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Cowtown Rodeo

Horse Dies During Live Show

Allegations of Foul Play

7/1/2013 11:22 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Exclusive Details

Tragedy struck at the famous Cowtown Rodeo in New Jersey this weekend when one of the horses died during a live performance ... and animal rights activists say there's evidence the horse was electrocuted.

The rodeo -- which has been running since 1929 -- came to a screeching halt when a 9-year-old horse named Duke came bucking out of the gate Saturday ... only to collapse after experiencing what appeared to be a seizure.

After the horse went down, staffers raced to its side as Duke died in front of the live crowd.  Duke was eventually carted away.

After the incident, the animal rights group SHARK -- SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness -- says one of its members was in attendance and witnessed Duke being secretly shocked by an electric device right before he was released from the gate in order to get Duke to buck more wildly.

The SHARK member shot footage of the incident -- which shows someone holding a "Hot shot" electric prod in Duke's holding gate.

Cowtown insists Duke's death was as natural as it gets due to an "aneurysm of his aorta blood vessel."

The rodeo explains, "Our vet has assured us that this had nothing to do with the rodeo event and it is a natural (although rare) occurance to have a horse pass from this reason."

However, when we called Cowtown owner Grant Harris -- who also owned Duke -- he told us the device in Duke's pen DID appear to be a "hot shot" ... but says everyone at the rodeo is under strict orders to NEVER use the prod on a horse.

Harris notes that in the video ... the device does not appear to ever touch Duke.

Harris tells TMZ he raised Duke from birth and says he loved the animal ... adding, "I am going to be talking to everybody who's been in contact with the horse to find out if Duke was mistreated."

For its part, SHARK says it will be contacting the SPCA to demand animal cruelty charges be brought up against Cowtown.


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I grew up around this rodeo, know Grant Harris personally, and have been around this environment almost my entire life. As Sarah posted. The most common reason to have a prod around is to keep the animal in line with the sound instead of actually shocking the animal. Prods are no where near strong enough to kill an animal of this size. Plus the rider on top would also get shocked (I know from personal experience). This horse most likely died of natural causes. Grant Harris is one of the most humane rodeo owners I have ever known and takes great care of his animals, to set the record straight.

479 days ago

Phil Mcl    

How dare the announcer compare the horse to a athlete. I have never seen an athlete put down because of an injury.Horses can get put down!!!!!!!

479 days ago


Also the Vet named in this video treated my horses for over 20 years. He is extremely knowledgeable.

After watching the video, the horse clearly has a heart attack. I have seen many horses die just like this in my life.

No mistreatment here...

479 days ago

Stuart Chaifetz    

MI work for SHARK and I filmed that video. I can tell you Grant Harris was not being honest about horses being electro-shocked at Cowtown. SHARK has had the following video up for years exposing horse shocking at Cowtown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG9YYOQjjYI

479 days ago

News Flash     

Thank you TMZ for educating the public about this inhumane event they call Rodeo. For all you posters that say a hotshot is nothing and just makes a sound is in denial and covering up your own acts of abuse.

479 days ago

Stuart Chaifetz    

MI work for SHARK and I filmed that video. I can tell you Grant Harris was not being honest about horses being electro-shocked at Cowtown. SHARK has had the following video up for years exposing horse shocking at Cowtown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG9YYOQjjYI

479 days ago


Why would they have the hot rod there if they weren't going to use it. Other than bull riding where I root for the bull and the bull always has the advantage, most rodeo events can involve cruelty. I have seen blood running down the flanks of bucking broncs where spurs have been used repeatedly to keep horses bucking. Rodeos have cleaned up their acts due to protests and pressure but the presence of the hot rod shows rodeos should be monitored at all times.

479 days ago


Hey...8 seconds of "Cowboy" douchebagggery is worth that horses life! Can I get a Yeeehaw! I go to Las Vegas during the NFR just to smack the hats off these clowns everywhere I see them...The bar, the blackjack tables and even the Mack Center!

479 days ago

✫✫✫ MiMi's Crappy Donkey Show ✫✫✫    


Thank God It Wasn't A Donkey.

479 days ago


I am not in favor of using hot-shots on animals; but in fairness, I have been shocked several times by one, and it does not kill you. Wait for the necropsy results to see cause of death. I seriously doubt it will be electrocution.

479 days ago


Back woods, ignorant hicks. Applaud and pray folks! Makes me sick that I share the same air as these morons.

479 days ago


I am against all of this and support SHARK completely, we have no right to choose a life for such a sweet animal. We have laws and trials for abuse against people and abuse against animals should not be treated any differently. I am sure these people would not choose the death penalty, so what gives them the right to choose it for any animal that offers so much unconditional love. Breaks my heart that they will be able to continue making these choices. I don't care how anyone grew up and hearing its a way of life. Animals did not choose this over 100 years ago and would not choose it today. People need to change and truly appreciate what they have to offer and not abuse it.

479 days ago

I'm A Lawyer    

Everyone talks crap about Michael Vick and call him a monster, but so few have an issue with using animals for this sort of "entertainment",

479 days ago


It's time they go the way of the bull fight.

479 days ago


Was this a celebrity horse? Because I thought this was a celebrity news website, not Harvey's animal rights site. Feel free to start one of those separate from TMZ. (And before anyone gives me a thumbs down, I volunteer and donate to a no-kill animal shelter, and I have a pet that was rescued from abuse.)

479 days ago
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