Veterinary Care at Rodeos (AAEP 2008)


Doug Corey, DVM, of Adams, Ore., presented the conditions surrounding emergency care at rodeos during his in-depth emergency care presentation at the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention in San Diego, Calif. He emphasized that the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) has led in the creation of many welfare guidelines to ensure safe procedures, rules, and standards for livestock care. Not many injuries occur in rodeo, but PRCA requires that a veterinarian is on-site, both during the approved rodeo events as well as during "slack" competition held before or after a scheduled performance.

Corey recommends conducting a meeting with all involved to discuss handling of an injured animal and formulate a written step-by-step procedure for handling injured stock. It is also helpful to practice procedures, such as loading an injured horse, in order to test equipment and decide where a vet should be located during a performance. Communication devices, such as cell phones or two-way radios, should be organized and tested in advance. There should be clarification as to who makes the decision to bring a veterinarian into the arena. The group should create a supply list and determine the optimal location for the vet vehicle. Figure out who will pay for veterinary services, and who will determine when a horse needs transport to a clinic. Transport conveyances should be well-equipped to allow restraint and safe transport.

Before the performance the rodeo vet should peruse livestock pens to check for injuries and problems, and it is sensible to contact the judges, livestock contract personnel, pickup men, and handlers to make sure all people are in agreement on emergency procedures. Corey stressed that during a performance the veterinarian's attention should be directed to the arena and not to other nonemergency situations elsewhere on the grounds.

Should an emergency arise, there is often pressure to clear the arena so the event can continue, but every effort should be made to stabilize an injured animal, no matter how long it takes, before moving it. In most cases, the horse can be loaded into a livestock ambulance and transported from the arena to a predetermined location. The veterinarian should have the final authority on the decision of euthanasia for humane reasons in the event of a serious injury. The person responsible for the horse's care should be consulted, and the insurance company covering the animal should be called in any emergency situation.

All aspects of animal safety and welfare should be addressed at rodeo events, as should concerns of public perception. Corey's take-home message was to practice prevention, be prepared, and take prompt action.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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