Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Still thorny: Mexican tradition or animal cruelty?

Horseback Riding

Still thorny: Mexican tradition or animal cruelty?

Dec 15, 2008
By Michael Moore

A debate over proposed new restrictions on rodeo events in Santa Clara County has developed a three-way faceoff among county officials, animal rights activists and Mexican rodeo participants.

Numerous county officials, including Supervisor Don Gage, have supported a new animal cruelty ordinance that would ban the practice of "steer tailing" at local rodeos, which they say is particularly brutal compared to other submission techniques used on farm animals at American rodeos.

Those opposed to the ban say that steer tailing is an essential aspect of Mexican-American rodeos, or charreadas, and singling it out among other rodeo events is discriminatory.

And animal activists support the ban, but say it doesn't go far enough in eliminating the cruelty that is generally characteristic of rodeos and circuses, which are also a subject of the ordinance.

For nearly a year the draft ordinance has bounced around among various county agencies and public hearings. At the November meeting of the Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee, Director of Agriculture and Environmental Management Greg Van Wassenhove reiterated county administrators' support for the current draft.

Van Wassenhove said the ordinance will likely be back in front of the board of supervisors at a January 2009 meeting, possibly for a vote, but the issue is not yet officially scheduled.

Although only one aspect of the possible ordinance has proved contentious, its purpose is to address the treatment of animals at rodeos and circuses. Supplementing state laws regulating the events, the ordinance would require a veterinarian to be present at all circuses and rodeos, clean water to be available to participating animals, and would ban the "horse tripping" event which is already prohibited by state law.

The decision to include the ban on steer tailing is based on a study conducted by staff members of the HLUET Committee, Animal Advisory Commission, and the board of supervisors, Van Wassenhove said. He and these staff members have attended American rodeos throughout the year, and watched videos of Mexican rodeos depicting steer tailing. No Mexican rodeos that would be subject to the new ordinance occurred in unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County during the study period, he said.

Steer tailing, known as colas at Mexican rodeos, consists of a cowboy, or charro, riding on horseback and pulling up beside a cow running loose in the arena, grabbing its tail and wrapping it around the charro's stirrup, causing the animal to flip onto the ground.

Colas are unique to Mexican rodeos, causing charro advocates to question why the county hasn't considered banning American rodeo practices that many animal rights activists say are equally inhumane.

Toby De La Torre, president of the Federation of Charros, USA, said the county's view is based on race discrimination. He said colas is an essential part of Mexican rodeos, and there have been no reports of animal abuse at these events in California.

"We are just carrying on the traditions and the sport that our ancestors have taught us," said De La Torre. "(The county) wants to pit the American rodeo versus the Mexican rodeo." He noted that charreadas are not supported by the corporate sponsors that promote American rodeos, and thus as widely recognized as a mainstream sport, and this lack of influence may be contributing to the county's stance.

"We are the weak link of the rodeo," said De La Torre. "We don't have as much money and we're not everybody's favorite."

Animal rights activists say that steer tailing is inhumane and should be banned, but so should calf roping and steer wrestling, which are performed frequently at American rodeos.

Eric Mills, a coordinator for Action for Animals in Oakland, said, "I would ban all of it," referring to any rodeo event that could cause injury to animals. He said he has videos of steers getting their tails ripped off in charreadas, and calves getting their legs broken at American rodeos.

Van Wassenhove explained that steer tailing is more likely to injure an animal than the other two events because in steer tailing the cowboy is essentially above the target animal on horseback. In calf roping and steer wrestling, the cowboy pursues the animal on the ground.

"There's more potential for injury in free falling than being wrestled down by a cowboy," said Van Wassenhove.

It is uncertain how much the ordinance, if the board of supervisors approves it, would affect South County. The Rancho Grande arena in Morgan Hill holds bull-riding events during the summers, and many of the participants are from South County. But there were no rodeo events that charged a paid admission and included steer tailing anywhere in the county in 2008, and Van Wassenhove said the law would only apply to rodeos and circuses that charge admission.

Nevertheless, De La Torre, whose office is in southern California, is worried that the ban could cause a snowball effect throughout the state. "The animal rights activists could go to other counties and say 'Look, (steer tailing) is banned here.' They could turn it around and say, 'If you pass the banning of steer tailing, you have to ban calf roping and steer wrestling."

Michael Moore
Michael Moore covers county and law enforcement issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 779-4106, ext. 202, or mmoore@morganhilltimes.com.

No comments: