WOODSTOWN — Lynne Winkers has been a nervous mother for the past two weeks.
She woke up frequently in the middle of the night to check on her sick child. She started working a second job cleaning rodeo equipment to help pay for the child’s medical bills, and she’s considering having a bake sale.
“I’m a mess,” Winkers said Thursday. “I have been a bear on wheels. They’re all my kids, but he’s so special.”
Winkers doesn’t have any biological children. “They” are her horses, and the sick child is Jock, the 6-year-old horse she rides in rodeos. Jock came down with a virus about two weeks ago, spent one week in a Maryland hospital and still is not 100 percent healthy.
Winkers, like many other rodeo competitors, is an animal lover. And despite the protests of animal cruelty that trail rodeos around the country, Winkers insists her sport gets her seal of approval for its treatment of animals.
Including Jock — whose illness will keep Winkers out of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo, to be held March 30-April 1 — Winkers owns seven horses. She and her husband, John, also share their farm with two dogs — husky-lab mixes named Bonnie and Clyde — and about 15 cats, many of whom were “throwaways” that they adopted.
Lynne, who declined to reveal her age, is a rodeo barrel racer. John, 51, was a bareback rider until about five years ago. They run Mannington Meadows Farm, with Lynne taking care of horses and John working as a farrier, shoeing horses.
“I think you’re born with that passion (for animals),” Lynne said.
Because of that passion, she and John pay close attention to the treatment of animals at rodeos. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has a rulebook that is about an inch thick, and stock contractors face thousands of dollars in fines if they violate the rules. Competitors can be disqualified.
“If you see anything (bad) happen, you go to a PRCA judge,” Lynne said. “We are to patrol ourselves.”
Neither Lynne nor John has ever had to report anything. But both said they would not hesitate to do so.
“(If someone hits a horse), if I sat there and watched that, I’m going, ‘Huh,’ and then I would tell a PRCA official,” John Winkers said. “Anywhere on the rodeo grounds, any cruelty to the horses or anything. I don’t want to see it.”
But Cherry Hill, Camden County, resident Stuart Chaifetz a member of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, doesn’t want to see rodeos at all — no matter how many rules there are.
“Here’s why you cannot have a humane rodeo, and it’s the basic part of it: These animals do not want to get hurt. ... To force them to perform, they have to cause them pain,” Chaifetz said.
Chaifetz has video from last year’s Boardwalk Rodeo that shows several animals having their tails pulled, their ribs jabbed with poles and their backs stepped on with boots.
But Lynne and John Winkers said the animals are not seriously hurt.
Judges watch the chutes to ensure that the horses and bulls are not abused. Prods are not allowed unless the animal is stalled in the chute. And the PRCA has weight requirements for calves (between 220 and 280 pounds) and steers (between 450 and 650 pounds) to ensure that they are strong enough to withstand the contact, but not so heavy that they will fall too hard. Calves and steers are used only for one rodeo season before being replaced.
“Pulling a calf’s tail, that would be like (pulling a human’s arm),” Lynne Winkers said. “Come on.”
Chaifetz said the rules are actually proof of the cruelty, though.
“They’re admitting to some type of pain, but they’re mitigating it,” he said.
Chaifetz, who has owned seven rescue dogs in his adult life, questioned whether anyone involved with the rodeo actually does love animals.
“It’s not much different than people who say they love their kids and then they beat their kids,” the 44-year-old said. “Or people who say they love their dog and then they beat their dog. It’s not love.”
Winkers, however, said she would love for anyone concerned with the welfare of rodeo animals to visit her farm.
“They could see how we keep our horses. It wouldn’t bother me in the least,” she said. “I don’t think they’re well-informed. I think somebody grabs a ball and runs with it. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
On Thursday, Jock and several other horses roamed a field under a sunny, blue sky. To the average person, he didn’t appear sick as he munched on an entire 1-pound bag of carrots.
Lynne Winkers said even if Jock gets healthy soon, the soonest he will be fit to compete in barrel races is July 1. But she and John still plan to attend the Boardwalk Rodeo.
“It stinks,” she said. “You know, you wait all this time, and you’re so excited. But I’ll go and root my friends on.”
2nd annual Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo
When: 7:30 p.m. March 30 and 31; 1 p.m. April 1
Where: Boardwalk Hall
Tickets: $16-$102 per day, available through Ticketmaster, the Boardwalk Hall box office and PressofAC.com/tickets
Contact Jason Mazda: