A new Oregon law meant to prevent injury to rodeo stock appears to be working, judging by the opening day of competition Saturday at the Big Loop Rodeo in Jordan Valley.
Under the law passed in 2013, animals can no longer be intentionally tripped. For decades, horses taking part in big loop rodeos in Jordan Valley, Burns and Christmas Valley were roped by their necks and forelegs and brought down hard to the ground with a jerk of the rope as it was tied off on the saddle horn.
Widespread attention was brought to this last year when an animal rights activist was arrested for filming inside the Jordan Valley arena and a video was posted online.
Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States, said he wasn't sure what to expect at the two-day Big Loop Rodeo, which ends Sunday. Online chatter indicated that the rodeo might defy the law, and Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe had lobbied in Salem against the bill that created the law.
However, Wolfe handed out an information sheet warning that violators could face a fine of up to $2,500 and six months in jail. The sheriff told rodeo organizers he expected them to comply with the law, and they did.
"I'm pleased with what I saw. They're not tripping at all," said Beckstead, of Roseburg, Ore., who watched Friday's practice round and Saturday's competition.
Steve Hindi, president of an Illinois-based animal rights group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, also praised rodeo participants and organizers.
"Big Loop had been tripping horses for decades, so this is an important victory," Hindi said in a written statement.
Beckstead, who worked to pass the law, which received overwhelming support, first saw horse tripping at a big loop rodeo in 2008 in Christmas Valley, north of Lakeview.
Thirteen states have similar laws. Nevada joined Oregon last year in passing legislation. Idaho does not have such a law.
Out of the 40 horses that took part in Saturday's competition in Jordan Valley, 80 miles southwest of Boise, only one was successfully roped. As required, the cowboy holding the rope around the horse's legs dropped it as soon as it went taut and time was called.
"The cowboys are having to learn different techniques. I think there will be a learning curve for them," said Beckstead, who grew up in Twin Falls.
Hindi's statement said one of the group's vehicles was vandalized and someone threw water at a photographer filming the rodeo. He said deputies responded appropriately to both incidents.
"Considering what happened last year," he said, "it was a very welcome change."
John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell