Friday, December 6, 2013

Indoor arena reserved for 4-H practice Wednesdays

Every Wednesday night during the winter months, 4-H kids gather at the Cache County Fairgrounds to practice their horseback-riding skills.

“It gets the kids active and teaches them responsibility,” said Chris Phillips, one of the instructors.

Each week is a different style of riding and has a different volunteer to teach for the evening. The Wednesdays pattern through English riding, western speed events, western show events and working ranch horse practice. If there is a fifth Wednesday in the month, the students get to practice whatever they would like.

The practices are not exclusive to one 4-H club and are open to anybody showing in 4-H.

“This year it is more structured and we teach them different skills each night,” Phillips said.

Western riding instructor Tracy Hymas said that she grew up in 4-H and showing horses has become a family tradition.

“It’s important for kids to gain confidence, appreciate animals and each other and they learn those skills at 4-H,” said Hymas.

Olivia Larsen is a 4-H participant borrowing an 18-year-old black paint horse named Oreo. Her favorite event is showmanship at halter where the participants are judged on their skills handling the horse on the ground. She said she loves Oreo’s personality. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

USU offers a variety of horses for sale

Utah State University’s equine program is offering eight of their lesson horses for sale to the public.

The prices for these horses vary between “free-to-a-good-home” and up to $5,000.

“The Utah State horses must serve a dual-purpose and the horses that are up for sale do not fit in with the university setting,” said Colette Tebeau, the English riding instructor at USU.

A few of the horses have lameness issues and are not able to keep up with the work-load that the university demands, Tebeau said.

“My favorite horse that we have for sale is Fezzick, the huge draft horse,” Tebeau said. “He is a great horse, but he gets sore feet when he is ridden hard.”

Fezzick is a bay roan draft horse gelding standing 18.2 hands and is priced at $3,000.

Tebeau said that she would prefer that the horses do not go into another lesson program. Some are potential show horses while others could only be used as backyard ornaments due to lameness issues, she said.

USU has procedures that will ensure that the horses do not get bought to be taken to slaughter and the university will not knowingly sell a horse to a kill-buyer, Tebeau said.

“Many of these horses may turn into good ranch or rope horses,” said Jason Romney, the western and beginning riding instructor at USU.

Romney’s favorite horse out of the horses offered for sale is a black paint mare named Skunk.

“Skunk will make a great riding horse,” Romney said. “She doesn’t do well with multiple people riding her.”

Romney said that she is a trustworthy horse that he can always count on to train colts off of.

All of the horses are available on the USU equine science website. The university will also be selling the weanlings from its breeding program by auction on the website soon. Detail on the weanlings will be announced in the future. 

Controversial horse roping competition held in Tremonton

Forty horses were unloaded from a double-decker livestock hauler on Nov. 23 at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds. They were young – only about a year old – and were brought to be used during Saturday evening’s sport.

These horses were not for riding, but for roping.

One by one, a foal was chased from a chute at the north end of the indoor arena by a man with a whip. Teams of two ropers on horseback pursued the loose horse until one threw a loop around the horse’s neck. The foal buckled down on the choke and hopped a few steps forward. The other team member roped the horse’s front legs and it stumbled to the ground with a thud. It laid there for a moment, caught its breath and regained its senses. The colt was then dragged out of the arena by its neck.

Horse roping, also called horse tripping, is a rodeo event banned in California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

But it is legal in Utah, and many who attended the event believe it should stay that way.

“This is the Vaquero way,” said Boyd Udy, a volunteer who herded the roped horses into the chutes where their necks and legs were freed from the loops. “This is how the ranchers doctor their horses.”

Vaquero is a centuries-old tradition of horse training and livestock handling of Spanish origins. Some consider the tradition to be rougher than more modern practices. There is a considerable diversity of belief, however, of what the tradition entails.

For competitor Sonny Munns, the attraction to horse roping is simple.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a hobby.”

Before the event began, Shawn Judkins, who owns the yearlings, gathered the ropers to discuss the rules. He said that he had not anticipated the 162 teams that showed up to rope two horses each, but that they would still rope the 40 horses that he brought. He outlined a few rules and told the competitors that they would be disqualified for handling the stock in a rough manner. By the mid-point of the event, many of the foals were missing hair around their neck and had rope burns across their bodies. One colt had a gash on his forehead. Another limped.

“I’m sure they had rules,” said Jason Romney, a ranch horse trainer from Logan, Utah, after viewing videos of the horse roping. “Whether those rules were enforced or not, I do not know.”

Romney isn’t against roping horses – he does it himself as part of his training program – but always in a small round corral to allow the horse to have a break from the rope’s pressure.

