BOUND to a wheelchair and largely paralysed from the neck down, John Crasti wouldn't mind one last shot at the Orange novice bull-riding winner's trophy.
The 18-year-old was crushed under a 680-kilogram bull at a rodeo four weeks ago. But a broken neck, weeks in intensive care and an uncertain recovery have not dampened his love for what is often called the most dangerous eight seconds in sport.
''I don't think I'd ever ride again,'' he said in Royal North Shore Hospital's spinal ward.
''I wouldn't mind winning the buckle [trophy] at Orange… actually getting the novice bull rider buckle there. But I'd like to stay in the loop of it and either go to commentating or judging, something around the rodeo circuit.''
In the face of animal advocate outrage, decades of crippling injuries and the occasional horrific death, the humble bush rodeo seems to be getting bigger and more popular.
One of the largest rodeo groups in the country, the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA), has seen a steady increase in membership since it was established in 1944.
As of this year, the group responsible for around one fifth of the approximately 500 rodeos across Australia each year had more than 20,500 members, an increase of 4000 since the mid-1990s.
The growth has occurred despite a significant decline in the rural population and a dwindling number of jobs on farms for traditional rodeo participants. In some towns, the annual rodeo remains one of the biggest events on the social calendar.
''It's just the adrenalin you get when you get on [the bull],'' Mr Crasti, from Forest Reefs near Orange, said. ''The response you get from the crowd, everyone cheering away.''
Bull riding is the most dangerous event in a rodeo. The cowboys, often under 25, are usually not much bigger than the average jockey and expect to get hurt.
About 20,000 people entered the association's rodeos each year, resulting in between 20 and 30 insurance claims for injuries needing medical attention annually, rodeo administrator Steve Hilton said.
''That means from stitches to broken legs,'' he said. ''Injuries are common, especially in bull riding. There's always going to be injuries.
''When you're doing it, you accept the risk is there, but you don't think about it.''
Of greater concern to observers outside the rodeo circuit is the harm to the bulls, horses, steers and calves in the arena.
Animals Australia and the RSPCA have long been lobbying to have rodeos banned nationwide. They are already outlawed in the ACT, and effectively banned in Britain and parts of the United States and Europe.
''The public is rightly questioning why we are still treating animals like this in 2012,'' an Animals Australia spokeswoman, Lisa Chalk, said.
The organisation is particularly targeting the calf roping event - already banned in Victoria and South Australia - in which a calf is lassoed and its legs tied.
''The force caused by lassoing and violently jerking them to a halt, then throwing them to the ground, can lead to severe internal injuries including torn ligaments, disc rupture and internal haemorrhaging,'' Ms Chalk said.
Animals Australia is calling on NSW, which reviews its rodeo animal code of practice every two years, to specifically ban this event under animal cruelty laws.
But the association said, while it was pushing for national standards, the concern for animal health was often unwarranted.
''Something in pain doesn't perform to its best,'' Mr Hilton said.
''[Standards have] got to a point now where it's pretty good.''
Mr Hilton said there was one serious injury for every 1200 times an animal was used in the rodeo arena, citing unpublished Victorian research that could not be verified by Fairfax Media.
He said the death and euthanasia rate was much lower - one in every 8300 times an animal was used.
The RSPCA said if rodeos could not be banned - in 2010 the former NSW Labor government firmly stated they were ''here to stay'' - there should be compulsory registration and licensing for the industry.
''In the case of rodeo activities like bull riding, devices such as flank straps, spurs and electric prodders are used to encourage the animal to buck and react,'' RSPCA spokeswoman Elise Meakin said.
''These devices can cause significant pain and suffering to the animal.''
She said sponsors should boycott rodeos after a bull broke its leg at the Warwick Rodeo in Queensland last month after falling when it exited the chute. It was eventually euthanised, she said.