Rodeo horse's death ignites furor

Deon Lane
A rodeo horse's death is at the center of a controversy.
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Tully Corcoran

Tully Corcoran spent seven years covering the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas Jayhawks for The Topeka Capital-Journal. His work has been honored multiple times by The Kansas Press Association. He most recently wrote for FOX Sports Houston and FOX Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter.


Let this be your warning. Here is a link to a video of a horse dying at a rodeo in New Jersey.

If you don't want to watch it, don't. It's terribly sad, and we bring this video to your attention not to make you sad, but because it has touched off an intense debate about whether the animal, a 9-year-old named Duke, died of natural causes or was electrocuted to death by its handlers.

According to, an animal-rights group called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) wants to press charges against the owner of the rodeo, saying a Cowtown Rodeo official shocked the horse with a prod as a way of getting it to buck more violently, making for a better show.

Rodeo officials say Duke wasn't shocked, and even if he was, the current -- similar to that of electrical fencing used to contain cattle -- wouldn't have been strong enough to kill him.

The video shows a man poking Duke with something as he enters the arena, the gates opening and Duke bucking for a few seconds before collapsing and convulsing on the ground. Men rush in to help the animal and a call for a doctor rings out over the public address system.

The rodeo's veterinarian and another vet have said the death was the result of a rare aneurysm of the heart, a "natural (although rare) occurrence." SHARK investigator Stuart Chaifetz says that's like saying someone died of natural causes after they were Tasered four times."

The owner of the rodeo, 83-year-old Grant Harris, said this is the kind of thing animal rights groups are always trying to turn into a controversy. "Any time there's a tragedy like this," he said, "they're trying to make hay out of it."

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association allows the use of prods on the neck and shoulder if the horse is stalling in the chute or has gotten itself or its rider in danger.

The PRCA regards the electric prod as a more humane device for those purposes than traditional alternatives like whips.

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