HOUSTON, TEXAS — Rodeo, which features bull riding, steer wrestling and bucking bronco rides, is considered one of the world's most dangerous sports. The bigger, better organized events, though, tend to have fewer casualties among humans and animals.
At the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the biggest event of its kind in the world, safety is a chief concern. During the three-week rodeo, both riders and animals can count on expert medical teams. The humans find care at this clinic inside the stadium.
The medical team includes several doctors as well as licensed medical therapists, massage therapists, athletic trainers and radiology technicians - all under the direction of Dr. Kelly Larkin.
"We cover all the bases of the medical care for the cowboys. e do preventative medicine beforehand, and then we are here with medical care down on the floor when they have injuries,” said Larkin.
The preventive care mostly consists of taping limbs and parts of the body that have suffered previous injury.
“A lot of times the cowboys know what works best for them and, historically, they have been taping their knee for a long time from a prior injury,” said Larkin.
Dr. Lesha Roberts said bruises and strains are the most common problems she sees.
“Mostly soft tissue injury. We have not seen a lot of fractures. We had a fracture Tuesday night of the thumb, but not anything real severe,” said Roberts.
Doctors say preventive measures and the use of protective apparel, like helmets, have reduced serious injuries, but they still are more common than in any other sport.
Roberts has ordered an X-ray for Bull rider Sean Coleman from South Dakota. He may have a fractured rib, but plans to compete for the prize money anyway.
“It's going to hurt, that's obvious, but they give $50,000 away, so you just have to fight through that,” said Coleman.
Animals also can suffer injuries at these events, but at a much lower rate than the cowboys who compete with them.
Rodeo Houston's chief veterinarian Dr. Gregg Knape said participating animals are highly prized.
“These are very valuable animals. They are worth thousands of dollars. And we take care of the animals, and the owners take good care of these animals, because they mean a lot to them. And their concern is for their health as much as their ability to perform,” said Knape.
Although some animal rights groups have complained about exploitation of rodeo animals, Knape said he thinks horses and bulls enjoy the competition.
“For eight seconds they are going to do their best to get that rider off. And then after the eight seconds, they are going to run right back to their pen and go right back to eating hay,” he said.
Knape said there are about 26,000 animals here at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and when it ends March 17, almost all of them will leave here as healthy as they were when they arrived.