Supes OK study to prohibit animal tripping and tailing

County supervisors are concerned about animal cruelty at

A Mexican-style rodeo tradition could be history after the Santa
Clara County Board of Supervisors approved drafting an ordinance
that could go as far as banning so-called


or steer tailing, which some local cowboys admit they proudly

A Mexican-style rodeo tradition could be history after the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved drafting an ordinance that could go as far as banning so-called “coleadas” or steer tailing, which some local charros or cowboys admit they proudly practice.

By a 3-2 vote, supervisors Tuesday approved the proposal that would also reiterate state law prohibiting cruelty to animals.

Supervisors also agreed to prohibit tripping or felling an equine animal, or intentionally tripping, dragging, or felling any bovine animal by the tail. The proposal would also require veterinarians to be in attendance throughout the duration of any event using animals and provide local remedies for violations.

According to San Juan Bautista resident Martin Marquez, president of the Asociacion de Charros El Herradero de San Martin, steer tailing exercises are happening in the county and are indeed part of so-called “charreadas” or Mexican style rodeo. However, he said, local charros no longer practice horse tripping and instead perform a modified exercise putting the rope through the horse’s front legs without making it fall.

“It’s sad that despite all the pains we’ve taken to follow the rules, they will be targeting steer tailing which is traditional and part of the charreria,” Marquez said. “Coleadas are not cruel and inhumane. How do they know it’s painful to the bulls, which fall on soft sand.”

Supervisor Ken Yeager’s recommendation came as animal rights groups expressed concern that horse tripping and steer tailing are rampant in South County and other parts of the state.

Horse tripping is done when a rider throws a rope around a horse’s legs causing the animal to fall. Steer tailing is done when a rider on a horse approaches a steer, then tries to bring it down by wrapping its tail around its leg. Both practices have been banned in Alameda and Contra Costa counties for more than a decade.

An earlier proposal on the table sponsored by Supervisor Pete McHugh worried Supervisor Don Gage who said: “I have some serious concerns about this report … It seems to me that it’s extremely broad and when you paint something like this with a broad brush, this could impact businesses such as ranches or training stables that are doing the right thing.”

Gage mentioned that under the defeated broad proposal the practice of animal branding had the potential of being considered cruel under extremist views. “We already have state law that prohibits cruelty to animals,” Gage said.

Said Yeager: “Given that state law has many protections in place for animals, I wanted to propose an option that demonstrated the board’s dedication to animal welfare while at the same time allowing for these events to be staged safely. I feel that the referral that was adopted by the board will ensure that we strike the appropriate balance.”

As the earlier broad proposal failed to gain support, several rodeo lovers and enthusiasts considered it a victory. However, those events could still be altered or modified in the future when Santa Clara County Executive Pete Kutras’ office, the county’s Agriculture and Environmental Management Department, which oversees animal care and control issues, and county counsel present a report to county supervisors in the next two months looking at state laws dealing with cruelty to animals that might be reaffirmed in a county ordinance.

Greg Van Wassenhove, the county’s animal care and control director, said the ordinance will look into prohibiting intentional tripping and tailing of animals, requiring that a veterinarian be present at such events and that sanctions be imposed for violations.

Van Wassenhove told supervisors Tuesday there’s only one facility in unincorporated Morgan Hill that has a commercial rodeo event.

But the events being conducted at Rancho Grande, according to its owners, don’t involve the two practices mentioned by the referral’s language.

Prior to their vote, county leaders heard from more than 50 speakers, the majority fearing bull riding and other animal shows that present no danger to animals would be banned.

Speaking before the supervisors inside the crowded chambers at the County Government Center in downtown San Jose, longtime Morgan Hill resident Steve Pena, who owns Rancho Grande in unincorporated county land where plain bull riding events are held in the summer, said he was afraid county leaders would blanket all animal entertainment events, from rodeos to circus acts, into one group of events considered cruel and inhumane.

“There are ranchers that are very humane and take care of their large animals,” Pena said. “We’ve been in business since the ’70s, a lot longer than a lot of people have lived in Morgan Hill or knew were Morgan Hill was and now they’re trying to change our way of life and take away our business and it’s not fair.”

The Penas have about 20 bulls at their Condit Road ranch and two horses. The animals are used in the summer to conduct so-called “jaripeos” or plain bull riding events for a mostly Mexican audience. The ranch’s hours are regulated by the county and the events can only happen on weekends and holidays from noon to 7 p.m. “If they don’t like what we do then they don’t have to attend our events.”

According to Julian Mancias, a member of the large Mexican American community in South County and a Gilroy resident, Yeager’s motion was well received by local ranchers and cattlemen who spend upwards of $25,000 to purchase an animal they care for.

Tony Agredano, a member of the Penning and Sorting Association and a rodeo event announcer at Thorson’s Arena in Morgan Hill, said he thought animal rights activists who had been contacting several supervisors about the issue would mislead them into thinking that all equestrian type of entertainment events should be banned.

Agredano, also a member of the National Reined Cow Horse Association, worried animal rights activists had misinformed McHugh and other county leaders to make them believe that even equestrian events such as horse barrel racing, where the animals are required to only go around barrels, would be considered cruel.

“The county has bigger issues. We want to have agriculture still be a part of our county and these agricultural events include rodeos,” Agredano said.

Other speakers told the board that an original proposal by McHugh “promoting the humane treatment of wild, exotic and rodeo animals” was a waste of time and taxpayers dollars.

“I’m proud of being a charro … It’s about our culture and tradition. Different families become one during charreadas. We have rules to follow in the charreadas. I’m very proud to see my kids’ friends come after school to ride horses and keep them busy instead of doing other things,” said Marquez.

Veterinarian Elliot Katz, with the group In Defense of Animals, said he supported county leaders adopting a ban on rodeo and circuses because he has seen animals disrespected. “They’re provoked and taunted to get them to act. The calf roping, the cinch lines to get them to act wild … It sends a poor message to young people,” he said. “Calf roping and steer wrestling are injurious to the animals. It’s injurious … It’s done by (cowboys) to prove their manhood.”

Similarly, Alfredo Kuba, founder of Silicon Valley In Defense Animals, said he hoped supervisors would ultimately ban circuses that use wild animals and rodeos, charreadas and jaripeos because “they’re inhumane and barbaric.”

Kuba, a native of Guatemala, said circus animals live most of their lives in small cages developing psychological and behavioral trauma when owners allegedly use whips, bull hooks and electric shocking devices to coerce them to act a certain way.

Kuba said the American Zoological Aquarium Association doesn’t approve or accredit circuses because they can’t meet their standards.

Kuba contacted McHugh three months ago along with other animal rights group to get him to sponsor a proposed ban as his group claims through investigations that cruel and inhumane animal entertainment events are occurring in the county.

“We’re not discriminating against anyone. We’re advancing our humanity toward a more kind society,” Kuba said.