Take action Help NZALA & SAFE seek justice for animals used in rodeo

Justice for all Animals

The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and SAFE filed a legal challenge with the High Court stating that rodeo activities are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Animals had their day in court on July 11th.


The High Court decision on rodeo is in.

The Court agreed that the Government had made procedural errors when re-issuing the rodeo code of welfare in 2018. However, the Judge declined to make a ruling on the legality of rodeo and dismissed the judicial review sought by SAFE and the NZALA. The High Court has said that the place to challenge the legality of rodeo is in the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee’s (NAWAC) consultation process.


What’s next?

  1. We expect NAWAC to proceed with their review of the rodeo code of welfare as a priority, and urge NAWAC not to delay this consultation process any further.
  2. We will bring our concerns that rodeo is unlawful and violates the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to NAWAC’s consultation process.
  3. We will monitor the drafting of a new code to ensure the correct process is followed and the law is upheld.

Thank you for your continued support as we stand up for the animals abused in rodeo. It should not take legal action to prompt NAWAC into action, but we will continue to do what it takes to seek justice. This is not the end of the road.

The journey so far

SAFE and animal activists like you have been working for years to try to protect animals used in rodeo. Rodeo is not lawful and together we will make sure that the law does what it’s supposed to – protect the vulnerable. Here is a timeline of how we got here.

2022 ↓


11th of July 2022:

NZALA and SAFE challenge the Government and NZ Rodeo Cowboys Association in the High Court to prove that rodeo is unlawful animal abuse in violation of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

2021 ↓

July 2021:

NZALA and SAFE file court proceedings against the Government for their failure to ban rodeo in NZ. Successive governments have all failed to take meaningful action to protect animals abused in rodeos. That is why NZALA and SAFE are taking the ultimate step to defend the rights of animals in the High Court.

January 2021:

SAFE protests the North Canterbury Rodeo again. Police are called when a security guard from the rodeo becomes aggressive towards protestors.

2020 ↓

November 2020:

Animal handler Derek Robinson, who abused animals at Mid Northern Rodeo in 2017, is fined $2000 following NZALA's successful private prosecution. This was the first case of its kind, after MPI declined to prosecute and let Robinson off with a warning. Lawyers involved in the case noted that Robinson was also involved in the abuse of a steer in 2016.

February 2020:

The Labour Party backflips on previous promises to ban flank straps, electric prodders and calf roping. Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says banning these things is ‘off the table for now’ because NAWAC has assessed welfare at rodeos as a whole and does not think this is necessary.

January 2020:

Green MP Gareth Hughes calls on the Labour Party to honour their 2017 election promise to ban flank straps, tail twisting, electric prods, rope burning, and the use of calves under 12 months. Hughes also criticises MPI’s investigation into the death of a bull at the Gisborne Rodeo – the only person interviewed was the vet who euthanised the bull and who was also a sponsor of the event.

January 2020:

A car collision occurs in front of a protest organised by SAFE at the North Canterbury Rodeo. The driver initially blames the collision on the protest, but later admits that she was flipping the bird at protesters and drove into the stationary car in front of her.

2019 ↓

December 2019:

Two bulls are euthanised due to injuries before and during the Mad Bull Rodeo in Otago. President of the rodeo Garry Clark initially denies knowing anything about the tragedies but upon being presented with the facts, grudgingly admits the truth.

November 2019:

Mid Northern Rodeo 2020 is cancelled due to financial difficulties and loss of sponsors. SAFE spokesperson Will Appelbe reports that this rodeo has historically been a particularly troubled event. Footage captured by protestors shows brutal treatment of animals, prompting sponsors to withdraw their support. There were confrontational scenes at this year’s event as protesters were pushed, shoved, yelled at and generally bullied by rodeo supporters.

March 2019:

Patrick Gower locks horns with Lyall Cocks on TV3’s The Project. Gower confronts Cocks over his insistence on labelling animal deaths in rodeo as ‘accidents’. Referencing the four animal deaths this season, Gower fumes, “That’s not an accident Lyall, that’s a pattern.”

