By Jennifer Glickel
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN — The fifth annual Professional Bull Riders Madison Square Garden Invitational rides into Manhattan this weekend, and the competition already has animal activists chomping at the bit.
An animal advocacy group plans to protest on Friday night before the first competition, saying that the bulls endure atypically cruel treatment at the competition, during which 40 of the world’s top bull riders try to outlast each other on some of the toughest bulls in the business.
"The entire event is a farce, as these rough and tough cowboys are dominating these wild animals, but they're not wild animals. They’re domesticated, gentle bulls that are abused, assaulted, and tormented to buck," said Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of Friends of Animals.
Birnkrant asserted that the Professional Bull Riders use bucking straps that are tightened around the animals’ bodies — and sometimes genitals — to get the bulls riled up and kicking into action. The straps, along with the spurs on the riders' boots, are used as torture devices, according to Birnkrant.
When asked about the animal activists' allegations, the bull-riding organization maintained that their animals are treated just as well as their cowboys.
"The Professional Bull Riders are fully committed to ensuring the deserved health, safety and respect of each bull that enters a PBR arena. The bulls are treated with as much respect as the human athletes that ride them," a spokesperson on behalf of the group told DNAinfo.
Birnkrant and New York City Animal Advocates representatives will be protesting outside of Madison Square Garden on Friday at 7 p.m., handing out educational pamphlets to ticket holders and passersby. The animal advocates hope to change peoples' perspectives on what are commonly mistaken to be aggressive, wild animals.
"It's especially egregious that this is portrayed as a family event where parents and children are cheering on these animals that are being assaulted," Birnkrant said.
New York City is no stranger to bull riding competitions. The PBR has been holding events at Madison Square Garden since 2006. in October, professional bull riders hosted their first outdoor event in the city in the middle of Times Square.
The first of three Professional Bull Riders' competitions for this weekend’s Madison Square Garden Invitational takes place at 8 p.m. on Friday.