“Horse roping, done in the correct manner, is one of the safest ways to handle wild horses,” Romney said. “I’ve seen it done in many manners, but the problem with roping horses by the neck is that it easily cuts off the horse’s air because their trachea is exposed.”

Cattle roping events are popular among rodeo events, but “horses are built differently than cattle,” Romney said. “Even the horses’ hair and skin is thinner.”

Veterinarian Diana Wittkopf agrees.

“Horses have a longer more flexible neck and their legs are easier to break than cattle,” said Diana Wittkopf, who practices in Logan, Utah. “I’ve seen horses that flipped over – not neccesarily on a hard surface – get severely injured.”

Wittkopf said horses that fall down hard can fracture skulls or necks and can damage their back muscles.

“Many horses with injuries like that are never useful as a saddle horse,” Wittkopf said.

Wittkopf said that horses often get hurt in various sports. Even racehorses or show horses can get hurt.

“However, many horse sports have a veterinarian on the ground,” Wittkopf said, “and hiring a veterinarian would add to the expense of the event.”

During the horse’s break outside in between being roped, they appeared to have no water or food.

“Feeding a horse during an event like that can cause problems with their digestive health like colic, but the horses should have had water,” Romney said.  

Jim Keyes, a ranch roper and clinician who watched the footage of the event, said that the proper way to catch a horse is to gently rope it around the neck and then rope the front feet. Keyes ropes colts on ranches every July to brand and vaccinate them. Keyes said that Judkins should have limited the number of teams running because each horse should not have been roped more than two times each. With the number of teams that attended Tremonton’s roping, each horse was roped about eight times. Keyes said that what he saw in the footage was not significantly alarming.

“I didn’t really see anything that I thought was out of the ordinary or harming to the animals for this type of event,” Keyes said. “The main thing I saw was the lack of roping talent, but that is not uncommon.”

“The rope is just a tool for a buckaroo,” Keyes said, “but the goal is to handle the horses with the least amount of stress – both the horse being roped and the animal being ridden.”

Equine expert Colette Tebeau said young horses should not be handled in ways that could damage their developing skeletal system.

While acknowledging that she grew up riding English and does not have the experience in western rodeo events, Tebeau said she found the footage to be disconcerting.

“I respect the tradition of roping horses,” Tebeau said, “but it should still be done in a humane way.”

“As trainers, we do not even tie our young horses in order to prevent the risk of injuring their neck,” Tebeau said. “Someone should be there monitoring the injuries to the animals.”

Tebeau also worried that the horses may have suffered “mental trauma.”

“It will be difficult or impossible to train these horses to be riding horses because they see humans as predators,” she said.

Judkins disagreed.

“I believe what we are doing is completely humane,” Judkins said.

He plans on holding another horse roping event at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds in January.


Robyn Van Valkenburg has been around horses her entire life. She grew up riding in 4-H and junior rodeos and now rides with the Dirty Dozen adult riding team and competes in the Utah Western Riding Club Association shows. She has participated in a variety of events including English and western pleasure, barrels, poles, goat tying, breakaway roping, hide racing and many other events. Van Valkenburg started training ponies when she was eight years old and has trained “bigger-and-badder” horses ever since. She now works for the Bureau of Land Management as part of the Trainer Incentive Program where she gentles and breaks wild horses and places them into adopting homes. Van Valkenburg has participated in two mustang trainer challenges. In the first challenge at the Utah Wild Horse and Burro Association, she took first place on her sixty-day mustang, Champ. She took fourth in the Heber Cowboy Poetry Festival’s Impact of the Horse competition and adopted her mustang, Spitfire. Van Valkenburg is now studying at Utah State University in the Equine Science and Management program and Journalism department
In reporting this story, Van Valkenburg arrived at the event at 3 p.m. The roping started at 4:30 p.m. after all of the teams had signed up. After watching and interviewing some contestants during the first four and a half hours of the event, Van Valkenburg was approached was approached by organizer Shawn Judkins, who asked her if she was a journalist. When Van Valkenburg confirmed that she was a journalist working on a story about the event, Judkins demanded that she erase the video footage she had taken of the event and immediately leave. Van Valkenburg agreed to leave but refused to destroy the event footage, which she later shared with veterinarians and equine experts to gather more opinions about the sport of horse roping. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

USU interviews for new barn manager.

Utah State University is interviewing candidates for the barn manager position. The committee has interviewed two out of the four candidates. The other two will be interviewed next week.

The barn manager position has recently been restructured. The new hire will provide basic care to the university horses, maintain the facilities and will also teach the horse productions class. The position has not been required to teach before.

“We are looking for a barn manager who has experience managing a facility in the horse industry and who has experience teaching,” said Colette Tebeau, who currently teaches the horse productions class as well as other classes in the equine program.

