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Omaha may ban steer tailing, horse tripping
Por: KAREN SLOAN AND ANDREW J. NELSON
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Diciembre 16 del 2007
Steer tailing is a traditional Mexican rodeo event in which a cowboy on horseback grabs a running steer's tail, wraps it around his leg or stirrup, and pulls the steer to the ground.

Calf roping is a traditional American rodeo event in which a cowboy lassos a running calf around the neck, pulls it down and then ties three of the animal's legs together as quickly as possible.

Is one inherently more dangerous than the other when it comes to the safety and welfare of the animals involved?

No, say some cowboys known as charros who participate in the Mexican rodeos called charreadas.

"Of course there isn't a difference," said Armando Pliego, an Omaha charro who addressed the City Council Tuesday dressed in his rodeo gear: leather chaps, an ornate button-down shirt, boots and a colorful gold necktie.

Some local animal experts don't agree.

At a public hearing on a proposed city ordinance that would ban two charreada events, Humane Society officials and a local veterinarian told the council that the Mexican events are more painful and dangerous to the animals than American rodeo events. The Humane Society does not oppose American rodeos.

The Nebraska Humane Society is asking city leaders and state lawmakers to expressly prohibit both steer tailing and an event known as horse tripping, in which a charro ropes the front or back feet of a running horse, causing it to fall.

Pliego is the treasurer of Charros La Amistad, an Omaha-based rodeo club that has performed in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, putting on about four or five events a year. He estimates that there are about 200 charros in Nebraska, with about 20 of them in Omaha.

Mark Langan, a Humane Society vice president, said Mexican-style rodeos are becoming more popular in the United States.

Veterinarian Steve White, who said he attended a charreada near Elkhorn recently, told the council that horse tripping can cause rope burns, abrasions, dislocations, torn tendons and ligaments, and broken legs. Steer tailing can injure the steers when they are slammed into the ground, White said. The chance for injuries is greater than with American rodeos, he said.

"Tradition should never take precedence over the welfare of animals," he said.

Scott McClure, an associate professor of equine surgery at Iowa State University, said in a telephone interview that he has seen charreadas. He would not say whether he believes Mexican-style rodeo is harder on animals than a traditional American rodeo.

"In horse tripping, to say they likely break legs is probably an overexaggeration," McClure said. "Could a horse get injured doing that? Yes."

Burton Smith, owner of the Elkhorn-area Chance Ridge Event Center, said in a phone interview that he believed two charreadas had taken place at his facility this year.

He does not recall ever seeing horse tripping, but steer tailing has occurred at Chance Ridge. He said he doesn't think steer tailing should be banned.

"I haven't seen them cripple a cow or anything like that," said Smith, a veterinarian whose animal hospital is next door. "I've never seen that or even where it made the tail sore."

Horse tripping is illegal in seven states, but Iowa and Nebraska are not among them.

The frequency of injuries attributed to horse tripping and steer tailing is unclear.

Ramiro Rodriguez, a member and former chairman of the American Charro Association in El Paso, Texas, said the organization does not keep statistics on animal injuries.

The Nebraska Humane Society doesn't have statistics on Mexican rodeo animal injuries either, said Langan, vice president for field operations.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, which sanctions about 30 percent of rodeos in the United States, tracks animal injuries and reports that the rate of injury is far less than 1 percent.

The majority of U.S. rodeos are sanctioned by smaller rodeo associations or not sanctioned at all.

Animal rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have said both Mexican and American rodeo constitute animal abuse and should be boycotted.

Councilman Jim Suttle said he sees parallels between events included in American rodeos and steer tailing and horse tripping.

"If we're going to do something like this, we better be prepared to do it for white, Caucasian rodeos," he said.

Councilman Chuck Sigerson sponsored the ordinance after being approached by the Humane Society.

The council could vote on the issue next week.

Pliego told the council he would like to work with the Humane Society to modify the two events to make them safer, including putting leg protection on horses and ending the steer tailing event before the animal is propelled to the ground.

"We're certainly willing to meet and try to come up with a compromise," Langan said.

Pliego's children, Armando, 15, and Xochitl, 12, told the council that charreadas are an important way for them to connect to Mexican culture and that the Mexican rodeos are being unfairly targeted.

"Why haven't they done anything to stop horse racing, hunting and fishing, or American rodeos?" Armando asked.

Humane Society officials said they were not trying to stop charreadas, but they want to see the steer tailing and horse tripping events eliminated. Pliego said charreadas involve 10 different events.

Pliego was among nine local men who were cited for animal cruelty in July, after Humane Society investigators found five malnourished horses with extensive scars on their legs. Several also had abrasions. The men pleaded no contest, and each was fined $900. The horses were confiscated.

The men admitted to participating in horse tripping and told investigators that steer tailing also was occurring.

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