I spent two of my weekends this February driving back to my
hometown to take part in the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
This year was different as I had the unique opportunity to shadow
with Dr. Ben Espy, the official Rodeo Veterinarian. He has the
responsibility of caring for not only the animal athletes that will
perform in the AT&T Center but also for over 25,000 animals
that are part of the livestock show. Additionally he oversees the
secure collection of urine samples from winning animals to ensure
that illegal drugs and hormones were not used. Luckily Dr. Espy has
two fourth year vet students from Texas A&M, Megan Kirkland and
Ashley Stricklin, who are a huge help to him. For the duration of
the rodeo the fourth years live on the grounds in the vet clinic,
often handling late night calls.
The attitude towards veterinarians at these events is often
tense - especially when dealing with livestock. Students (and their
parents) have spent considerable time and money on their animals in
anticipation of show day. These events have high stakes in the form
of scholarships and prize money. When these animals travel to the
shows they undergo high levels of stress which can make them more
susceptible to infectious diseases. Accidental trauma also occurs
during travel which can cause lameness - prohibiting an animal from
performing at its best. Treatment options are often limited because
most of the animals will be shipped to a harvesting plant
immediately after the show. Dr. Espy, Megan or Ashley would explain
to the owners what options were available, educating them about
various drugs and their withdrawal times. Owners could then make an
informed decision about what was best for their animals.
During the rodeo itself Dr. Espy is required to be on-site. He
is there to ensure that all animals that participate receive proper
and humane care and treatment.The Professional Rodeo Cowboys
Association (PRCA), who runs the San Antonio Rodeo, is deeply
committed to animal welfare. These animals will only perform well
if they are healthy - it doesn't make sense to abuse an animal you
want to perform. The PRCA has over 60 rules in place that cover
animal care, appropriate equipment, and electric prod use. The
majority of the time the rodeo goes smoothly thanks to the amazing
team of staff and volunteers. The Animal Care Team is there in case
an animal does injure itself and needs immediate attention. An
animal ambulance is readily available if necessary and can
transport the injured animal (even if the animal is a large bull!)
outside of the arena.
Being a veterinarian at a rodeo and livestock show is a diverse
job dealing with a variety of animals and people. Communication is
very important as you are dealing with different constraints due to
the nature of a livestock show - being honest and upfront are
qualities that are appreciated by clients. At the rodeo being
informed about the different events and being prepared for anything
help to make the show run smoothly. A big thanks goes out to Dr.
Espy for allowing me to tag along and to both Megan and Ashley for
giving me a glimpse into the life of a vet student.
If you have any questions regarding the treatment of
animals at PRCA rodeos please visit http://www.prorodeo.com/animal_welfare.aspx
for more information.