March 2019:

National Finals Rodeo is held in North Canterbury. A horse called Nev is so terrified that he runs into a fence and is killed. SAFE and Animal Justice League protest the event, ensuring that the 4 deaths of animals at the hands of rodeo cowboys this season do not go unmarked.

2018 ↓

December 2018:

A horse and a bull are killed at the Gisborne rodeo. The bull’s death was widely reported as it happened in the ring in full view, but the horse’s death was covered up and initially went unreported. Later the Rodeo Cowboys Association called it “an unusual accident away from the competition.”

October 2018:

A horse dies at the Methven Rodeo. The horse was injured and later died when the saddle slipped and he became entangled in the girth. A SAFE spokesperson said that the death on the first weekend of the rodeo season, and so soon after the Rodeo Cowboys Association's new "safety measures", showed just how ineffective those new measures were.

March 2018:

In a speech at the launch of NZALA's report, Meka Whaitiri says she will not consider a ban on rodeos but is asking NAWAC to look more closely and report back to her on the animal welfare implications of each rodeo event.

March 2018:

New Zealand Animal Law Association publishes Catriona McLennan’s paper ‘The Legal Status of Rodeo in New Zealand.’ This report scrutinizes the legality and regulation of rodeo in NZ in the context of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

March 2018:

Rodeo Cowboys Association spokesperson Michael Laws has a meltdown in an interview with TVNZ1 Breakfast host Jack Tame, vehemently denying that animals experience any pain in rodeos. In a fiery clash with Tame, Laws clearly misrepresents current science on the topic and actually seems to be unaware that NAWAC’s code of welfare states that as best practice, calves should not be used in rodeo.

February 2018:

A bull killed is at the Pukemanu Bullride in Martinborough. Observers of the event reported that the distressed bull was salivating and bellowing after breaking his leg - he was then euthanised. New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys' Association president Lyall Cocks said he did not know the circumstances, but that ‘accidents could happen’ and the death would be investigated by the association. SAFE laments the great suffering that this bull went through and renews calls for a ban on rodeo.

2017 ↓

October 2017:

SAFE unveils 'dog roping' stunt. In a confronting video showing a dog being roped, choked, thrown to the ground and tied up, SAFE highlights the brutal treatment suffered by calves across the country, as the start of the rodeo season approaches. If dog roping is cruelty, calf roping is cruelty!

October 2017:

Former politician and broadcaster Michael Laws is appointed National Spokesman for The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association. Laws pledges to defend and promote the interests of rodeo for a fee of $25,000 and begins his campaign by calling veganism a ‘cult’ and animal rights activists ‘crazies who do not put up rational debates.’

June 2017:

Animal Handler Derek Robinson is let off with a warning following an MPI investigation into animal abuse at the Mid Northern Rodeo. Anti-Rodeo Action NZ had produced evidence showing calves under 12 months being shocked with an electric prodder while trapped in a chute. SAFE states that MPI should not be relying on volunteer investigators to film and report cruelty to animals but should be taking urgent action to stop the suffering in the first place.

February 2017:

Labour MP and then animal welfare spokesperson Trevor Mallard says if elected, Labour would ban flank straps, tail twisting, electric prods, rope burning, and the use of calves under 12 months. He added if rodeos can’t run without being cruel, they should just be stopped. However, in a confusing statement Mr Mallard also says that he is not in favour of actually banning rodeos.

January 2017:

MPI investigates animal abuse captured on film by Anti-Rodeo Action NZ at the Mid Northern Rodeo. The footage highlights multiple instances of graphic violence towards animals, including calves being electric shocked, somersaulted into the air on the end of a rope and suffering injuries from being ridden. SAFE asks people to boycott businesses sponsoring rodeos.

2016 ↓

November 2016:

The Primary Production Select Committee considering the petition concludes that rodeos should not be banned. The committee states that there are adequate animal welfare safeguards in place. This despite the use of electric prods and flank straps and the continuation of inherently cruel rodeo acts such as calf roping, steer wrestling and bucking events.

