*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on June 18, 2016.
With temperatures nearing the triple-digit mark across the state, it’s no surprise that the weather is a topic of discussion this week at the Nebraska High School Finals Rodeo at the Adams County Fairgrounds.
The scorching heat poses unique challenges for not only the competitors, but also the sometimes-overlooked livestock used for the competition during this weekend’s events.
“You have to be aware that they (the livestock) can overheat just like a human athlete can,” said Pat Wahlmeier, a veterinarian on-site at the rodeo. “So plenty of water is vital.”
The combination of warm weather and potential over-exertion during the competition can put the animals at risk for cramping, heat exhaustion and even hypothermia.
The latter, which is considered the most serious, usually takes place when an animal’s body temperature reaches a certain level.
A horse’s body temperature tends to run around 99 to 100 degrees, while a calf’s body temperature ranges between 101 and 102 degrees under normal conditions. Just a four- to five-degree change can prove deadly for the livestock.
To prevent heat exhaustion and other heat-related complications, Wahlmeier described a number of techniques used to keep the animals cool and in good health.
“Water is the biggest thing,” he said. “A wet towel over the head even seems to make the animals feel better. There are electrolytes that would have your salt content in it. It comes in a package with vitamins and electrolytes and you put it in water. It’s kind of like a Gatorade.”
Livestock that get lethargic because of the high temperatures and long days can be a challenge for the youth competing.
“It will make a lot of kids miss. The horse will keep going because you’re making them go, but the steers won’t go and they’ll walk out of the box,” said Chase Miller, 16, of Anselmo-Merna High School. “If your horse is fast enough they’ll run right on by and you won’t be able to slow down fast enough.”
Aside from the animals, competitors and fans also have to be prepared to deal with elements and stay safe. Staying cool can be difficult for competitors, considering the gear required to compete — jeans, long sleeves and boots — can make it easier to become overheated.
“We really encourage everyone to stay hydrated and stay out of the sun if they can, as well as to wear sunscreen,” said Corrine Huthoefer, an on-site EMT. “But if we do have someone who hasn’t been following those rules we bring them in and cool them down, give them an ice pack and give them water.”
Competitors and fans, too, can prepare ahead of time to combat the high temperatures. Bottles of water, plenty of rest and shade before and after competitions help in combat heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are always a concern for people when spending long days in the sun.
“Heat exhaustion will progress into heat stroke, which is a true medical emergency,” said Mary Meyer, another on-site EMT. “You’ve got to take those breaks in the shade and know when you’ve had enough.”