Thursday, December 5, 2013

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.



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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. 



33 comments:

  1. This needs to be handled by the Humane Society, and some of these so called animal rights people.

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  2. the guy putting this on is a brand inspector

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  3. The horses used had free access to water the entire time of the event- each group of horses was allowed to rest between runs to lessen the stress. those horses were unhandled and for the most part very wild. whenever you start any process of gentling and animal there is always stress- the key is to minimize as much of that stress as possbile. many of these horses used at roping go on to be saddle horses. roping has been used for thousands of years. Not only is this a training method used in many rural parts of the country on dangerous un handled horses, it is also a tradition- how do professional athletes get to be that way- practice! while there are some less experienced ropers there, skill is honed and when the situation is needed he can perform that task much more efficient and as safe as possible. stock handling is not easy and does take practice- I would advise those who disagree to pic up a rope and see if they can even catch a stationary object- roping is a tool much needed when dealing with animals- if you cant practice you cant get better, and getting better means less stress and injury when proficient.

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    1. SO If I disagree, I should pick up a rope and try to rope a staionary or moving object?? what??!?
      Stock handling can be done more sufficiently than this "claim". And that's coming from a long line of family ranching for generations, never did we have someone roping horse's feet....get real.

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    2. you find it easy to criticize- how well do you rope? if you think you can rope and ride better then prove it! if you think you can handle all types of stock better prove it! being from a long line of goat farmers doesnt have much credibility for you. you find it so easy to criticize, but i doubt you have any experience to back it up. Just becasue you have watched all the Pat Parrelli DVD's doesnt mean you know it all.

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    3. I am sure that Hitler had some similar ideas that you have just expressed. Maybe you would like to be the sparring partner for a professional fighter without any experience in fighting, then forced to go in the ring with two fighters at one time and then do it all over for eight times. Do you think you might be a little bit traumatized physically and also psychologically, but then you sound like you are a big tough fellow.

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    4. Hitler??? Really Joan??? get real you whacko!

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    5. Tyler, you just made my day! :)

      It is so easy for people to jump on the band wagon of something they are not educated about other than a biased article and an edited video.

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    6. Tyler, let me just say you are an idiot. I do have some roping experience and if any of the people there really wanted to learn how to actually rope they would do the real thing. Not try this fake bull crap that is nothing like the real thing. foals are not even close to as fast and will not behave the same way as a calf. so your theory on needing to practice is bull crap its like practicing riding a tricycle then going out to compete on a motorcycle and as for using it for ranching they don't chase them over and over in a short amount of time. so you won't mind if I say get stuffed!

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    7. Forgive the idiot, get stuffed comments and any other rude comments. My temper had the best of me but the rest still stands

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    8. HTB- "if any of the people there really wanted to learn how to actually rope they would do the real thing" how does it get any more real than doing it? Also roping horses is night and day difference to roping calves- nobody here is practicing roping calves- we are roping horses. we are also competing- what good is practice if you dont compete? Many who came were riding finely trained horses, and some rode horses who were in progress or maybe their first time to a competition, and taking them to town to compete is also training- if you have ever rodeo'd you know this the first time you take a horse to a rodeo and there are loud noises, other horses, gates banging, anouncers blarring, music playing etc. point is were we competing- yes, were we roping horses-yes.but the horses being roped was not the only thing- friends were gathering and socializing, new friendships were made, and traditions and culture from another4 portion of the world are being practiced- and if you dont believe these skills are still used in practical situations then you would be wrong. but if all people want to focus on is the negative then no amount of understanding can get through. on a broad picture- the horses used were owned as private property- he is free to use them as he chooses. your free to have your own opinions and free to have your own beliefs- that same freedom is also allowed to those who believe different than you.

