Eric Mills and the Horse He Rode in On 

Eric Mills was the most effective critic of rodeo in California -- at least until he lassoed the charreada.

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Rodeo advocates insist that no matter how hard they work to take good care of their animals, Mills will never be satisfied. "The bottom line is there's a difference in philosophies," Schonholtz says. "People involved in rodeo believe we have a right to use these animals as long as we provide proper care and handling for the animals. Animal-rights activists want to end all use of animals, including rodeos, circuses, horseracing, and the cattle industry."

Although Mills has never advocated anything that radical, it's certain that there is more legislation to come. When updating subscribers about the defeat of AB 885, he signed off his Action for Animals newsletter with his trademark promise: "We'll be back."

What is less certain is whether the opposition he accidentally organized against himself will continue to successfully block his legislation. Mills has beaten the rodeo and the charreada separately, but never together. Is this new alliance between the American and Mexican rodeos forged in brotherhood, or pragmatism? The cowboys gave the charros a leg up in negotiating capitol culture; the charros gave the cowboys claim to a cultural tradition legislators are twitchy about challenging. "If you have the Hispanic caucus up there against you, even silently, you're dead," Handley says.

No doubt Mills and this new alliance will square off again, with each side accusing the other of political correctness. Cowboys say Mills plays the animal-rights card; he says the charros and their allies play the race card. It's hard to tell which side has the higher horse. "This is such a politically correct state, everybody's worried about stepping on everybody else's toes," Mills sighs. "There's a lot of crime done against animals in the name of diversity."

It's been a tough legislative season for Mills and his allies, but if rodeo legend teaches us anything, it's that when you get thrown, you have to get back up and ride again. In more than twenty years of advocating on behalf of rodeo livestock and other animals, Mills has never been thrown so hard he couldn't get back in the saddle.

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