“The number one thing we are looking for is someone who knows how to care for the horses,” said Jason Romney, a member of the hiring committee and a teacher at USU. “They must have ability and experience working with horses.”

Tebeau also said the hire must be a good communicator, dedicated and motivated. She said the job is not an easy job. It is seven days a week and until the job gets done including holidays.

“Even if it is negative 15 degrees outside, the job has to get done,” Tebeau said.

Tebeau said that she is excited for a new barn manager to help with teaching.

“It is going to be a tough position,” Tebeau said.  

Romney said that they have a pool of very good quality and well-qualify candidates.

The position will be filled before the beginning of the next semester and the barn manager will take over teaching the horse productions class midway through the semester. Until then, Tebeau will continue teaching the class.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Demand for hay rises as winter approaches.

As the winter season hits Utah, the demand for quality hay has risen. Farmers are selling their hay that has been preserved under barns to horse owners to feed their animals until next spring when the growing season begins again.

Last year, one ton of hay sold for $240. This year, the price has risen to around $260.

“I’m turning two or three people away every day,” said Gordon VanTassell, a farmer who grows alfalfa, grass and oat hay in Tabiona, Utah. VanTassell then brings his hay to the Salt Lake valley to sell it to horse owners.

“Typically at the high elevations, we only get two cuttings,” VanTassell said. “This year we got three.”

“The China market has driven the price of hay up,” VanTassell said. “Much of the hay that is grown locally is shipped to the coast where it is compressed into cubes and then shipped overseas for China’s developing dairy market.”

VanTassell said that this creates a higher demand for hay locally and makes it easier to raise prices.

“There is definitely not a surplus of hay,” said Brandon Scott, who sells compressed hay bales and cubes in Bluffdale, Utah. Scott said that there was a drought this year, but that the farmers got a lot of rain third cut to make up for it.

Scott uses online classifieds to advertise his hay, but the majority of his customers have come to him from hearing about his hay through friends. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Yellowfork canyon attracts horseback riders.

Lorraine and Dan Jackson explored the trails of Yellowfork on horseback for their first time today. Located 33 miles from Salt Lake City, horseback riders of all disciplines and levels are attracted to the Yellowfork trail system located in the Oquirrh Mountain foothills of Herriman, Utah.

Dan Jackson is a novice rider who rode an older quarter horse, Piper, in a western saddle.

“She wouldn’t let me steer her into trouble,” he said. “She was looking out for me.”

Dan Jackson said that he enjoyed the fact that he could ride late in the year but that the trail was relatively clear of snow. He said that the trail was not too hard for him as long as he was instructed by the other riders how to handle situations like riding down the couple snowy hills.

Lorraine Jackson is an experienced rider and rode her three-year-old mustang named Icha in an English saddle. Icha is a “green” horse – a horse that does not have much experience.

“This trail was the perfect trail for a young horse,” Lorraine Jackson said. “It was good for building confidence.”

Lorraine Jackson said that her horse likes to be out front and she appreciated that the trail was safe. Even when encountering hikers with dogs, the trail always allowed for her horse to keep a safe distance from them.

Lorraine Jackson would like to see more bridges for crossing the river that runs down the trails.

Dan Jackson said he would like to see the trailhead parking lot upgraded. It is currently washed-out and is difficult to park and turn around in with a horse trailer.

“I hope it is here for a long time,” Dan Jackson said.

“It’s a hidden treasure,” Lorraine Jackson said. “It feels remote and genuine.” 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

High school students compete at the Dixie Six rodeo.

The final rodeo of the Dixie Six high school series in St. GeorgeUtah will be held this Friday and Saturday.

Competitors from across the state will meet at the fairgrounds to demonstrate their skills in a variety of events. The Dixie Six rodeo is a series consisting of six days of competition three consecutive weekends. Men will compete in bronc riding, bull riding, team roping, calf roping and steer wrestling while women will ride in barrels, poles, breakaway roping and goat tying.

Starley Bush and her horse, Annie, a quarter horse, breakaway and goat tie.

Bush said that her favorite event is goat tying. Goat tying is an event where a goat is tethered to a stake at the end of the arena. The rider runs their horse down toward the goat and dismounts from their horse. The competitor then throws the goat down and ties three of its legs together. The goat must stay tied for six seconds.

“I get nervous before I goat tie, so I wiggle my toes in the stirrups to calm down,” she said. “I also lead my horse around to warm up so that I don’t pull anything in my knee when I dismount.”

“I like to spend family time together,” said Angie Bush, Starley Bush’s mother. “We will be spending Thanksgiving with another rodeo family in St. George this weekend.”

Starley Bush hopes to continue after high school with college rodeo or with the Rocky Mountain Pro Rodeo Association.