March 31, 2008 – 9:24PM
BY JEREMY THOMAS filed this report for CRONKITE NEWS SERVICE
House OKs ban on horse tripping
PHOENIX – A horse is brought to full gallop in a ring with several “charros,” rodeo cowboys, trailing close behind. One twirls his lasso, aiming for the animal’s front legs, and slings the rope. He pulls it taught around the horse’s ankles, causing it to seize up momentarily before crashing head-first to the ground.
The successful charro wins a point.
For centuries, the sport of horse tripping has been a part of traditional “charreadas,” Mexican-style rodeos, but the practice may soon be a thing of the past in Arizona.
On Monday, the House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would ban horse tripping as entertainment. Sponsored by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, the bill would make the deliberate roping of a horse’s legs for sport a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. HB 2539 also applies to donkeys, mules and ponies.
Supporters of a ban said that the practice is cruel to the animals, resulting in broken legs, fractured skulls and other serious injuries, sometimes leading to death.
“If they fall to the ground or twist their leg, it’s almost a no-brainer that at the very least it’s going to be a long, tedious mending period for them,” according to Dr. Patricia Haight, president of the Conquistador Equine Rescue and Advocacy Program.
Although the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association banned horse tripping in its sanctioned events, the practice, which Haight compared to dog-fighting, still occurs at small rodeos in neighborhood backyards and ranches throughout the state.
“It is very much underground,” Haight said.
In response to a request from Haight, Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams proposed a city ordinance in January to ban the sport. When the city council didn’t take action, Williams worked with Sinema to take the issue to a state level.
Sinema’s bill passed 54-2, with Reps. Judy Burges, R-Chino Valley and Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, voting against.
“We already have animal cruelty laws,” Pearce said. “I’m not going to put somebody in jail because somebody trips a horse. I’ve been around horses my whole life, I’ve rodeoed my whole life, and I don’t know of anyone going around tripping horses. I think it’s just a silly bill.”
According to Sinema, rodeos are exempt from prosecution under existing animal cruelty laws. The law would not apply to such events as barrel jumping, steeplechase, racing, branding or other traditional Western show events.
Several states, including California, New Mexico and Texas, have banned horse tripping. Sinema and Kari Nienstedt, an Arizona Humane Society spokeswoman, raised concerns that bans in neighboring states could bring more of the events to Arizona.
Nienstedt said some Mexican-style rodeos already simulate traditional horse tripping without harming animals.
“There are ways of hosting this event without causing terrible suffering,” Nienstedt said.