By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Two veterinarians, a county sheriff, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association official, a mayor, state legislators and several ranchers spoke out against a bill that would ban "horse tripping" at rodeos in hearings May 8 and May 13 before the House Judiciary Committee.
Others said the practice is inhumane, can lead to injuries and psychological trauma among horses and should be banned.
The committee took no action on the bill. It previously passed the Senate by a vote of 22-6.
Several to testify in opposition to Senate Bill 835 came from the small Eastern Oregon city of Jordan Valley, home of the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo, which is scheduled this weekend, May 18 and 19 in Jordan Valley.
"First of all, what we do is not horse tripping," said Jerry Rayburn a Jordan Valley Rodeo board member. "It is horse roping with a 20-foot loop."
"Any intentional tripping would not only mean immediate disqualification," Rayburn said, "but the contestant could also be banned from competing at our rodeo for at least three years."
Secondly, Rayburn said, most legislators have never seen horse roping and are not equipped to legislate it.
"We think it would only be fair if you could witness it in person before you pass judgment on us," Rayburn said.
Rayburn said that by banning the event, lawmakers would detract from the rodeo's cultural appeal and potentially reduce attendance at what Rayburn said is a major economic driver for the city.
Wannie Mackenzie, another rodeo board member, said rules are in place to protect the horses, and horses typically aren't tripped, or even pulled over.
"Just quick as the ropes come tight, the time is stopped and the animal is turned loose," Mackenzie said.
Others said, however, that they have witnessed ropers trip horses at rodeos.
"There is nothing kind about this," animal rights lawyer Russ Mead said in the May 13 hearing.
Mead presented lawmakers with pictures he took at a rodeo in Burns last July showing horses falling head first in the rodeo arena.
Still another to testify showed videos of horses being roped at a rodeo, including one segment showing a horse being tripped.
"In my opinion, this is animal cruelty. This is not a sport at all," Mead said.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty countered by saying that in rare instances horses are hurt in the event. But injuries are a part of all sports, he said, yet lawmakers aren't proposing to ban other sports.
An amendment to the bill that lawmakers are considering stipulates that a person commits the offense of equine tripping only in cases where horses are intentionally tripped.
The bill also includes a "right-to-rodeo" clause introduced by Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton.
Hansell said he introduced the clause to ease concerns that the horse roping ban would extend to other rodeo events.
The amendment and the right-to-rodeo clause make the bill a little more palatable, according to some opponents, but not enough to gain their support.
"Any one of you that has been at one of these (rodeos) and wants this and thinks it's abuse, then I think you ought to vote for this bill," Grasty said.
"But if you haven't been, take the time and come out to Eastern Oregon, see these events and judge for yourself before you vote for it," he said.