Work is underway to transform the Scotiabank Centre from a hockey arena to one for bull riding. Six hundred tonnes of dirt is replacing the ice to prepare for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) event scheduled for Saturday night.
The evening is billed as a chance to see top athletes battling the toughest bulls.
“There’s an adrenaline rush for sure,” said bull rider Cody Casper. “There’s something about getting on that big animal and conquering it so it’s pretty cool.”
Casper has been riding bulls for about 15 years and says he loves to get the chance to travel around with the show. Also travelling around with the show are about 50 bucking bulls, though less than half will be used in Saturday’s show.
It’s those bulls that animal advocates and activists are considering as they call for a ban on bull riding in Halifax. An online petition has garnered over 75,000 signatures ahead of the event and a peaceful protest is planned for outside the arena before the show gets underway.
“Any form of animal entertainment has a line that shouldn’t be crossed,” said retired veterinarian Hugh Chisholm, who will be among the protesters. “Using animals like bulls in such an unnatural way to me it’s just inherent cruelty,”
But Casper and other riders defend their sport saying taking care of the bulls is a top priority.
“These bulls are not treated poorly. They’re treated really well. They’re on good diets, they eat well, we treat them good,” he said.
Online PBR outlines its policy of welfare and treatment of the bulls and says “the organization operates under a no-tolerance policy for any mistreatment of an animal associated with the PBR.” It says that when not in competitions or on the road, bulls are housed at local ranch facilities with proper pen size and space for each bull, and that the animals “receive chiropractic care and acupuncture as needed.”
But Chisholm says the problem is with the sport in general.
“It’s an unatural thing for an animal to be in an arena, in a noisy place surrounded with people, with men you know riding on their backs,” he said.
“Being on the road for an extended period of time, being housed in unnatural environments being forced to do unnatural activities, those are stressful things for animals and any form of stress can lead to physical as well as mental problems for animals.”
Casper says bull riding has always been an big part of western culture and says if bulls weren’t bucking then they would be used as meat, and there’s no reason to ban western culture.
But those protesting say they’ll continue to protest every year the event makes a stop in Halifax. Chisholm says it will likely take time for attitudes to change but their goal is to educate people so that one day bull riding will go the way of the circus.
“We don’t see circuses anymore because people realize taking animals on the road and subjecting them to silly entertainment for humans is wrong,” said Chisholm. “This is the same thing it’s just bulls instead of elephants.”