Eastern Oregon horse roping event faces scrutiny
By CHAD GARLAND
Of the Associated Press
SALEM — Sheriff's deputies and rodeo judges will be watching a horse roping competition this weekend in Eastern Oregon to see if cowboys comply with a new state law against intentionally tripping the animals.
Meanwhile, animal rights activists both inside and outside the rodeo grounds will also be scrutinizing the event, which they've campaigned against.
The attention comes after activists posted video in 2012 showing horses at the Big Loop Rodeo in Jordan Valley being tripped and falling on their heads.
That led the Legislature last year to outlaw intentional “equine tripping” for sport.
Activists have questioned whether this weekend's event is legal, but Sheriff Brian Wolfe of Malheur County said organizers have new rules for the contest to avoid tripping the horses.
The event has two participants trying to bring a horse under control by roping first its neck and then its forelegs, and then tying off the ropes at their saddles, known as “dallying.”
Rodeo organizers say the rules now require the cowboy or cowgirl roping the forelegs not to dally the rope and to let it go as soon as it goes taut and time is called.
“There's no chance that the horse is going to fall,” said David Aiken, a spokesman for the rodeo, adding that roping is the more difficult and important skill for ranchers, not the dallying.
Riders who intentionally trip, injure or roughly handle the animals will be disqualified, the rules say, and Aiken said the rodeo increased the number of judges watching for such fouls.
Wolfe's office is also distributing fliers to participants warning them that intentionally tripping the horses or causing them to fall after roping their legs could result in up to $2,500 in fines and six months in jail.
“All of us want to comply with the new law,” Wolfe said.
But activists have raised questions about Wolfe's willingness to enforce the law, saying that he opposed it during the legislative session last year.
“We worry that he would not be enforcing the law,” said Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Beckstead said he will be at the rodeo to watch for horses being tripped and to see that the law is enforced. He said it's a “ludicrous argument” that the event is legal because participants do not intentionally trip the horses.
Members of an Illinois-based animal rights group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, which posted the videos of the event in 2012 and 2013, arrived in Jordan Valley on Friday. They set up cameras on 30-foot-tall rigs outside the rodeo to film the event. A member of the group was arrested for filming inside the rodeo grounds in 2013, and others were removed from the premises.
But the rodeo spokesman said organizers are allowing video of the event inside the arena this year.
“We've got nothing to hide,” Aiken said.
Reach reporter Chad Garland on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chadgarland .