Thursday, December 5, 2013

Controversial Horse Roping Event Held in Tremonton

From the Editor: The following story originally appeared on, and the author was kind enough to allow the Trotter to syndicate this story. It originally ran December 5, 2013.

A Young Horse Being Roped at the
Tremonton Horse Roping in November, 2013
photo courtesy of Robyn Van Valkenburg

by Robyn Van Valkenburg

Forty horses were unloaded from a double-decker livestock hauler on Nov. 23 at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds. They were young – only about a year old – and were brought to be used during Saturday evening’s sport.

These horses were not for riding, but for roping.

One by one, a foal was chased from a chute at the north end of the indoor arena by a man with a whip. Teams of two ropers on horseback pursued the loose horse until one threw a loop around the horse’s neck. The foal buckled down on the choke and hopped a few steps forward. The other team member roped the horse’s front legs and it stumbled to the ground with a thud. It laid there for a moment, caught its breath and regained its senses. The colt was then dragged out of the arena by its neck.

Horse roping, also called horse tripping, is a rodeo event banned in California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

But it is legal in Utah, and many who attended the event believe it should stay that way.

“This is the Vaquero way,” said Boyd Udy, a volunteer who herded the roped horses into the chutes where their necks and legs were freed from the loops. “This is how the ranchers doctor their horses.”

Vaquero is a centuries-old tradition of horse training and livestock handling of Spanish origins. Some consider the tradition to be rougher than more modern practices. There is a considerable diversity of belief, however, of what the tradition entails.

For competitor Sonny Munns, the attraction to horse roping is simple.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a hobby.”

Before the event began, Shawn Judkins, who owns the yearlings, gathered the ropers to discuss the rules. He said that he had not anticipated the 162 teams that showed up to rope two horses each, but that they would still rope the 40 horses that he brought. He outlined a few rules and told the competitors that they would be disqualified for handling the stock in a rough manner. By the mid-point of the event, many of the foals were missing hair around their neck and had rope burns across their bodies. One colt had a gash on his forehead. Another limped.

“I’m sure they had rules,” said Jason Romney, a ranch horse trainer from Logan, Utah, after viewing videos of the horse roping. “Whether those rules were enforced or not, I do not know.”

Romney is not against roping horses – he does it himself as part of his training program – but always in a small round corral to allow the horse to have a break from the rope’s pressure.

“Horse roping, done in the correct manner, is one of the safest ways to handle wild horses,” Romney said. “I’ve seen it done in many manners, but the problem with roping horses by the neck is that it easily cuts off the horse’s air because their trachea is exposed.”

Cattle roping events are popular among rodeo events, but “horses are built differently than cattle,” Romney said. “Even the horses’ hair and skin is thinner.”

Equine veterinarian Dr. Diana Wittkopf agrees.

“Horses have a longer more flexible neck and their legs are easier to break than cattle,” said Diana Wittkopf, who practices in Logan, Utah. “I’ve seen horses that flipped over – not necessarily on a hard surface – get severely injured.”

Wittkopf said horses that fall down hard can fracture skulls or necks and can damage their back muscles.

“Many horses with injuries like that are never useful as a saddle horse,” Wittkopf said.

Wittkopf said that horses often get hurt in various sports. Even racehorses or show horses can get hurt.

“However, many horse sports have a veterinarian on the ground,” Wittkopf said, “and hiring a veterinarian would add to the expense of the event.”

During the horse’s break outside in between being roped, they appeared to have no water or food.

“Feeding a horse during an event like that can cause problems with their digestive health like colic, but the horses should have had water,” Romney said.

Jim Keyes, a ranch roper and clinician who watched the footage of the event, said that the proper way to catch a horse is to gently rope it around the neck and then rope the front feet. Keyes ropes colts on ranches every July to brand and vaccinate them. Keyes said that Judkins should have limited the number of teams running because each horse should not have been roped more than two times each. With the number of teams that attended Tremonton’s roping, each horse was roped approximately eight times. Keyes said that what he saw in the footage was not significantly alarming.

