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Editorial: Not every Old West tradition is worth saving

Published January 23, 2014 1:36 pm

Recreation event put animals at risk
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some people yearn for what they perceive as better days in the American West — including in rural Utah — when cowboys roamed the range and were respected for their hard work and independent spirit. They believe the traditional cowboy skills — roping, herding, riding — should be preserved as part of the Western legacy.

And most should.

But not all cowboys are worthy of respect. Not when they ignore what we now understand about the effects of those skills on the animals that horsemen and women ride and rope.

A "horsemanship" event last fall at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds in Tremonton displayed a misguided effort to keep alive particular traditions that were inhumane when they were common and that should be abandoned. Repeated roping of very young horses, organized as recreation for cowboys, is not, and should not be, part of the old West legacy we hope to preserve.

Recreational horse roping, especially when it involves not just throwing a loop around the horse's neck but also roping the front or back legs, or both, and bringing the struggling animal to the ground — hard — is unnecessarily dangerous for the animal and simply inhumane.

Horses, unlike cattle, have relatively fragile bones and leg joints and thinner hide than a steer's that can be injured during this type of repeated recreational roping.

While horse roping can be traced back centuries, today's horse riders should have a better knowledge of the animals' strengths and vulnerabilities and, we would hope, more regard for the pain and terror animals feel.

After a Utah State University student shot a video of the horse-roping event held last November and posted it last week on her blog, another such event was canceled and Box Elder County officials say they might change the county's policy on what type of events are allowed in the arena.

It's clear from the outcry following the video posting that Tremonton's image as a bastion of Western values has suffered. County officials would be doing the right thing to prohibit any future such events.

What occurred there might or might not qualify as "horse tripping," a brutal practice in which a rider ropes the front or back legs and sends the horse to the ground. That is illegal in at least eight states, but not in Utah.

What is clear is that what these riders were doing caused the animals to suffer and put them in danger of serious injury simply to entertain themselves. That's a type of Old West fun we should not continue replicating.