Boardwalk Rodeo organizers say their October event in Atlantic City will not include the use of hand-held electric prods to spur reluctant horses out of their chutes during the show.
The Illinois-based Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, alleges a horse died during a show at Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove Township, Salem County, on Saturday about 30 seconds after being zapped with such a device.
Asked if a prod was used on the horse - 9-year-old Duke - Cowtown Rodeo owner Grant Harris said, "No." Using prods on horses such as Duke, which are trained to buck, "makes no sense," he said.
Harris, whose family founded Cowtown Rodeo in 1929, said the prods have been used in some emergency situations. One of those situations involved moving large, heavy livestock that fell on and pinned their riders, he said.
Harris said he has seen SHARK's video and is worried parts of it may be "enhanced."
"They have an agenda," he said of SHARK.
A video of Saturday's incident was taken by Stuart Chaifetz, an investigator for the animal rights group. The video shows what SHARK alleges is a man using a prod on the horse, which eventually collapsed after finishing its bucking event.
"It was a truly horrific death," Chaifetz said. "That horse was cruelly and illegally shocked. People think rodeos are entertainment, but they are not. Rodeos are brutal, vicious events where animals are tortured and sometimes, as in this case, they are killed."
Chaifetz said he was filming at the rodeo because of other allegations involving the use of the prods at previous Cowtown events.
Officials with Cowtown Rodeo and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association said the horse died of natural causes and not anything related to the rodeo, including an electric prod. PRCA sponsors the Cowtown Rodeo and Boardwalk Rodeo events.
Cowtown officials said in a statement that the horse died of an aneurysm of his aorta blood vessel, a "natural, although rare occurrence." Cowtown Rodeo's veterinarian "assured us that this had nothing to do with the rodeo event," the statement reads.
Boardwalk Rodeo Chairwoman Janet Markowitz said she looked at the video Tuesday and could not determine if a prod was used. She said the use of such a prod at a Boardwalk Rodeo "would just never fly."
"I've never seen anything like that there, ever," Markowitz said of prods at a Boardwalk Rodeo, which will be in Atlantic City for the third year in a row, on Oct. 5-6.
Markowitz said the Boardwalk Rodeo follows all safety regulations for the animals in the show. That includes on-site consultations with officials from PRCA, she said.
The Boardwalk Rodeo also seeks health and safety information from veterinarians, she said. That resulted in an upgrading of the dirt on the floor of Boardwalk Hall to improve safety for the animals during the first Boardwalk Rodeo, she said.
PRCA officials said a consulting veterinarian also watched the SHARK video. The veterinarian determined even if a prod was used, it did not cause the horse's death, the officials said.
Cindy Schonholtz, a PRCA spokeswoman, said use of the prod is allowed on horses that "have a tendency to stall in the chute, to allow for the safe exit of the horse and rider." The prod can be used only upon agreement of a rodeo judge, the animal's owner and the rodeo contestant, she said.
Harris said that, to his knowledge, there "has never been consent given by all parties" at Cowtown Rodeo for use of the prod under that exception to the PRCA regulations.
PRCA is reviewing the Cowtown Rodeo incident, Schonholtz said. PRCA could impose fines if the review determines any of its regulations were violated, she said.
Edmund Shimp, Pilesgrove Township's animal control officer and a member of the governing board of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the SPCA is investigating Saturday's incident. He declined further comment.
Chaifetz called the finding that Duke died of natural causes "absolutely disingenuous nonsense."
"The only reason why they shock is to make the animal perform, to enrage and put the animal in pain to put on a good show," he said.
Chaifetz said he has attended one Boardwalk Rodeo. He would not comment on whether he or someone else from his organization would attend October's event.
Contact Thomas Barlas:
To see the video from the group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness alleging use of a hand-held electric prod at Cowtown Rodeo,