooden pallet that is dragged away by horses.
Once penned, the creature doesn't get up.
It probably can't stand, says Steve Hindi, president of the Illinois-based nonprofit Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK). Hindi's camera operators covertly captured the incident described above during the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's national finals for steer roping in Amarillo, Texas. The steer, Hindi says, appears paralyzed and should have been put out of its misery.
He also wants the event itself to be banned.
"Steer roping is something you can't show to children or to a general audience -- it's just too horrific," Hindi said.
Hall of fame says 'no thanks'
Hindi's group is offering the rodeo association $50,000 to put a permanent stop to steer roping, which touts record holders from as early as 1929.
The association can obviously use the cash to help the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Hindi said. In recent months, the Hall of Fame has struggled financially, even briefly shutting its doors before reopening last week thanks to an influx of donations.
Officials with the association declined to view Hindi's videos for comment.
Instead, they issued a statement defending the treatment of livestock: "It is recognized by all those involved in sport that participants may become injured whether they are animal or human. Veterinarians are on-site at all PRCA-sanctioned events to tend to the rarely injured animal as are paramedics to treat their human counterparts."
Ann Bleiker, a spokeswoman for the rodeo association, added that the Hall of Fame would not accept Hindi's cash because of the strings attached.
That response left Hindi promising to keep up a sustained battle to sway public opinion until the competition is dropped.
"We'll spend [$50,000] and more for the next 10, 15 years -- whatever it's going to take," he said. "We'd just as soon have done with it now."
86ed in Nevada
In its statement, the rodeo association describes Hindi's group as extremist. But Hindi shrugged off the characterization, stating that SHARK doesn't embrace any harmful tactics, but it is always looking to catch rodeo hands abusing animals.
"We fire with our cameras; that's how we shoot," Hindi said.
The group's footage of Michael Latting, a rodeo owner in Illinois who used a hand-held cattle prod to shock a bull in a locked chute, led authorities to investigate and file misdemeanor abuse charges last year.
Sheldon Sobol, a lawyer with the Illinois attorney general's office, said Hindi's film was helpful in securing a conviction. He added that state agricultural inspectors have now been added as rodeo monitors there.
Hindi said he and other activists are motivated by a lack of uniform regulatory protection for rodeo animals.
The treatment of rodeo livestock, just like racing dogs, is not protected under the federal Animal Welfare Act. As such, each state or local jurisdiction is left to decide where to draw the line between what is legitimate use of animals for sport and what constitutes abuse, said Jim Rogers, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Steer roping is deemed acceptable in several states throughout the West, including Colorado, which requires that the competitions be overseen by the rodeo association.
Notably, however, the rodeo association doesn't bring steer roping to its premier occasion -- the National Finals Rodeo, which take place in Las Vegas, Nev.
David Thain, Nevada's state veterinarian, said the event is considered too harmful.
"I think you see too many accidents with it -- animals getting hurt too often," Thain said.
-- Michael de Yoanna