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    9. Just like to point out that we now know the part about free access to water is an outright lie. "There was no food or water for the horses, Judkins said, because of fears they could get colic from all the activity. That’s a fair concern, says Van Valkenburg, but given the duration of the event and the time it took for the horses to be transported there and back, it was likely too long for the horses to go without water." 4:30 until well into the night seems like a long time. Source: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57400822-78/horses-horse-roping-valkenburg.html.csp

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  4. Lacee J you are awesome so true, Tyler not everyone against this is a none horse person our honyok that has never picked up a rope or raises horses, this video is curl and not cool, sorry i disagree with you guys. this no way shape or from a RODEO event, we rodeo and never have I seen this event at a rodeo.

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  5. A horse and a cow are two different creatures. A horse's hide is not as tough as a cow and their brains work differently. This is just wrong on so many levels.

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  6. This is absolutely nothing other than outright animal abuse. The comments made by the "competitors" were complete bulls***t. When will laws protecting animals EVER be strengthened, and then enforced in Utah?? I wish that BEFORE these heinous events were to be held, it would be published among horse loving groups on facebook and other social media so that we could organize, protest and picket. This is absolutely sickening, and should obviously be illegal in ALL states. Show the video to the Utah legislature who is busy debating horse carriages in SLC?? Thank you for your coverage.

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  7. while horse roping is used in training and sometimes in handling live stock, that does not mean that it should turn into a sport....if those horses are used numerous times, 8 at this event and who knows how many more times before they get sold, they'll be pretty much ruined for further training, ...using roping as a sport does not train a horse to trust it's handler....this is bull...stick with cattle for the fun of roping...after all, you wouldn't use a saw as a hammer, either.

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  8. Really ?!!!! Many things have been done for years and are tradition. Does that make it right ? An example is the cruelty of bullfighting. And you say that they get to rest in between to lessen the stress ??!! You are seriously going to justify this inhumane and cruel treatment of these terrified babies so that you can have a good sporting time ???!!! This is just an excuse to for a bunch of so called men to abuse helpless animals for sport ! Disgusting doesn't even come close to what it is ! I pray that something will happen to prevent any further desppicable events. Having bred and raised horses for many years, trained and had trainers work with my horses I have NEVER seen young horses roped and treated in this manner !! Common training ? Tradition ? Not in my world or those of my friends and fellow horse people !!!

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  9. Not a sport. Real sportsmanship is seriously lacking with this so called event. Needs to be banned from competition. A real Cowboys knows how to properly use this roping for training and handling purposes only.

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  10. Ugh, I totally agree with you. But, I have to ask, what do you think about roping calves? I sort of see it with the same eye - abuse. Just curious as to what you think.

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    1. As it says in the article, cattle and horses have a completely different structure, I will quote what they say underneath this :

      ....."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......"

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    2. boy they really said things that cleared that one up- who knew hores were different than cattle- or were built different than cattle, or that they could damage their head if they hit them just right on the ground. all they are saying is horses are built differently than cattle- yes they are, and those roping them understand that difference- no horses had their necks broke at that roping- no horses had their skulls fractured- many horses with any major injury's are never usefull as saddle horses- while it certainly does pose a risk when roping horses, these quotes talk only about the difference's of horses and cattle- horses for instance have a different rear leg structure- a reason the front feet are roped for restraint- This whole video and article is a typical example of misleading information. take a short video footage- mingle it with some vague and generic horse language from a few people and direct focus to the negative- or personal opinion and bias of the author. how many of you barrel racers use whips, or a long rope when running barrels? or use spurs?? i could take a short footage of you using those things, slow it down, put some emotional capturing music behind it and design it to prove a point as well- suddenly what seems like everyday things- gets thrown right in there with that animal cruelty group of horse roping.

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  11. This is disgusting. To subject these horses to this kind of stress & hurt for "sport" is cruelty, plain & simple.

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  12. I just sent this article to my state legislator and I suggest that we all do so. This has got to stop. It is truly shameful that this state has people so inhumane and depraved as to think that this is entertaining. It is said that the true proof of a man is how he treats those who cannot complain of him- children and animals. There's a place in Hell for such as these.

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  13. Sick! These poor colts were ptobably wild colts our tax payers had to pay thohsands for to be sold to the nearest kill buyer/
    rodeo contractor for 10 bucks a head, he'll ship them as soon as he squeezes the last buck from them at these horse tripping money making events.
    Contact your congress members and your senators with your concerns against these cruel events.

