The Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo in Eastern Oregon is going ahead with its horse-roping event during its 55th annual rodeo May 17, despite the controversy raised when footage of “horse tripping” from previous years’ rodeos taken by SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) was made public.
A law introduced as a result of that footage and work by horse welfare advocates, Senate Bill 835 dictates that any intentional tripping of a horse is illegal for entertainment; the only exceptions to the tripping rule are for veterinarians and ranchers. The maximum penalty is up to six months in jail or a $2,500 fine, or both.
According to Dennis Stanford, Big Loop Rodeo secretary, 200 people from six different states have signed up for the event. He says that they continued to have the event this year “because the law allows it.” Since the event’s goal is to rope the horse, the rodeo does not believe that it counts as intentional tripping, he says.
Scott Beckstead, Oregon senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, challenges that statement, saying that the rodeo, as well as Malheur County Sheriff Brian E. Wolfe, are liberally interpreting the law to suit the event.
After SB 835 passed the sheriff issued a statement saying, “I personally oppose any and all legislation, laws or rules prohibiting rodeo events including horse roping.” This has called into question Wolfe’s commitment to upholding the law and deeming whether it is intentional tripping or not.
“Sheriff Wolfe is interpreting the law to mean that rodeo participants intend to rope the front legs of a galloping horse and not to cause the horse to trip or fall,” Beckstead told EW last week. “Obviously if you intend to rope the front legs of a horse that is galloping at top speed, you’re intending to cause it to trip or fall. It’s like saying that you intend to point a loaded gun and pull the trigger but you don’t mean for anyone to get hurt.”
Over the past two weeks, public pressure on the event, on the sheriff’s office, on Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office and on event sponsors have led to changes. Beckstead says Idaho Power Company and Les Schwab tires have pulled their sponsorships, and he says in his most recent conversation with Wolfe, the sheriff said roping the legs of a horse that’s moving faster than a walk could lead to a citation.
Beckstead says he will be attending the rodeo with a small team of observers, including Oregon state legislators or their staff, and will report back to the governor’s office. “If the law is enforced and a horse is not tripped then great,” he says. Beckstead says that “HSUS strongly encourages Sheriff Wolfe to enforce the law by its true intent, which was to ban the intentional tripping of horses.”