Addressing Rodeo Safety Concerns

Rodeo Safety

In a sport where risk is part of the allure, rodeo safety can feel like an oxymoron. Fortunately, the push to protect riders and rodeo clowns (aka bullfighters) through basic safety equipment and practices has gained tremendous traction in recent years. Professional Bull Riders (PBR), one of the largest organizers of rodeos in the U.S., now requires riders born after 1994 to wear protective vests and headgear.

The data on rodeo injuries is limited because rodeo professionals often forego medical treatment. Also contributing to the patchy information is the fact that medical research in this field is limited. However, the existing data paints a bleak picture.

College rodeo participants have an 89% chance of being injured each season, which is double the injury rate for college football players. Of the various rodeo events, bull riding is by far the most dangerous event. A bull rider is ten times more likely to be injured than a football player. But bullfighters are also in danger, with a 77.4% injury rate per year. The most common injury types include concussions and other head/face trauma, and shoulder and knee injuries.

Implementing rodeo safety standards is a challenge. Unlike other high-risk sports like football or hockey, rodeo athletes are independent contractors. They do not work for a team or for the rodeo, and individuals decide for themselves what safety precautions to take.

This post will examine new trends in rodeo safety, as well as the ways that rodeos may be liable for negligence.

Rodeo liability risks

Rodeos are a minefield of liability. They are at risk of lawsuits from competitors, bullfighters, and other staff. Additionally, they face liability risks from audience members and animal rights groups. Many rodeos require bull riders and bullfighters to sign a liability waiver before competing, but such releases are not seamless. Rodeos must still prove that they perform due diligence to protect their athletes. There are several cases where the family of minors participating in high school rodeos later sued the rodeos for not requiring the riders to wear helmets or other protective gear.

Working with live animals always adds uncertainty. For example, at a rodeo in Edmonton, a bull escaped and jumped the barricade, landing squarely in the middle of the audience. A similar incident occurred in at the Redding Rodeo in May of 2022. Unfortunately, in this instance, five people were injured, including a high school student.

Animal rights groups pay rodeos special scrutiny as well. Multiple animal rights groups filed suit against the Poway Rodeo when a video surfaced of a rodeo staffer using a cattle prod to shock horses before a bronco riding competition. Allegedly, the rodeo used this cruel method to give the horses a wilder, “bucking bronco” appearance and increase entertainment value.

Also read: Why Developing an Effective Employee Training Program is Beneficial for Fairs and Carnivals

Rodeo safety precautions

Because of the high-risk factors involved, rodeos must address safety on multiple fronts.

Rodeo participants

Small and regional rodeos should follow the example set by the PBR and require their participants to wear appropriate protective gear, both for contestants and bullfighters. Protective equipment includes helmets and Kevlar vests, mouthpieces, gloves, chiropractor tape, cups, sports bras, bicycle shorts with padding, etc. Safety checks should be implemented before events that evaluate protective gear, saddles, ropes, gates, and other frequently used elements.

Rodeos not already doing so should hire professional medical staff to be ringside for injured participants. It is also advisable to go one step further and bring on a staff physician to oversee the health of contestants and rodeo clowns. At the very least, rodeos should consult with a physician while planning their emergency response plans.

Audience members

Fencing and barricades need to be sturdy and at a height to prevent animals from escaping. In addition, rodeo staff should be trained in CPR and other first aid in case of emergencies. Rodeos should invest in security staff and coordinate with local police and hospitals to respond to crises in an expedient manner.


The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) has stringent guidelines to oversee the welfare of rodeo animals and maintain their safety. To be endorsed by the PRCA, a rodeo must follow a set of over 60 rules. In addition, a veterinarian must be onsite to supervise the animals. These rules encompass issues such as the inspection of animals before an event.

Learn More: Animal Livestock Disease Prevention at Fairs

Insuring for the unique liability risks of rodeos

Liability risks for rodeos are abundant. Not only do rodeos need to make allowances for the safety of their contestants and bullfighters, but also for their audiences and animals. For rodeos, injury is not a matter of if but when.

McGowan Allied Specialty Insurance provides coverage that works with the unique needs of rodeos in the areas of participants, audience, and animal liabilities. For example, participant liability coverage protects rodeo organizers from claims filed by rodeo competitors and bullfighters. Spectator policies may cover medical payments for audience members hurt onsite at rodeo events. Additional coverage includes animal mortality and bucking stock liability which covers events such as the death of an animal during a rodeo event.

McGowan has over 35 years of serving the amusement industry, including rodeos. Contact McGowan Allied today to ensure your rodeo is protected against the inevitable.

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