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  14. These yahoos don't have the balls to train a colt unless their on a horse. So sad, those little baby whinies, just heartbreaking. I've trained colts, they're so easy, this is just abuse! Thanks for the story and video.

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  15. Double Decker trailers are illegal in the US for transporting horses I believe, hope the original poster has video footage of that, if they do they need to report it to the FBI and State Troopers. This is disgusting and makes me wonder if these babies are from one of the many holding facilities for our mustangs where the babies are not counted in the stats by the BLM and are unbranded. They are planning another "event" in January, this needs to be spread far and wide among Advocates so we can do something about this. There is no skill involved here this is abuse, that baby running head first into the metal railings and falling convulsing to the ground is horrific and the skinny baby further into the video. Shameful!! This is no way to treat a young animal of any type and will probably destroy any hope of them having a sane and productive life, they probably all end up going to slaugher after they have been used up by these morons :-(

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  16. Why in Sam Hell do you horse trippers think this is ok and humane? Must make these cowboys feel like men when they can abuse these poor baby horses. We have a baby horse and I can't imagine treating her like this. It really is not much different than dog fighting and those yahoos go to jail. Tradition? Really? Tradition is putting up a Christmas tree, not roping little horses, wild or not. Sad!

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  17. "the Vaquero way"? Not hardly! A true Vaquero would be horrified by the cruelty and abuse inflicted on these young horses by these barbarians. I have professionally trained hundreds of colts over the past 20 years and have never treated any like this. It is totally unnecessary and counter productive to successful training. This "roping sport" is not a tradition or a training method. If you are going to use the term "Vaquero" I would advise you to do some research and learn something about the true Vaquero method. True Vaqueros and real Cowboys would never chase a baby horse around an arena, rope it, traumatize it and injure it physically and mentally in this way. The disgusting abuse shown on this video is as far from the Vaquero tradition as night from day. The citizens of Utah should be ashamed that they allow this type of abuse to continue in their state.

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    1. Ed, obviously you don't live around here.
      First off, we use roping horses as a means for training and managing large horse herds in big country. They are roped to be vaccinated, cut, branded and halter broke. It is NOT traumatic nor is it counter productive to successful training. It is not abusive or any more stressful than weaning.
      Second of all, here it is traditional and it is used by "real cowboys", not sure what you consider a "real cowboy" but yes, we use this method out here. I have a feeling that you have a romanticized view of what a cowboy is and does. We are caretakers of livestock, plain and simple- roping is a tool used to get the job done.
      Third, the horses roped were not babies. The author of the article makes it sound like they were foals stripped off the mare with milk still dribbling off their whiskers. They are long yearlings and two year olds ready to worked like if they were up and coming ranch horses.
      Horses are not traumatized by being roped. (if they are roped correctly) I have started more horses than I can count that have been roped, it hasn't changed how I handle/start the horse or effected the outcome as compared to horses that haven't been roped.
      Something to think about whether it is a sport or used on a ranch.

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    2. Well said sir- thank you for standing up and not taking any crap from ignorant people who only seek to criticize- yet have no experience, or understanding of life beyond a cubicle.

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  18. Also Robyn Vanvalkenburg- horse roping and horse tripping are not the same- how about some honest journalism instead of head hunting!! Horse tripping is a mexican tradition where they run a horse past a roper and he ropes the front feet of the horse then pulls him to the ground at a moving speed. the 2 events horse roping and horse tripping are vastly different. how about you call a spade a spade and just come out of the peta and HSUS supporting closet- you horse people cant see past your damn noses can you- you aae all blind to the fact that after they shut what we do down you are next on their list simply because you own horses- regardless of how you treat your horses you are as bad as us in their eyes. sleeping with the devil will bite you in the ass soon enough.

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  19. Gail Utah, Yes roping horses is and was used to doctor and break horses usually ONE TIME! But, this so called sport is using YOUNG horses and their being roped, chased, whipped, tripped repeatedly, your the guys that give Horse and cattle games a bad name!

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