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County Commission says no to horse-roping event

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 | 7 p.m.

The World Series Charreria event scheduled for the South Point in late September has been effectively canceled after Clark County commissioners decided Tuesday not to suspend a county ordinance forbidding horse roping, a key part of the traditional Mexican rodeo.

The issue of roping horses by the legs and when it crosses the line to become horse tripping has been a topic of intense debate and scrutiny over the past month.

Tuesday was the third meeting in a row commissioners have taken up the issue, and a standing-room-only crowd packed the commission chambers to weigh in.

On one side of the debate, animal rights advocates argued that any type of roping of a horse that could trip and injure it constitutes animal cruelty.

Others, including many leaders from the Hispanic community, said the “catch-and-release” style ropes used at charreria events don’t harm the horses and that the rodeos are an important celebration of Mexican culture.

Across more than three hours of emotional public comment, dozens of people, including several members of the Nevada Legislature and a representative from the Mexican consulate, shared their thoughts with the county.

One point of contention was whether roping horses was any different than roping steers, a common event in other rodeos.

Alejandro Galindo Jimenez, Nevada president for the Mexican Federation of Charreria, who is helping organize the South Point event in September, said many supporters of charrerias felt their events were being unfairly singled out for regulation by the commission.

If the commissioners have concerns about animal roping, they should examine all instances of it, not just with horses, Jimenez argued.

Several equine veterinarians testified that roping horses by their legs can have “disastrous” consequences for the animals, in part because of their long necks and legs.

Current county ordinance forbids horse roping in all circumstances, the result of a small tweak to a larger animal cruelty ordinance passed in 2010.

Jimenez said his organization was unaware of the change to the county code when they began planning to bring the event to Las Vegas for the first time this September.

A tip from animal rights advocates alerted the county to the discrepancy, Jimenez said, bringing the issue to light.

The matter was further complicated by a new state law passed by the Legislature during its past session that prohibits intentional horse tripping, but would allow the type of horse roping that occurs at charrerias.

But after an attempt to amend the county’s version of the horse roping law and bring it in line with the state statute failed at a commission meeting earlier this month, the World Series Charreria organizers found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Three of the nine events that traditionally make up a charreria involve the type of horse roping currently banned by the county.

Removing them would be like taking the quarterback out of a football game, Jimenez said, and because of the way the team-based rodeo is scored, the lack of horse-roping events makes it impossible to hold the rodeo, potentially costing the county millions of dollars in economic activity.

On Tuesday, commissioners considered the unprecedented move of suspending the ordinance forbidding horse roping from Sept. 26 to Sept. 29, a moratorium that would have allowed the charreria at the South Point to take place.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who has worked extensively on the issue for years and recently proposed several changes to the county’s ordinance in an attempt to assuage animal rights advocates and charreria supporters, said she supported the moratorium to allow the South Point event to take place, although she doesn’t necessarily support changing the ordinance permanently.

“Allow the South Point event to go through, monitor it, report back and then see what we want as a community,” she said.

Other commissioners expressed reservation about the possible harm to the animals, especially after several graphic videos showing horse tripping incidents were played during public comment.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who voted against the moratorium, said he was concerned about the potentially unprecedented move of suspending the enforcement of a criminal ordinance in the county.

“I’m troubled by the fact that I cannot find any instances in the last 17 years where we have instituted a moratorium on the enforcement of an ordinance,” he said. “That’s troubling to me that we’re potentially doing that for the first time today.”

Commissioners split evenly 3-3 on whether to issue the moratorium, resulting in a de facto denial, meaning the ordinance will stay in place. Commissioner Larry Brown was absent and excused from the vote because of a previously scheduled meeting.

Giunchigliani was joined by Commissioner Tom Collins in supporting allowing the moratorium, although the two have traded competing proposals in past weeks on how to best amend the county’s ordinance.

With the moratorium being denied Tuesday, Collins and Giunchigliani said they would look to form a working group with community members to review the county’s existing laws on horse roping and animal cruelty.

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