Cowboy hats and CPR: Why human medicine ain't my rodeo

dvm360dvm360 September 2019
Volume 50
Issue 9

As a performance animal veterinarian, Ive learned that if you get thrown from a bull, you have to get up and get back onunless that bull decides to land on you. Then you have to roll around and scream in pain.

cowboy hats


Find out how cowboy hats are (not really) part of CPR protocol. Every year there's a rodeo in Lamesa, Texas. It's a fairly big deal, lasting four nights and featuring local talent as well as circuit cowboys and cowgirls. I went a few years when we first moved to Lamesa-even competed myself-but I don't go anymore.  

See, I love being a veterinarian and it's a great job for me. But every time I go to a rodeo, swarms of people pull me over and want to tell me a story about something wrong with their horse or how something I did to their horse 15 years ago didn't work. I guess I sound like an old bitter vet, but believe me when I say it can go too far. At the second-to-last rodeo we attended, my wife counted 26 people who approached us with horse questions. Still, that'd be okay-save for when I get called out of the stands to come have a look at an animal. 

The magical power of waving hats

This particular year, the announcer called out, “Dr. Brock to the area behind the bucking chutes, please.”

I ambled my way around the arena until I was met by an official with an anxious look on his face: “We have two things that desperately need your attention,” he told me. “First thing is that one of the bucking horses has a long laceration across its chest that needs to be sewn up. The second is that the last bull rider got stepped on pretty bad, and we need you to have a look at him-he's just rolling around over there and says he won't go to the hospital.”

I immediately told him I don't work on people. They told us over and over in vet school that we could work on any animal except a human, and I've stuck to that. But this official wouldn't take no for an answer and herded me over to the injured bull rider-a short guy with a big cowboy hat pulled down low, rolling around on the ground with his arms crossed in front of his stomach and a look of agony draped across his face. I'd seen the bull step on him and was amazed he'd gotten up and run off like he did. There was an ambulance parked not 100 feet away … and yet, these people call a vet.

I looked at him and immediately said, “This guy needs the ambulance, not a horse doctor. There's one parked just right over there; I'll go get ‘em.”

'We done some CPR on him, and he ain't gettin' no better ... '

“Wait, doc, Bubba is afraid of regular doctors-we done some CPR on him, and he ain't gettin' no better, but he still keeps hollering when we tell him we're gonna get the ambulance," said the official. "Can you convince him he needs more doctoring than we can give with our CPR, please?!”

Wait. This guy had ridden a 2,000-pound bull for seven or so seconds and had it step on his belly while showing no sign of fear or apprehension, but he's terrified of a doctor? Why?

I asked what kind of CPR they'd done, and I got a detailed explanation of how a person who gets stepped on by a bull gets the “wind” knocked out of him and just needs a little air. So the other bull riders circle around him and fan his face with their cowboy hats until he has his air back. 

He was right. Four bull riders were still performing “CPR” on Bubba, fanning their hats so fast and hard that it was blowing dust up all around Bubba's face.

In a stern, authoritative tone, I started in on them: “I am not a human doctor, and Bubba may have had some serious internal damage from that bull. I am going over to get the ambulance and if you like Bubba, you'll help me before he gets worse!”

The paramedics hustled over and left me free to consider the cut horse.

The magical power of male bravado

When I arrived at the pen holding the mare, things weren't much better than they were with the tribe of bull riders. She had a 20-inch slice across her chest with a huge flap of skin hanging down. 

But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that she wasn't even halter-broken and appeared to have smoke coming out of each nostril like a dragon waiting to devastate a village. There were cowboys circling the pen she was in.

“How are we even gonna catch her to sedate her, much less sew it up?” I said.

To that, one fella piped up: "No worries. I'll catch her for you-I do it all the time."

She laid both ears back and took off like a shot, straight at him.

The cowboy grabbed a halter and leapt over the fence. I watched in amazement as he jogged toward the mare with total confidence and patterned out the halter in his hands to slip onto her like he was approaching a 24-year-old kid horse. I couldn't see this turning out well. I was about to holler at him to just forget it and I would-then she struck. She laid both ears back and took off like a shot, straight at him. She bounced him all over that pen. Just about the time I thought she was done, she would bounce him around some more. Someone finally got a rope on her and got him off. Immediately, five men jumped over the fence and started waving their hats in front of his face-you know, CPR.

It's a good thing there were two paramedics in that ambulance.   

I got the mare sutured up after about four hours of work and several doses of sedation. And I decided I wasn't going to the rodeo anymore. 

Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.

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