August 2016:

SAFE and the SPCA commission a poll which finds 59% of New Zealanders would support a ban on rodeo. In a statement, then SAFE CEO Hans Kriek concludes that “the government must act now and listen to public opinion."

June 2016:

As the Petition goes to a select committee, then Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy (National) pre-empts the outcome of the investigation and rules out a ban. He states that recent updates to the rodeo code of welfare now mean a vet has to be on site, consultation is underway reviewing the use of electric prodders and “by and large, rodeos are fine.” Labour MP Damien O'Connor likens animal injuries in rodeo to rugby injuries, clearly missing the point completely.

March 2016:

The petition to ban rodeo that was launched in July 2015 by SAFE, SPCA and Farmwatch is presented to Parliament with 63,000 signatures. Green Party MP Mojo Mathers accepts the petition declaring that she hopes “the government would take this very seriously because our reputation as leaders of animal welfare is at stake and because this is what New Zealanders want."

March 2016:

SAFE releases new footage to TV Three current affairs show 'Story', revealing disturbing action filmed at rodeos from across the country during the 2015/16 rodeo season. This fuels the debate on Rodeo – ‘animal cruelty and abuse’ versus ‘community entertainment’ - ahead of the petition presentation to parliament the following day.

January 2016:

A bull dies at the Richmond Rodeo. The bull has to be euthanised after breaking his leg during a bull-riding event. The president of the Richmond Rodeo Club is quoted as saying “bulls break legs at home.” A spokesperson for SAFE states that such a tragedy “really does reinforce to people that (rodeos) are hurting animals and sometimes causing their deaths just for the sake of entertainment.”

2015 ↓

December 2015:

Waimate rodeo accuses SAFE of entering rodeo to covertly photograph events. SAFE denied these claims and stated "If rodeo organisers truly feel they have high welfare standards they should not fear people filming in a public arena."

July 2015:

SAFE, SPCA and Farmwatch join forces and launch a petition, calling for the government of New Zealand to ban rodeos throughout the country.

2014 ↓

August 2014:

Auckland Council confirms the ban on rodeos taking place on council-owned property will remain in place after initial concerns their new event policy, introduced without public consultation, would cause the ban to be overturned. SAFE praises this decision, but urges the council to extend the ban outside the old city boundaries to Warkworth, where Auckland’s only annual rodeo is still held.

January 2014:

Anti-rodeo campaigner Lynn Charlton files a complaint with MPI after witnessing appalling abuse at the Huntly Rodeo. As a result of the ensuing investigation, the event is forced to shut down due to a breach of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, also causing sponsors to withdraw their support. SAFE celebrates this victory, stating that the hitting and kicking of animals that occurred at the Huntly Rodeo is never acceptable.

2012 ↓

November 2012:

A petition organised by Alvina Edwards gathers more than 10,000 signatures to stop the New Zealand International Rodeo at Claudelands Event Centre in Hamilton. The petition is supported by SAFE and protests at the event are organised by SAFE.

October 2012:

SAFE calls for a nationwide ban on rodeo events, predicting the current review of the rodeo industry’s welfare code by NAWAC will be ineffectual and rodeo animals will continue to be injured and killed in events across the country.

July 2012:

Hamilton City Council refuse to ban the New Zealand International Rodeo event. Organisers describe SAFE’s concerns over the welfare of animals used in rodeo as a ‘non-issue’.

2011 ↓

November 2011

SAFE protests the New Zealand International Rodeo at the Claudelands Event Centre in Hamilton, urging the Hamilton City Council to follow Auckland’s lead and ban rodeo events on council-owned land.

2008 ↓

June 2008:

Following public comments by John Banks in January, linking escalating family violence with the violence towards animals used in rodeo, SAFE made a submission to Auckland City Council to ban rodeos from council-owned land within the city. The resulting ban is a first for New Zealand.

2007 ↓

November 2007:

New Zealand's first indoor International Rodeo event is held in Christchurch. Advertised as a ‘fun’ event for the whole family and described as having the ‘adrenaline and energy of a big American sport’, it is surrounded by controversy and fiercely opposed by SAFE.

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