By Donna Westfall
In case you didn’t know it, rodeos are facing extinction. Places like San Francisco, Alameda and Napa County prohibits rodeos.
- Nevada prohibits steer roping. Nevada’s state veterinarian says steer roping causes animals to get “hurt too often”.
- In California a written report of animal injuries must be submitted to the California State Veterinary Medical Board within 48 hours of the conclusion of the rodeo.
- Rhode Island and California require a veterinarian present at every rodeo.
Back to Del Norte County – Saturday, August 8th, from 1 pm to after 4 pm, I sat getting sunburned in the bleachers facing the rodeo arena on a beautiful sunny day. This being only the second time in my life to watch a rodeo, the first being in St. George, Utah in the ’70’s; Mormon country. Other than watching movies, I’m as ignorant as a babe when it comes to rodeo’s. So, I asked horse expert and one of the originators of the Redwood Coast Rodeo, Lori Markel, to walk me through it.
The first carriage that came trotting out was driven by Kevin Hartwick and seated in the carriage was the Fair Manager, Randy Hatfield.
Lori: “Oh my gawd, I don’t believe it!”
On the other side of me a woman said, “What’s wrong with that horse? It’s limping.”
Me: “What it is? What’s going on?”
Lori: “His horse is lame. He’s dragging his back legs. Without looking closer, I can’t tell if it was his hocks or hips. It could even be his feet. Randy Hatfield is a horse expert. He was a breeder. He raised Appaloosa’s for years up in Washington. He should know better than sit in the back of the cart adding more weight for that poor horse.”
Me: “Whaaaa? How can you tell? How bad is that? Is that bad?
Lori: “It’s bad. Kevin’s notorious for buying old, broken down horses that will last him a summer. Then he’ll donate it and get rid of it. The horse that’s pulling the carriage, his hip bone is sticking out, he’s struggling to pull the carriage. And while Gary Blacknick’s holding the reins, I noticed the horse was leaning back trying to get the weight off his hind end.”
More horses and riders came out of the gate including flag carriers advertising those that contributed money to the rodeo (I counted 30); and flag carriers carrying the American Flag. When the flag carriers came out, Lori remarked; “When Kevin and I got the Redwood Coast Rodeo going at the Fair 15 years ago, at one point I had up to 52 flag carriers. See that girl carrying the flag on the paint horse with the red glitter on its rump?”
Lori: “That’s Can Do. I’ve known that horse since he was a foal. I’ve even shown him up and down the Country for four years. He was Reserve Grand Champion in the state of Oregon. His name is Full Color Copy, but his nickname is Can Do. Right now, his stiffle is broken which is like the equivalent of his kneecap.”
Me: “How can they allow him to keep running over and over with these flags?”
Lori: “They shouldn’t. He was only to be used as a breeding animal after his injury about ten years ago. It took him a full year to heal and it was touch and go there for a while. Kevin owned him since the late ’90’s.”
After the rodeo, we went over to the young lady that had been riding Can Do. She was hosing him down and Lori asked her some questions that she didn’t want to answer or was incapable of answering but did say that Scott Norris was his owner now.
I asked Lori, “Isn’t there a vet on the premises?”
Lori: “Probably not. I don’t see any here. You usually see their trailer with an insignia on it.”
I went on, “I don’t understand how people like Kevin Hartwick can be on the Fair Board for 15 years, run a horse ranch in Smith River, and allow this to happen. Isn’t this considered cruelty to animals?”
Lori: “Kevin always wanted a horse while growing up and his dad wouldn’t let him have one. So as an adult, initially he paid me to teach him how to ride and rope. After a while we became partners, or at least I thought we were. Over time he changed. One time, he let a calf slowly starve to death so it would slow the calf down.”
Lori, “He gave me and Fred Hansen, his caretaker on the ranch for about 20 years, strict instructions not to feed the calf. That way it didn’t have the energy to run fast and Kevin could learn to rope it.”
Me: “Why did you and Fred allow it.”
Lori: “We were afraid of Kevin. He always used to tell us, ‘Either you’re with me or against me and if you’re against me I’ll destroy you’. He also used to tell us that he owned law enforcement in this town. Kevin also has an extensive gun collection. I was afraid of him.”
I verified each one of Lori Markel’s statements with Fred Hansen. At one point, Fred was arrested and convicted of writing bad checks after his health failed and Kevin laid him off. He said he was offered a deal by his Public Defender, Jon Alexander. Fred said he was strongly advised to, “Sign this statement and Kevin Hartwick has said he will make all your problems go away.”
“What was in the statement?” I asked.
Fred stated that it contained things like Hartwick always treated his animals well. But later Fred retracted that statement with a new statement because he felt he had signed the original one under duress and it wasn’t the truth.
I contacted Jon Alexander to verify the things Fred told me, but Jon Alexander never would get back to me or meet with me.
While we sat watching baby calves being roped, I cringed. Not my cup of tea.
We watched more flags carriers, bucking bronc riders, roping of the bulls, and kids chasing baby calves which was pretty cute to watch.
But my favorite event was barrel racing. You could tell those horses and their riders couldn’t wait to compete. The duo would take off and circle three 55 gallon plastic barrels placed in a triangle in the middle of the arena; first riding around one barrel, then riding up to circle a second barrel, and then over to a third barrel in a cloverleaf pattern. The winner was based on speed, based on the skill and agility of horse and rider. They would lose if they knocked over a barrel. This event was originally created for women and only women competed.
And that was probably the only thing I liked about the Del Norte County Rodeo. It was exciting, but not enough of a draw, at least for me, to sit through 2 hours of future rodeo’s here or anywhere else.