“I didn’t really see anything that I thought was out of the ordinary or harming to the animals for this type of event,” Keyes said. “The main thing I saw was the lack of roping talent, but that is not uncommon.”

“The rope is just a tool for a buckaroo,” Keyes said, “but the goal is to handle the horses with the least amount of stress – both the horse being roped and the animal being ridden.”

Equine expert Colette Tebeau said young horses should not be handled in ways that could damage their developing skeletal system.

While acknowledging that she grew up riding English and does not have the experience in western rodeo events, Tebeau said she found the footage to be disconcerting.

“I respect the tradition of roping horses,” Tebeau said, “but it should still be done in a humane way.”

“As trainers, we do not even tie our young horses in order to prevent the risk of injuring their neck,” Tebeau said. “Someone should be there monitoring the injuries to the animals.”

Tebeau also worried that the horses may have suffered mental trauma.

“It will be difficult or impossible to train these horses to be riding horses because they see humans as predators,” she said.

Judkins disagreed,“I believe what we are doing is completely humane.”

He plans on holding another horse roping event at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds in January.

In reporting this story, Van Valkenburg arrived at the event at 3 p.m. The roping started at 4:30 p.m. after all of the teams had signed up. After watching and interviewing some contestants during the first four and a half hours of the event, Van Valkenburg was approached was approached by organizer Shawn Judkins, who asked her if she was a journalist. When Van Valkenburg confirmed that she was a journalist working on a story about the event, Judkins demanded that she erase the video footage she had taken of the event and immediately leave. Van Valkenburg agreed to leave but refused to destroy the event footage, which she later shared with veterinarians and equine experts to gather more opinions about the sport of horse roping.

Robyn Van Valkenburg has been around horses her entire life. She grew up riding in 4-H and junior rodeos and now rides with the Dirty Dozen adult riding team and competes in the Utah Western Riding Club Association shows. She has participated in a variety of events including English and western pleasure, barrels, poles, goat tying, breakaway roping, hide racing and many other events. Van Valkenburg started training ponies when she was eight years old and has trained “bigger-and-badder” horses ever since. She now works for the Bureau of Land Management as part of the Trainer Incentive Program where she gentles and breaks wild horses and places them into adopting homes. Van Valkenburg has participated in two mustang trainer challenges. In the first challenge at the Utah Wild Horse and Burro Association, she took first place on her sixty-day mustang, Champ. She took fourth in the Heber Cowboy Poetry Festival’s Impact of the Horse competition and adopted her mustang, Spitfire. Van Valkenburg is now studying at Utah StateUniversity in the Equine Science and Management program and Journalism department. 

Disclosure: Van Valkenburg was previously featured as a local profile for The Utah Trotter in conjunction with the Utah Wild Horse and Burro Festival.


  1. This is absolutely nothing other than outright animal abuse. The comments made by the "competitors" were complete bulls***t. When will laws protecting animals EVER be strengthened, and then enforced in Utah?? I wish that BEFORE these heinous events were to be held, it would be published among horse loving groups on facebook and other social media so that we could organize, protest and picket. This is absolutely sickening, and should obviously be illegal in ALL states. Show the video to the Utah legislature who is busy debating horse carriages in SLC?? Thank you for your coverage.

  2. Double Decker trailers are illegal in the US for transporting horses I believe, hope the original poster has video footage of that, if they do they need to report it to the FBI and State Troopers. This is disgusting and makes me wonder if these babies are from one of the many holding facilities for our mustangs where the babies are not counted in the stats by the BLM and are unbranded. They are planning another "event" in January, this needs to be spread far and wide among Advocates so we can do something about this. There is no skill involved here this is abuse, that baby running head first into the metal railings and falling convulsing to the ground is horrific and the skinny baby further into the video. Shameful!! This is no way to treat a young animal of any type and will probably destroy any hope of them having a sane and productive life, they probably all end up going to slaugher after they have been used up by these morons :-(

  3. So this is abuse at the hands of primitive, selfish, uneducated minds. Wow taking a baby down is award worthy!?

  4. I couldn't even finish watching it. Horrific. How in the world is anything about this humane?? Seriously disturbing. 40 babies for 162 teams?? Are they kidding? The first horse alone fell about five times before being "roped" by the front feet. I am beyond disgusted about people who actually delude themselves into thinking this is okay. Hurt my heart to watch. What else can we do to prevent this from happening?

