Rodeo Livestock Lead The Good Life

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Local veterinarian Drew Justice, the man responsible for the health and well-being of the animals who will participate in August Doin's, says nobody should feel sorry for them.

"I think a lot of them lead a better life than non-rodeo stock," Payson's own Dr. J said. "They do compete, but only eight seconds at a time, and many times they're only competing 12 to 20 times a year.

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Local veterinarian Drew Justice inspects each and every rodeo animal. "I have to inspect every animal when they get to the arena, and inspect them before every performance," he said. "Before they leave, I sign my name on a sheet saying how many injuries occurred, what were the injuries, are they going to be recoverable, were they euthanized -- all those details."

"So they don't work very much during their lifetime. Maybe four or five minutes a year they actually compete. The rest of the time they're turned out on pasture and (are) happy-go-lucky."

Among the myths Justice says get perpetrated is that the flank straps are too tight.

"If you get them too tight they won't buck, period," Justice said. "You just want gentle pressure there.

"It doesn't squeeze on their kidneys; their kidneys are behind their ribs.

"It's not on their external genitalia; it's not on their testes or anything like that. It doesn't hurt them; it's like a tight belt."

Besides, all flank straps are fitted with quick-release buckles.

"When those flanks tighten up and the pickup men come around and pick the cowboy up, they reach down and you'll see them pull a strap and it immediately comes loose. That's a PRCA rule for the safety of the cowboys and animals both."

In fact, the PRCA is very proactive in protecting rodeo livestock, according to Justice.

"The PRCA requires a vet to be at every PRCA-sanctioned event," he said. "They've got pretty strict rules on the handling and care of livestock, and in their bylaws there are 60 different entries just dealing with animal welfare.

"It has to do with everything from spurs being dull, to flank straps being covered with cotton or neoprene so they don't bind or cut or chafe, to having a vet on call, to not allowing animals to be hauled more than 24 hours at a time without unloading and watering and feeding them. There's all sorts of different rules that are common sense things, but they've actually written them down so the stock contractors and everybody know what's expected of them."

And the PRCA strictly enforces its rules.

"If there are any infractions, (the stock contractors) are reported immediately and fined, and every time they're fined it doubles," Justice said. "There aren't many that are fined because that's their livelihood and they really take care of their animals."

One of the best stock contractors Justice has worked with is the Alamosa, Colo.-based Honeycutt Rodeo Company, the outfit that has provided the stock for Payson rodeos for years. Working with Honeycutt makes working the Payson rodeos a pleasure.

That's part of why Justice has been doing it since 1996. Another reason is that he's a rodeo fan.

"It's always an adventure," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. When you combine rough stock events and cowboys, there's been some amusing moments.

That's part of the reason I like doing it. It's fun and we've got a great group of people here within the rodeo community.

"It's great to work with the Honeycutts. I've worked with other stock contractors and it hasn't been a fun experience. The Honeycutts take tremendous care of their stock."

Of course, animals do get hurt on occasion, including the bull that suffered a broken leg at last year's August Doin's.

"The bull healed and he was sold (by the Honeycutts) to a neighbor in Colorado because he didn't heal totally straight, totally correctly," Justice said.

That was one of the worst accidents Justice has had to deal with.

"It's only happened twice here, once with a bull and once with a horse," he said. "Both of them were spiral fractures, a combination of the leg hitting the ground at exactly the right angle with the right twist on it."

And what Justice has experienced in Payson is not unique.

"They did a survey last year; they just picked 67 rodeos and there was 85,638 animal exposures, meaning that many rides or that many runs. Only 25 animals were injured -- that's .3 percent, so it's not very common."

For Justice, that's the bottom line.

"Injuries do occur," he said "-- just like in football, just like in basketball, just like in baseball. But the injury rate per exposure is very, very low, and that gives you an idea how we've tried to safeguard the sport."

About stock contractors

The stock contractor may be the most overlooked person in the production of a successful rodeo. The job duties of the stock contractor vary, from breeding livestock to loading animals for the haul to the next rodeo. The main task is ensuring that the four-legged athletes of professional rodeo are healthy, well-fed, properly cared for and fit to perform.

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