How roping, riding and racing competitors stay healthy at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo

dfwnewsa | January 25, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

How roping, riding and racing competitors stay healthy at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo

A professional cowboy receives maintenance care from a Justin Sportsmedicine Team member Jan. 18 in the lower levels of Dickies Arena. The team offers medical care to rodeo competitors at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. (David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)
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Will Pollock, 23, grabs on tightly with his left hand to the 6-foot braided rein attached to the bronco’s halter — his feet planted firmly into the saddle’s stirrups.

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He takes a deep breath and waits patiently for the gate to swing open. In a matter of seconds, the horse will begin to buck and kick its back legs into the air as Pollock attempts to ride it. 

A professional saddle bronc rider since he was 18, Pollock doesn’t think about possible injuries he could sustain from being bucked off. Instead, he focuses on the physical training he’s done for months to prepare him for these moments. 

Staying in physical shape for rodeo competitions, including the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, is essential to a competitor’s performance and score, said Pollock. 

“I stay in the gym every day and keep as much whole foods in me as I can,” Pollock said. “All your stretches, mobility and cardio is a big deal. You’ll notice the difference if you haven’t done much cardio during the winter. It’ll dang sure get to you.”

He also focuses on weightlifting to keep up his strength in both arms. Although Pollock’s dominant hand is his right, he uses his left for competitions.

“It’s used for lifting, but a big part is the balance from it,” said Pollock. “I use my left hand to ride a regular horse, so it’s been… natural to use my left arm for my rein.” 

Other cowboys and cowgirls focus on core and strength training to stay in shape, said rodeo cowboy Clint Cannon in a Houston Chronicle article.

Still, staying fit before a competition isn’t the only thing that’s important. Athletes need to keep up their health after performances, especially when an injury occurs. 

Pollock recently injured his shoulder during a saddle bronc competition at Dickies Arena. He was bucked off and his shoulder popped out of its socket when he hit the ground. 

He had a similar injury in the same shoulder in April 2023. While in the practice pen, he got hung in a stirrup, which is when the foot gets wedged while the rider’s body weight is below the level of the stirrup. His arm was dragged up next to his head and his shoulder popped out. 

“The pain takes a second to kick in,” Pollock said. “When the adrenaline dies down, it gets to really hurting.” 

Pollock’s shoulder rolled back in place, but he still had to seek medical attention from Dr. Tandy Freeman, the orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the Justin Sportsmedicine Team. 

Dr. Tandy Freeman is the medical director of the Justin Sportsmedicine Team and an orthopedic surgeon based in Dallas. He began working with rodeo cowboys in 1994. (David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)

The Justin Sportsmedicine program was founded in 1981 by Dr. J. Pat Evans and athletic trainer Don Andrews after they saw a void in medical care for professional rodeo athletes. 

Staff on the Justin team travel to rodeos across the country and connect athletes to trauma surgeons, physical therapists, massage therapists, dentists and care providers in the competitor’s home city, even when a competition ends. 

The Justin team currently has six physicians based in North Texas who are providing care to athletes in the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. 

Injuries sustained by cowboys and cowgirls vary depending on the event, since competitions involve different risks. The most common injuries across all rodeo events include head trauma, concussions, injuries to the groin and shoulder displacements, said Freeman. 

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“It’s not a question of if you get injured; it’s when, and how bad it is,” he said. “In order to compete in rodeos, you can’t think about it.” 

What event is responsible for the greatest portion of rodeo-related injuries?

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Bull riding – 28-50%

Saddle bronc and bareback riding – 20-30%

Calf roping – 3-12%

Steer wrestling – 8%

Team roping – 1-4%

Barrel racing – 0-3%

(Source | National Library of Medicine)

Injuries can also be more deadly because rodeo athletes are dealing with large animals rather than competing against people similar in size and weight.

“The roughstock guys are competing against other athletes, animal athletes, that outweigh them tenfold,” Freeman previously told the Report. “Whereas in other sports, you’re competing against somebody that’s pretty close to your size. Well, here, you’ve got a 150-pound bull rider and a 1,500-pound bull.”

The Justin team doesn’t charge athletes for their care, but deciding how to handle injuries is a financial decision for many competitors. Unlike in many other sports, rodeo athletes are independent contractors who have to pay their own travel costs and entry fees to compete.

Not their first rodeo: Behind the scenes with the Justin Sportsmedicine Team

Rodeo athletes like Pollock are thankful they are able to receive care without worrying about the cost while they’re competing. 

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Pollock has been receiving orthopedic care from Dr. Freeman since he became a professional cowboy. Freeman has attended to several of Pollock’s injuries, including a facial fracture in the zygomatic arch — of which the cheekbone is a large component — several years ago. 

Following the recent injury, Freeman walked Pollock through magnetic resonance imaging of his shoulder to explain the extent of his injury and connect him with surgeons near his home in Stephenville. 

Saddle bronc rider Will Pollock, left, views magnetic resonance imaging of his shoulder alongside Dr. Tandy Freeman, medical director of the Justin Sportsmedicine Team, on Jan. 18. Pollock dislocated his shoulder during competition at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. The Report has blurred Pollock’s information on the MRI to protect his privacy. (David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)

In the coming weeks, Pollock will have surgery performed on his shoulder, as there is now a fluid buildup in the joints. 

“If I didn’t have (the Justin Sportsmedicine Team) I don’t know what I’d do,” he said. “I’ve talked to Tandy for every surgery, every bruise I’ve ever had. Sports medicine in general is always good to us at every rodeo yearlong. It’s the little stuff that makes things easy for us.” 

David Moreno is the health reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or @davidmreports on X, formerly known as Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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