CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The often unsung heroes of rodeo are getting a little extra TLC at Cheyenne Frontier Days from a certified veterinarian and veterinary students from Colorado State University.

On a recent Tuesday, veterinarian Luke Bass and three CSU veterinary students, Melanie Connor, Jennifer Garmon and Ella Arume, hung out in Barn 15 at Frontier Park to look after CFD's equine athletes.

Just after 11 a.m., Cheyenne Police Department Officer Nick Serkedakis came in with his horse partner, Two Bit. Serkedakis said Two Bit had been feeling some back pain after a long shift with the mounted police unit the previous weekend.

Sure enough, as Connor ran her hands along the horse's back, he tensed when she reached a point along his spine near the start of his hindquarters.

Bass got to work massaging the horse's muscles and wiggling Two Bit's hindquarters back and forth.

"We're kind of jiggling his backbone, kind of asking his spine to loosen up," Bass said.

Bass then moved his hands up and down quickly and vigorously to loosen the muscle near the spine.

Soon, the other veterinary students joined in on both sides of Two Bit's back and neck.

After a nice back rub, the students took Two Bit out of the barn and walked him back and forth down a long alley. There, Bass decided to try some acupuncture to help loosen Two Bit's muscles and increase blood flow.

Connor helped Bass place about a dozen pins along both sides of the horse's spine and in pressure points along his back.

Connor also instructed Serkedakis to give the horse 2 grams of an anti-inflammatory medicine called Bute each afternoon before his next shift at a night concert later in the week.

Bass said most people at CFD come into the barn looking for help with remedying ailments such as "lameness," which basically means a horse is limping. Lameness can have many causes, including back or muscle pain or an injury to the hoof or legs.

"For lameness, we can go over the whole horse and pick through each body part and figure out exactly where they're hurting, and then we can do different imaging techniques — so, like, radiographs, ultrasounds — and can localize where the pain is coming from even more," Connor said. "And then we make a plan of how to make them more comfortable and help them out so they can keep competing."

Owners also may come in looking for help in reducing the effects of long travel and a lot of competition, Bass said.

"A lot of people are just asking, 'We've been traveling a lot. The horse is sore. What do you think?'" he said.

"It's almost like a baseball player that goes across the country playing baseball and they sit in ice part of the day (to recover). These horses, some of them are wrapped in ice when they're finished competing.

"It's very similar to a high-level Olympic athlete, where they need that support after they compete."

The weather and climate also can play a factor in the horse's health, Bass said.

Some of the horses will go to rodeos in South Dakota, Idaho, Colorado and around Wyoming, so altitudes change, the weather changes, and horses can be exposed to other animals with certain ailments.

"It's like going to the airport (or) like summer camp, except all summer long," Bass said.

Connor and the others were quizzed by Bass throughout the morning and afternoon as he helped diagnose each horse and figure out possible remedies to their problems.

Just before the rodeo began, Taryn Boxleitner came by with two of her family's barrel horses, Jagger and Kazi.

Boxleitner and her mother travel all around the country throughout the year barrel racing in rodeos. But since they're based near Loveland, Colorado, CFD is basically a hometown affair, Boxleitner said.

"Cheyenne is one of my favorite rodeos," Boxleitner said.

Boxleitner was concerned that Kazi was a little "off" in her gait, meaning she didn't seem to be running without any problems.

And after flexing various joints to make sure the horse was perfectly sound, the vets determined Kazi would need injections into certain joints in her legs.

Because the sport requires horses to sink in, get low and perform quick changes in direction, barrel racing horses often need injections in joints such as their hocks to help prevent pain and lubricate the area. The injections contain a combination of steroids, antibiotics and a type of acid that helps lubricate the joints, Connor said.

"(Injections are especially common) with barrel horses when they have to get low and turn," she said.

This year is the second time the CSU equine team has been at the park to assist with competitors.

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Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com