CARSON CITY, Nev. — Laura Leigh had photographed numerous rodeos throughout her life, so when she was asked to shoot a Winnemucca rodeo in 2011 she thought it was going to be like the rest.
She was wrong.
“The horses were obviously injured, the events did not stop once and I was there two days. They were run over and over again,” Leigh told members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee Tuesday. “What I saw that day was not an event. It was cruelty.”
Leigh’s testimony was part of a passionate debate over SB72 which would ban the act of horse-tripping in Nevada. Horse-tripping is when participants throw a lasso around the legs of a running horse causing it to tumble forward — the debate Tuesday centered on the frequency of such occurrences during certain rodeo events.
“Some say the intention is not to trip the animals, that it’s accidental, but if it’s an accident doesn’t matter,” said Christine Schwamberger, a lobbyist for Nevada Political Access for Animals who presented SB72 with Manendo. “It is a substantial certainty for a reasonable person to expect the animal would fall. It would be the exception they don’t fall.”
Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, the sponsor of SB72, offered to remove additional components of the bill — banning the act of stopping a running bull by pulling its tail, and criminalizing using cattle prods against animals’ faces — to increase the measure’s chances for success. A similar bill failed in the Senate Natural Resources Committee last session, just before reports and videos of the Winnemucca rodeo surfaced.
Many in the crowded legislative hearing room gasped as that video and another showed horses crashing to the dirt after being roped by the legs and subsequent footage of severely injured horses.
The proposed legislation would ban any roping of the legs that intentionally caused the horses to trip or lose their balance, but because of the word “intentionally” in the bill, Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said the bill would not have criminalized the Winnemucca incident because it was called an accident.
Some said Tuesday cracking down on the practice long overdue.
“What we’re asking is whether if it’s OK to inflict serious bodily harm to horses for the sake of entertainment and entertainment alone,” said Christopher Preciado, a political activist testifying from Las Vegas. “Nevada has already outlawed this behavior — we’re asking you to apply the same type of prohibition to horses.”
But opponents of SB72 say the falls are extremely rare, and that the rules at events where galloping horses are being roped by the legs clearly ban intentionally or accidentally tripping the horses.
“There is not fact or indicators that the things outlined in this bill cause undue stress or injury to any animals,” said Oscar Peralta, representing the Hispanic Legislative Caucus. “Any form of roping of the legs automatically causes the horses to lose balance, so this would directly interfere with other roping events.”
Opponents also showed video clips of events where ropes caught the legs of running horses, but the horses did not fall. Manendo said that activity would not be a violation of his bill.
“This bill is to protect horses intentionally being tripped,” he said.
Supporters said horse-tripping is often a private event, so many of the occurrences are never reported, but Peralta told The Associated Press after the meeting that the Winnemucca rodeo officials reported the fall internally before reports surfaced publically. Veterinary examination of the horse that fell at the Winnemucca rodeo concluded that there were no lasting injuries, Peralta said.
He continued, “Since 1995 there have been thousands of horses run and we have reported three falls.”
The trick, according to Alejandro Galindo Jimenez of the Mexican Federation of Charreria, is using natural ropes that are specifically designed to break when a certain stress is reached — before the horse is tripped.
“These are my horses running, I don’t want to see them fall,” Jimenez said after the hearing on SB72. He added that he has never had a horse suffer lasting injury from more than two decades of participation in events involving roping of the legs.
Sponsors of the bill told the committee after both sides had given their cases that there was still work to do on the bill. No action was taken Tuesday.