How Rodeo Veterinarians Help Keep Animals Healthy

Rodeo horse
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Whether it’s the Kentucky Derby or the Olympic Games, competitions involving animals can be dangerous for their nonhuman athletes. That's why teams of veterinarians usually work at such events, doing everything they can to make them as safe as possible for the animals participating.

At rodeos, on-site vets work hard to ensure competing livestock gets the treatment it needs before, during and after.

Rules and Regulations

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), which sanctions rodeos across North America, sets forth a number of regulations for animal care at its events.

“There are 60 rules in place to govern the care of rodeo livestock, from horn wraps to weight limits on steers and calves, the use of spurs they have to be dull and roll freely [and the] movement of livestock,” says Dr. Douglas Corey, a veterinarian on the PRCA’s Animal Welfare Committee.

Dr. Corey wrote the Guide to Veterinary Services at PRCA Rodeos and has worked at rodeos in Pendleton, Oregon, and Walla Walla, Washington. He volunteers at the competitions not only as a way to contribute to the community but also because he feels that as a vet that it’s the right thing to do. “I like the event and want to see that the animals receive the best of care,” he says.

In fact, many rodeo vets are volunteers; they normally get paid only if they travel long distances to the event.

“Vets are required to be at the arena for every performance of PRCA-sanctioned rodeos,” Dr. Corey says. That includes “slack” events (in which contestants take part during off times, when they’re not participating in regular rodeo performances). There is typically at least one vet per rodeo, with several at larger competitions, he says.

Dr. Leslie Easterwood, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Gregg Knape, head of Gulf Coast Large Animal Clinic and Veterinary Services, are responsible for the medical and regulatory veterinary work at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR). They have been the show’s official veterinarians since 2003. Dr. Easterwood, who received several scholarships from the HLSR during college, offers her time to the rodeo as a way to give back and help other students get the kinds of opportunities she had. Having grown up around the rodeo community and competed in horse events her entire life, she also likes assisting the animals associated with the sport she knows so well.

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