  5. Real men do not need to abuse/rope horses. Remember, African Americans were slaves and that "heritage" is changed too....shall I name more antiquated "traditions?"

  6. Not impressed at all.....pitiful roping skills and no real woman would want to be associated with such 'so-called' cowboys. Gives a new meaning to Brokeback Mountain. Get a life guys!

  7. Was there a veterinarian on-site? Better yet, a psychiatrist? This is animal abuse, impure and simple, and people should be cited for such. As noted, some of those babies (!) were roped as many as 8 times each. I wonder what the PRCA thinks of this? Or local Animal Control? There's another scheduled for January. It should be stopped.

    How anyone could consider this a "hobby" and "fun" is beyond me. LEGISLATION IS IN ORDER TO BAN THIS ABUSE. WRITE YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS NOW.

    This event is called "Big Loop Roping" in Oregon, and was outlawed there earlier this year. Not to be confused with the Mexican-style rodeo's (charreada) "horse tripping" event ("manganas"), in which running horses are roped by the front legs and brought down. "Horse tripping" has now been banned in 14 states. The U.S. charros, to their credit, did change their rules so as to ban the felling of the horses, though they still rope them by the legs. But many of these charros take part in the competitions in Mexico, where they are still required to fell the horses. So I'm betting practice sessions take place out of the public act, where the horses are still felled.

    Eric Mills, coordinator
    Oakland, CA

  8. I would LOVE to rope the cowboys around the neck and drag them to whatever or where ever. What is it going to take to protect the babies against cowboys stupidity.
    Hobby, my A$$. I could think of many hobbies that DIDN'T include live animals.

  9. End this 'crap' NOW!!! Cowboys? I don't think so. This is abuse towards these yearlings, just so some guys can get off roping something. It might be a 'training' method in a round pen NOT AN ARENA for the clock or COMPETITION!! Do you guys think people are stupid not seeing the complete abuse/torture to these young horses....or are you doing to them cause they headed for slaughter anyway? So in their sick minds it makes it ok? Pathetic human race....go & pound on a tractor & leave the animals aloe!

  10. This is sick and cruel and needs to be stopped these guys think they are cowboys why don't they pick on something there own size instead of being monsters what is wrong with you brainless people . poor innocent creatures, god did not put them here for that. takes 3 to 4 grown men to put this animal down how sad you shoul be ashamed to bad they horses don'r kick your A ___ __ theis is just Cruel hope all yo wanna be cowboys pay for what you do to these helpless animals what have they done to you !!!

  11. disgraceful, ignorant, redneck room temp. iq behavior.

  12. These are just not talented or smart enough to be called horsemen. They are just redneck idiots.

  13. Well, there is another state I will boycott in my travel plans. No compassion and I hate when they use "tradition" as an excuse to continue cruelty and suffering.

    1. Thanks for the many comments and concerns about this issue, and for visiting our site.

      To the Anonymous reader who will be boycotting the state of Utah because of this incident, you would be misinformed to think that this event represents the mainstream horse industry in Utah. I feel compelled as a communicating member of Utah's horse community to say that for every difficult and controversial story I share on The Utah Trotter, there are innumerable excellent horsemen doing exceptional things for their horses in a variety of disciplines each day. Your fury is understandable, but misdirected. If you would like to know more about the many great things that the Utah Horse community has to offer, I suggest contacting the Utah Horse Council at

      You're also more than welcome to contact me at

    2. If there are innumerable excellent horsemen doing exceptional things for their horses, why have THEY not stopped this horror? It is not misdirected. This is going on in your state, and your horse industry is allowing the torture to go on. Until we hear that the horsemen and people like you in UTAH have stopped this nightmare, the entire state is guilty. Every one of you.

