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Elbert County

Rodeo myths get dose of daylight

Bullfighter, Stampede official say animals are treated well

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Caylee Burns has a passion for rodeo. And with a growing population of transplants moving into the area, she has a passion to help educate people about the facts of the sport and dispel myths.

As the behind-the-chutes director this year for the Elizabeth Stampede, which concluded June 4, Burns had the opportunity to share her enthusiasm with countless rodeo attendees.

“I've worked for reining trainers and I trained horses for other people,” she said.

Reining is a Western riding competition where a rider guides the horse through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops.

Burns has entered small barrel races in the past, though not on a professional level and was rodeo royalty in her native Laramie, Wyoming.

Last July, she married regional rodeo bullfighter Cade Burns.

As the two anticipated this year's Stampede they wondered, “How can we reach more people?” Caylee Burns said.

“I had reached out to Elizabeth and I said, `I want to be more a part of this,'” she said.

“There are so many misperceptions. It's easy to be swayed by the PETA videos that go after the rodeo lifestyle,” Caylee Burns said.

One of the more controversial elements to rodeo is the hot shot, an electrical tool used to assist in moving livestock, but not harmful to the animals, according to the Burnses.

“Maybe 2-3 percent of the bucking horses would need it,” Cade Burns said. “The only reason we'd hot shot them is if they stall in the chute.” At that point the contestant, the judge, and the stock contractor would have to agree to use the hot shot.

Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo vice president Traci Swisher provided some numbers to illustrate the sensation experienced by the animals.

A hot shot is 5,000 volts, versus 50,000 for a stun gun. There is virtually no amperage, which is what would burn the skin.

“My analogy is that it's similar to a static shock. In our training, our rodeo queens shocked themselves with it,” Swisher said.

Caylee Burns further explained what the effect to the animals might be.

“When you consider that a bull's skin is 10 millimeters thick — a mosquito can't even bite it — that voltage is not bad,” she said. Human skin is typically one millimeter thick.

“Anybody who's ever used a hot shot has been hot-shotted,” Caylee said, because the devices can backfire.

Another myth the Burnses want to help dispel is that an animals' genitals are tied in order to anger them into bucking.

“People think we force our animals to buck,” Caylee Burns said. “These animals actually want to buck, it's in their breeding.”

To encourage rhythmic kicking, a bronc, which is the modern term for bronco, wears a flank made of leather and wool fleece.

“If you put a cowboy on a bronc without a flank, it would still buck but it wouldn't kick as well,” Caylee Burns said.

“People think they're bucking out of pain,” she said. “But I ask some people, `if you were tied up down there, would you be able to buck?”

To that point, “over half of them are mares,” she added.

Spurs are yet another element of the rodeo raising questions about animal welfare.

“One of the PRCA rules is that they are to be dull,” Caylee Burns said. “The spurs roll — they are not allowed to cut or hook into the animal.”

“They're mainly for show. They help a little for grip in the bull-riding especially,” she said.

Caylee Burns emphasized how important the animals are to their owners.

“If people only understood how well-taken care of they are,” she said.

“They're your team. You load up your team, you travel with your team. It's a very personal thing.”

“It's not just an animal that is in your life for a summer,” she said. “You know them as baby. They're like your children.”

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