Veterinarians available at all performances

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Cowboys aren't the only ones who get hurt when hooves start flying in the rodeo ring. Although it's rare, the horses and bulls they're riding also can get hurt.

That's why a veterinarian is always waiting nearby, ready to help out when needed.

"We're there for the welfare of the animals," said veterinarian Michael Gotchey. Gotchey and veterinarian Lee Myering, both from the Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, will be at each rodeo this summer, ready to act if an animal gets hurt.

That comes very infrequently, Gotchey said. Last year, one horse suffered from a pinched nerve, and every now and then an animal will fracture a bone. The animals simply don't injure themselves that often, he said, plus they are well taken care of.

"Despite what a lot of people think, these animals are worth a lot of money and they only work eight to 15 seconds a week," he said.

The rest of the time, they're out grazing.

But when an animal is injured, Gotchey has to work carefully.

One of the biggest challenges of being the rodeo vet is that the bulls and horses aren't often handled, Gotchey said. A vet simply can't walk up to a bull, put a halter on it and take its temperature.

Precautions, such as sedating the animal, are necessary to be sure people don't get injured and the animal doesn't hurt itself more, he said.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association requires that a veterinarian be on the premises during any PRCA-sanctioned rodeo. The PRCA voluntarily decided to enact this rule to make sure the animals receive proper treatment.

"They want to be an advocate for the animals," Gotchey said. "It's important to know that the vets are there for the animals' welfare, and to make sure there is no abuse."

After more than a decade of helping out at rodeos, the events end up being fun and social for Gotchey.

Gotchey has been a veterinarian for 20 years, and worked with a rodeo when he was young, cleaning stalls, driving trucks and moving equipment. Both he and Myering rope.

He encourages people who question the well-being of animals used in rodeos to consider where the horses and bulls might be if not for rodeo circuits.

Many of the animals are too rough to ride, which makes them excellent roughstock. But if the animals were not used for roughstock, they might be destined for the meat market.

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