Though the English public had enjoyed equestrian skills for more than a century, there were complaints made about how roped cattle were violently yanked to the ground. There were also protests in Parliament about the use of strap clinched ti
By Barb Godwin, HRL publisher
America’s obsession with Cowboy culture started long before the onset of Roy Rogers, Trigger, and the popular genre of Western film. Or before Tex Austin who was known as The Rodeo King.
Buffalo Bill is credited with romanticizing the American cowboy by bringing them into the spotlight, into the world of entertainment. Entertainment glamorized the American West prior to the film industry taking over, creating a beloved genre on the big screen. Wild West shows lineup included hunting (replicated), trick riding, bronc riding sometimes wild rides on bears, or the superb marksmanship of shootists producing stars such as Annie Oakley.
Indians (Native Americans) participated in foot races, competing against each other or theirponies. Some show participants went on to make debuts in theatre, taking their place on stage.
A precedent to rodeo, these Wild West shows started a phenomenon that became global, including in Britain.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show made its first tour in 1887, with a private performance requested by the Prince of Wales. The prince that later became King Edward VII was captivated by this exclusive American scene and gave his approval for a second show, arranging a performancefor Queen Victoria. Held June 20, 1887, the Jubilee guests included royalty and the future Kaiser Wilhelm, along with the future King George V.
This was just the beginning, as the Wild West shows quickly became an extraordinarily popular international event. After an amazing 300 performances, Buffalo Bill ended the show’s royal run.
The American Wild West shows paved the way for Tex Austin and his rodeo tour; With help from an Englishman, Charles B. Cochran, Austin came to England presenting his own form of entertainment. Even though the “cowboy” had become an international phenomenon, their role in entertainment would become a bit more controversial.
Ted Austin had once fought in the Mexican Foreign Legion, battling for liberty against the dictator Porfirio Diaz. Austin was considered an entrepreneur and had long wanted to make his rodeo global. The first international rodeo was held in Britain in 1924 when Austin brought his exhibition to the newly opened Wembley Stadium in London.
The British Empire Exhibition was a colonial extravaganza held at Wembley Park outside, London. King Edward V and Queen Mary, the parents of Princess Elizabeth, opened the event on St George’s Day, 23 April 1924.
A star-studded event, the Rodeo King had his own level of cowboy royalty participating; Ted Elder, AndyLund, Art Lund, Dave Campbell, and Rube Roberts among others.
Approximately 200 contestants participated in the rodeo’s debut. One of those contestants was Vera McGinnis, affectionately known as Mac, and the first woman of rodeo to wear pants.
Vera McGinnis was an educated young woman whose history did not include ranch life, making her an unlikely candidate for a career as a cowgirl. However, she fell in love with someone whowas an active rodeo participant and became addicted herself.
Unfortunately, her relationship and first marriage to Earl Simpson did not last long, but her love for rodeo remained with her for the rest of her life. Starting her adventure in becoming a cowgirl in 1912, McGinnis got rid of thecorset after she won her first relay race. Tossing what could now be thought of as a back brace (for women only of course), she was undeniably becoming a liberated woman.
Vera began designing her own riding attire as the current requirements in a woman’s wardrobe were not conducive to riding bulls and broncs. McGinnis understandably become a major influence in the burgeoning world of the cowgirl.
A very adventurous woman, she not only designed clothes and broke more than one bone as a rodeo queen, but was also an actress known for the films Nobody Home in 1919 and Menace in 1931. Her rodeo tour ended in 1934—a decade after the Tex Austin event in London. During a relay race, her trick-riding horse Rosie stumbled and somersaulted down on top of her. Severe injuries ended her career but did not leave her the cripple her attending doctors declared she would become.
Rodeo was different as bull-dogging, calf-roping, and bull-riding were spectator sports not seen in the Wild West shows. Wild West shows were flamboyant and engaging, while a rodeo was all about cows and horses and the execution of maneuvers made by contestants, oftentimes with the results being physical harm to the animal being forced to participate, including broken legs and necks.
The Protection of Animals Act 1934 was a direct result of the 1924 Tex Austin rodeo at Wembley Park.An act of the British Parliament banned rodeo in England, Scotland and Wales.
Animal activists fought to get a court order barring the rodeo on grounds of animal cruelty. Though Austin and his international rodeo went on to perform in Paris, Dublin, and Brussels helost $20,000 on the event held at the British Empire Exhibition Stadium at Wembley.
Those seeking the court order cited the breaking of a steer’s leg while it was being roped and tied. It was also stated that bulls’ genitals were strapped to cause pain and to increase activity in bucking.
The British requested inspections of the animals brought to London by the Americans, to determine their condition and current state. Those requests were denied.
While the rodeo was advertising its performances as the riding of “wild horses and bulls”. It was noted by Lord Banbury of Southam that, in short, animals being transported by ship, confined for ten to fifteen days with people watering, feeding, and caring for them did not lend to the label of “wild”. In other words, it was a marketing ploy.
This resulted in methods produced to make them more “fractious” and act like wild animals, rather than one being stalled or stabled for weeks on end, then expected to perform in the arenaas if they had just been taken off the prairie for the first time. Methods were created to instill pain in the animal resulting in a more active and “exciting” ride for the spectators.
Also noted was, that ranching and working cattle in America included some of the same practices and tactics performed in the show; however, used artificially in the rodeo and repeated over and over on the same animals.
Like all political debates, the nobles or Lords that participated in this appeal, which included Lords Charnwood, Denman, Banbury, Lambourne, and Parmoor, were not always in agreement. However, a conclusion was finally reached that indeed rodeos were not humane, and would be banned.
A decade later, the Protection of Animals Act 1934 was implemented.
Since then it has been revised, but rodeo is still considered an inhumane practice and remains banned in Britain. A calf running out of fear for his life, only to have his neck and head jerked by a rope to an immediate stop, his body crashing to the ground, sometimes resulting in injury and even death was recognized as inhumane.
After losing his New Mexico ranch during the Great Depression, Austin committed suicide in 1938.
But the legacy of Tex Austin lives on. The King of Rodeo brought humane justice to the royal grounds of Britain – without his consent.
About The Author
Barb currently resides in Central Florida with her three horses; when she’s not writing or riding for HRL, she loves to read and travel!