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Revival of horse tripping bill

Deb Weinstein
Associated Press

A three-and-a-half minute video taken at a Winnemucca chariada rodeo that shows a horse being flipped onto its back may revive legislation that was slated for the dust heap.

“Seeing that horse flailing on its back. It just got to me,” said Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, the bill’s sponsor. “This is not a sport. It is animal cruelty.”

SB364, which would have outlawed horse tripping, died in committee after opponents said the practice doesn’t happen in Nevada.

But Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, said the video now on YouTube and that was aired early this month by KRNV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Reno, has triggered a firestorm of complaints from constituents who want the activity stopped.

Manendo told The Associated Press on Friday that the urgency behind the measure has not abated, and he was told a similar event is being advertised to be held in June.

Senate leadership is examining at least two options that may allow lawmakers to put the proposed ban back on the legislative slate: reviving the measure in full or attaching it to legislation that is still being considered.

The latter option requires finding a bill that looks like it will survive the push-pull of two chambers, because the wrong bill could sink the legislation.

Reviving the measure in full will require some footwork. April 15 was the last day bills had to make it out of the original committee for a shot at a floor vote, but Manendo said the false testimony at an April 6 Senate Natural Resources Committee and the more recent video evidence may be sufficient leverage to skirt the rules.

Misdemeanor charges against witnesses for providing false testimony could also be pursued, Manendo said.

“You cannot lie to a legislator outside of session or in session,” he said, adding that testimony that horse tripping doesn’t happen in Nevada “changed committee members’ minds to not vote for the bill.”

SB364 would have banned any entertainment that intentionally causes a horse to lose its balance. It is an event in the traditional Mexican rodeo known as a chariada and is currently banned in Lyon and Clark counties.

Supporters emhasized at the hearing that they do not want to ban chariadas as a whole, just events that force horses to fall. The video shows the horse being tripped by ropes, but the ban would also include implements such as a wire, pole or stick.

Winnemucca Mayor Di An Putnam said during a phone interview that she had never heard of horse tripping before now, even though the rodeo has been held for at least six years.

“This is just something that should not exist,” she said.

SB346 supporters said the actual tripping is only part of the cruelty. Beverlee McGrath, a lobbyist who represents an array of animal rights organizations, and other supporters said the horses are injured so badly that they are often sent to slaughter shortly after the event.

The April 6 arguments against the bill included claims that it would criminalize portions of Hispanic heritage. Opponents also said SB364 could bring all rodeo events – those of chariada as well as traditional American rodeos – under such scrutiny it could ultimately lead to their extinction.

Mcrath dismissed arguments that horse tripping is a cultural issue. “Many of the letters and emails and phone calls I’m getting are from Hispanics that are in Nevada that do not approve of this kind of inhumane treatment,” she said.

Opponents say the event is part of a heritage that treasures exhibitions of horsemanship, and that these events are part of this legacy. That proved a point of contention at the April 6 hearing between those who condemn the practice and others who said they were worried the ban would extend to events that appear in traditional American rodeos, such as roping.

Supporters said roping and tripping events exist in two distinct realms. They said roping events and the like are related to skills that are required on a ranch, and that tripping events do not employ any work-related skills.

Sen. John Le, D-North Las Vegas, said he voted against the bill because witnesses told the Senate committee horse tripping was not a Nevada problem. He also said he would change his mind about the ban if tripping really happened here.

“I do what I say I’m going to do,” he told the AP when approached days after the video aired. “I am committed . . . to put a stop to this.”

McGrath said chariadas that feature horse tripping are usually held in obscure locations and rarely advertised, two elements that made the April event in Winnemucca unusual. McGrath said what made it even more surprising was that this very rodeo was discussed at the April 6 hearing.

“I would have thought they knew we would have someone there,” she said in a phone interview.

“They claimed it doesn’t happen,” McGrath said. “But guess what, it does happen and it’s going to happen again and again and it’s going to continue to happen until there is a state law to prevent it.”