Cruel and illegal.
That's how an animal rights group is describing the abuse that horses endured at a recent rodeo in the East Bay. The group has even released hidden camera video that appears to show horses getting shocked, and smacked, to provoke a reaction.
The Rowell Ranch Rodeo Park in Castro Valley is filled every May with families who pay to see cowboys and cowgirls compete in a range of activities, including bronc riding. It's not all that entertaining if the horse is not buckling wildly and trying to toss its rider. But activists said they filmed handlers breaking the law to get that wild reaction.
"We're approaching 2020 and we're still doing this to animals openly!" said Steve Hindi, founder of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK).
Rodeos have roots that run deep in the Old West. But Hindi said it is time for rodeos to catch up with the times.
"If you were electro-shocking your dog, you'd be charged with cruelty," Hindi said.
Hindi spent last May filming the annual Rowell Ranch Rodeo along Interstate 580. Video shows a handler hitting a horse in the head. In addition, when the rider's spurs are not enough to trigger a reaction, a handler reaches down toward the horse's neck, prompting the horse to react and buck wildly.
Hindi said the handler in the video is applying a few thousand volts of static electricity.
"You'll end up with a horse that starts bucking, it certainly helps the process," Hindi said.
Electrically shocking tame horses while they are in chutes, or cages, is against the law. That's why the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, which oversees the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Park, fined Flying U Rodeo Company $2,000.
NBC Bay Area reached out to Flying U Rodeo Company, which is based out of Marysville. A woman who answered the phone on Monday said the company never received the letter outlining the fines.
Meanwhile, the Rowell Ranch Rodeo's website has a page dedicated to animal welfare.
"The rodeo committee observed all animal welfare laws and regulations during the rodeo and no animals were injured as may have been insinuated," the website said.
Hindi said his organization has already filed lawsuit against Poway Rodeo in Southern California for illegally shocking tame horses. In addition, Hindi said other lawsuits targeting rodeos in Northern California could be next.