CHEYENNE – Kneeling beside a horse, Katie Seabaugh uses a portable X-ray machine to make sure a needle slides perfectly inside the horse’s hock.
Seabaugh is a doctor of veterinary medicine specializing in equine sports medicine at Colorado State University. This is the third year the university has come to Cheyenne Frontier Days to offer veterinary care.
She said the team of veterinarians can provide services such as X-rays, ultrasounds, shockwave therapy and more. The team also can provide supportive care to the animal athletes – much like a human athlete might need – as well as handling emergency situations such as lacerations and colic.
As much as Seabaugh said she doesn’t want to be needed for injury or welfare issues, she is there to provide any service an animal might need. The university team brings a trailer full of medications and medical equipment so they can handle just about anything shy of surgery and advanced imaging.
She said CSU is at the rodeo to advocate for the horses and help them be the best athletes they can be.
In the arena, CFD lead veterinarian Heather Schneider closely monitors the livestock for any injuries – real or perceived.
“During the actual qualifying round, we are in the arena, and we watch every single animal go,” she said. “If there is any sort of perceived ailment or injury to them in the arena, we write down their number, as well as about when they went. While they are raking the ground, we run down and check on those animals and make sure they are all doing well and don’t require any medical attention.”
From that point, Schneider said, she works closely with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association boss and the stock owners to get the animals the best care they may need.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is a PRCA-sanctioned rodeo, and with that comes very strict animal-care guidelines, said Jessica Crowder, CFD animal care committee volunteer. In addition to CFD’s veterinary staff, she said there are also rodeo judges, volunteers and the stock owners looking out for each animal’s well-being.
“We understand and know that animal rights groups are passionate about animal welfare – we are, too, at Cheyenne Frontier Days,” Crowder said. “Everyone involved in this event is passionate about animal care and making sure the animals are treated appropriately. The precautions that we do have in place are to prevent injury, first of all, and then to treat injury whenever it does happen.”
There are more than 60 PRCA rules and guidelines about animal welfare at rodeos. Some of those include making sure a veterinarian is onsite at all times, making sure spurs are dull, that there are protective coverings for steer horns and more.
If a cowboy or cowgirl is found to be overly rough with an animal – either in or out of the arena – they may be fined and disqualified from their event, according to the PRCA.
“We are very dedicated to animal care. These animals are very important to not only the guests, but also the volunteers, stock contractors, cowboys and cowgirls,” Crowder said. “Cowboys and cowgirls often have a bond with the animals that they work with. They’re the main part of the celebration here.”
More than 2,500 animals come through Frontier Park during Frontier Days, Crowder said, and all of those animals must have a clean bill of health before entering the arena.
“So animals that come into the park – and all the cowboys and cowgirls adhere to this – do have to pass or bring a health certificate with them, and those are veterinarian-approved health certificates,” she said.
In addition to having a clean bill of health, animals are also checked by veterinarians before the event and afterward, if there are any perceived injuries in the arena.
Care varies between animals in the roughstock and timed events, but “for the last week, we’ve been working closely with the timed events stock contractor to make sure all the animals are healthy and fit to perform in the qualifying rounds,” Schneider said.
During slack, Schneider looked at about 150 to 200 animals, checking them for any injuries. There have been few to none, she said.
The rate of animal injuries at CFD is extremely low, Crowder said, at only two-tenths of 1%. In most of those injuries, she said the animals can be successfully rehabilitated.
For the roughstock, the animals used in events such as bronc riding and bull riding, people may perceive their handling to be harsh, but Crowder said it isn’t harmful to them at all.
“Roughstock animals are bred to do the job that you see them doing in the arena,” she said. “It is what they do.”
The roughstock are only used twice during their duration at Frontier Days, she said, which, if they are ridden the full eight seconds each time, amounts to a 16-second work week.
Schneider recalled a rough stockhorse, Top Hat, which has made the trip many times to CFD through the years. While many of the roughstock animals appear to be wild, they aren’t. Top Hat will pick up her feet and let people trim her hooves.
The sport of rodeo wouldn’t be here without the animals, Schneider said, so what’s best for the animals really matters to everyone.
“The reason they do what they do is they love to do it,” she said. “They were born to buck.”