Mexican-style rodeos, with riders yanking tails to topple steers, can no longer be held on a farm in Vermillion Township, southwest of Hastings, local officials have decreed.
The township's Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 this month to deny a conditional-use permit. They cited unsafe conditions and fencing at the horse and cattle events that once attracted more than 450 people to a rented farm at 5301 200th St. in rural Dakota County.
"Primarily there wasn't enough security or safety for the public," said Chairman Bob Bohn of the township board. "I surveyed all the fences and chutes. I saw cattle climbing up on top of each other [in chutes]. The gates and fences bent and swayed. It would have been a nightmare if they got out amongst 300 people."
The county requires permits for events drawing more than 300 people. The township permit application, filed by the Omana family, says horse competition events would include a traditional Mexican sport called coleadero, or steer tailing. Animal rights groups have objected to the sport because it can injure cattle. The event involves a horseman riding up behind a running steer and yanking its tail to knock it over. The maneuver is legal in Minnesota but is outlawed in some Western states.
Raul and Aurora deBurgos Omana were present with an interpreter when the permit was denied at the Oct. 16 township board meeting. They could file a court appeal but said nothing about doing so, said township attorney Dan Fluegel.
The Omanas couldn't be reached. The couple, in their early 50s, moved here about three years ago from California, where they had attended weekly Mexican rodeos, said their daughter, Grace Pliego, 36, of Eagan.
They "are so sad because they think it is outrageous" that their permit was denied, Pliego said. She said some of her parents' neighbors have made crude, racist remarks and they think the permit was denied because they are Mexican.
"You can bring your tradition with you wherever you are," said Pliego. "We can show our kids our tradition." She said her four children like the horses at their grandparents' farm.
Neighbor Dave Quade, who rents the farm to the Omanas, said he also thinks the permit denial reflected discrimination. He said he didn't see much difference between knocking a steer over by its tail and a cowboy downing a steer by twisting its neck and horns, an American rodeo event called bulldogging.
"There was no racial element in that at all," Bohn said. "We spent a lot of time with this. We treated it in a fair and equal way. There was no other way it could go."
Bohn noted that ambulances were called twice to rodeos in mid-2011 to take two injured people to hospitals. One was a 27-year-old rider knocked out when he fell off his horse. The other was a 9-year-old boy who had been kicked in the head and stomach by a horse. He was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
The township board issued findings this month that noted rodeo spectators were not safely separated from cattle and horse storage areas or from driving and parking areas.
Under a temporary agreement with the Omanas, the township had allowed weekend rodeos, with scale and noise restrictions, once a month since May. The board held a public hearing on the permit request in August.
The three township board members attended the last rodeo weekend in September. Bohn said loud music from drums and live bands a few feet away from cattle and horses over-excited the animals and generated complaints from neighbors up to a mile away.
Bohn said he saw the "cow flipping" at the rodeo. "You don't want to treat animals that way," he said. However, laws on animal welfare are enforced by state agents, he noted.
Howard Goldman, director of the Minnesota office of the Humane Society of the United States, said he saw steer tailing at Omana rodeos in August and September. After being flipped, the steers stood up and were herded back to the arena chutes, he said. He saw teenagers with electric prods who goaded some steers into the chutes, forcing them to climb on top of each other.
Goldman said he has attempted to get steer tailing outlawed by the Legislature and will try again next year.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283