      I will not stop foot in Utah, or buy a product of Utah until this stops!

    3. Thank you for your reply. As a professional news outlet, we are doing our best to share the story and syndicate it to as many outlets as possible so that the horse community, local and otherwise, can become informed on the issue sufficiently to take action. (It's my understanding that this will hit the major local news outlets tomorrow.) We will continue to report on this developing story in the coming weeks, and appreciate your shared interest and concern for the horses.

      Again, please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

      Lorraine Jackson, Editor

  14. Here's some contact info. RAISE HELL!

    DESERET NEWS (Salt Lake City) -
    OGDEN STANDARD-EXAMINER - (county seat, Box Elder Co.

    Box Elder County Fairgrounds - (toll free) - 1/877/390-2326

    UTAH STATE LEGISLATURE (see GOOGLE for details) - 350 North State, P.O. Box 145030, Salt Lake City, UT 84114

    SHAWN JUDKINS HORSE TRAINING, 8225 West 10,000 North, Tremonton, UT 84337; tel. 435/257-1202.

    NOTE: Reportedly, Mr. Judkins is planning to present this event again at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds in January of 2014. Should not be allowed. Indeed, should be banned statewide. Contact the Utah State Legislature.

  15. This is a totally disgusting display of cruelty to horses, and only one year old,–not fully developed! Roping each terrified youngster 8 times! This must end!

  16. This is so appalling and repulsive I can hardly breath.

    We must stop this!!!

  17. This is a most sickening video.How can you treat foals,little babies like this and be pleased at what you've done & watched.Do you think it makes you 'special to inflict such pain and terror to one so young & innocent.We have rodeos in Australia & they have a lot to answer for too but never would we Aussies do must be stopped

  18. SHARK. we are relying on you to get this stopped. We are too far away to help but all petitions will be signed and emails sent.

  19. This is to wrong for words!! What if it was your little ones how would you feel? Think to yourselves what happens when there is no horses in the world? It is going to be your fault and for the people that think this is ok i feel sooooo bad for you. I really hope this gets fixed right away because its far from right

  20. Please call or send polite comments to:

    The Honorable Ryan Tingey
    Box Elder County Commission Chair
    The Honorable LuAnn Adams
    Box Elder County Commissioner
    The Honorable Stan Summers
    Box Elder County Commissioner

    Read more:


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  23. People, call it what it is. This is nothing more than absolute cruel, blatant animal abuse. If you are stupid enough to believe that such abuse is OK and that this is "fun", step off the horse you are riding and let yourself get roped and slammed into the ground without any concern from the person conducting this cruelty. I would like to think that the human race is making progress in how they treat other species and living beings. Sadly, this just shows how little the human race has progressed and how "backward" and "cruel" we still are as a species. Shame on all of you who participate in such cruelty and perpetuate it even further instead of doing the right and humane thing by outlawing this blatant and cruel activity.

  24. People of Box Elder County - what is the problem here. Animal Cruelty is rampant when events such as this are allowed to occur. Wake Up!! Horses, of any ofther living being, do not need to be treated in such a foul manner. Please stand up for what is right and ban such events as this, PLEASE.

  25. This article and especially the video should go VIRAL. Please share on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, local newspapers, anywhere you can think of to spread the word that animal abuse will not be tolerated in America any longer. It's been proven that people who abuse animals will abuse people, especially their spouses and children.
    Let's get this stopped once and for all. Will you do something to help stop this despicable "sport" of horse tripping in Utah? It's a start, then we can work on the other states who haven't yet banned it.

    I just sent an email to Box Elder County mayors, legislators, newspaper editors, and tourism board. Google will provide you with all the email addresses you need, as well as phone numbers if youdec ide to call. Will you do the same?

  26. By the way, BRAVA to Ms Van Valkenburg for daring to record and report this despicable event. Thanks to her and the editor of this paper we can strive to end this barbaric "sport" permanently, maybe even in the remaining states who are still abusing horses for entertainment. Thanks also to Eric Mills and Caroline Cabrera for providing contact information. Let's do this, folks.