We would like to start with education, and take a proactive approach. We are definitely against animal cruelty, that is for sure. We are opposed to the intentional lassoing of a horse by the legs and causing it to fall for entertainment. —Commissioner LuAnn Adams
SALT LAKE CITY — Horse tripping is exactly what the image brings to mind.
A person uses a rope, lassos the animal's legs, and brings it to the ground. It typically involves one individual, and one horse, and in Mexican tradition, the person is on foot and throwing the rope.
Horse roping involves a pair of riders on horseback, a lone, riderless, horse and the objective is to rope it by legs, and by neck, and bring it down, in a timed event.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, wants to ban both versions of the action if it is done for sport, entertainment, contest or in preparation for such an event.
His measure, HB 261, will be heard Monday by the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Standing committee meeting and would make the the practice a misdemeanor.
"Horses are companions and service animals and it does not reflect our values when horses are being brutalized," Ivory said. "This is not our sense of animal husbandry."
Ivory is an avid horseman who introduced the legislation after working with a group of horse owners for more than a year. At the heart of the effort to get horse tripping banned are Leslie Topham and Taylor and Heather Brady, horse lovers and horse owners who are appalled at the practice.
"If you ask children, well, anyone, people have this love of horses. They are beautiful, gracious things of nobility," Leslie Topham said.
She and her husband, Roy, own Willow Mountain Stables in Lehi, where a menagerie of equine companions live, including blue-eyed Sweetie, a spotted Tennessee walker, a wild burro who is the ranch's mascot, and a trio of scruffy U.K. Shetlands.
"As big as horses are, they are one of God's most fragile creatures," Roy Topham said.
Horse roping or horse tripping has been banned in 13 states and will soon be against the law in Virginia, where lawmakers in both the House and the Senate recently voted to outlaw the sport. The measure awaits the governor's signature.
The competitive practices of horse roping or horse tripping are not sanctioned events of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the National Professional Rodeo Association, although some critics of outlawing the practice say it would open the gate for more attacks on rodeo events.
"One of the arguments that is made in opposition to bills to ban horse tripping is that it is a slippery slope and it is sort of a foot in the door for animal rights groups that want to ban all rodeo," said Scott Beckstead, Oregon state director and Western regional director of the Humane Society of the United States.
"But I will tell you the 13 states that have banned horse tripping includes states with very strong rodeo traditions like Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon," he said. "And all those states have very strong and mainstream rodeo traditions. Subsequently, there has not been a single effort in any of those states to ban mainstream rodeo."
Beckstead, a University of Utah law school graduate who grew up in Idaho, said horse tripping erupted as a Utah issue after Robyn Van Valkenburg captured the timed events on video in Box Elder County in 2013.
She posted it on YouTube, and an ensuing public backlash prompted Box Elder County commissioners to examine the issue.
"That is what started the conversation in Utah," said Beckstead, who worked to get the sporting event banned in Oregon.
"It is hard for me to comprehend how someone who has a love and appreciation for horses and horseback riding would ever get pleasure watching these animals be abused in such a violent and calloused way, especially for sport," he said. "I understand that on large ranches there may be a need to catch horses and bring them in for doctoring or training, but to do it for sport is unconscionable."
Both Ivory and Beckstead said regulator rodeo enthusiasts and most horse owners are appalled at horse tripping or horse roping where the animal is brought down.
"Most rank and file rodeo fans and horse owners are horrified that this takes place. I hope Utah does the right thing and addresses this."
Commission Chair Stan Summers said the videotaped event led to death threats by activists and a lot of turmoil in the county. Ultimately, the county did not take legal action to prohibit horse tripping, but will not allow that type of event, or any other non-sanctioned rodeo event, to occur at its county facilities.
"We worried what would be next," he said, describing the county's action and potential ramifications to rodeo events.
Beckstead filmed horse tripping in Oregon in support of the legislation that was introduced in that state. Later, after it was banned, he was on-site at an Oregon rodeo to observe a variation of horse roping at a rodeo in which the participants still lassoed the animals legs to prove their skill with a lariat, but did not pull it tight to bring the animals down.
In Utah, opponents to horse tripping met with state agricultural department officials over their concerns.
Commissioner LuAnn Adams said the agency put together an advisory committee to examine the issue and is crafting an informational brochure to be distributed to cities, counties, and equestrian arenas.
"We would like to start with education, and take a proactive approach," she said. "We are definitely against animal cruelty, that is for sure. We are opposed to the intentional lassoing of a horse by the legs and causing it to fall for entertainment."
Adams was a commissioner in Box Elder County when the Tremonton incident happened and said the outcry was loud.
'We were naive to it. I love horses as much as anyone. I think what we are doing is the right thing to be proactive. Education is important. I don't want to condone this, and we want to educate people and stop it."
Adams, who says she loves horses as much as anyone, said the agency is concerned that traditional animal husbandry practices that take place as part of ranching are not targeted, so she is cautious in that regard.
Monday's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Standing committee meeting is at 4:10 p.m. in Room 455 of the State Capitol.
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