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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 for more information.