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Dealing with Possible
Career-Ending Injuries

by Donna Irvin
Dr. Douglas Langer
Making the best of a bad situation. With my
shoulder taped down and in the pouring
rain, "Running the Plan" resulted in my biggest
rodeo win of the season on
Ropenator at the North Central Rodeo.

I could no longer raise my right arm higher than level, so after the 2006 Great Lakes Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals I decided to go ahead with what I thought would be a routine surgery. The prognosis was for a six to eight week recovery with the goal of being ready for the spring run and the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo. Sometimes the best laid plans do not always work. Almost a year later after two surgeries, a shoulder manipulation, 122 physical therapy sessions and five visits to the pain clinic, I am finally close to a full recovery!

While undergoing physical therapy and in between surgeries, I continued to compete on Ropenator. It was painful and tough and because of Ropenator, we remained competitive. As my shoulder made its turnaround, the Great Lakes Pro Rodeo season was just gearing up. Ropenator and I were off to a great start having won three rodeos and placing well at the other five. We were sitting in the top three in both the WPRA and PWBR. After winning both goes and the average at our eighth rodeo, on the way out of the alleyway, Ropenator started to limp. By the time we got back to the trailer, his right front leg was swelling. I immediately treated him with cold therapy and an anti–inflammatory.

Dr. Douglas Langer
Do research to find the best
professionals for your team.
Physical Therapist, Dan Bryan
put together a program
designed for our sport. Here I
am balancing and simulating
my riding position while working
on shoulder mobility.

The next day he was very swollen and painful from the knee down on his right front. Right away we made a trip to the local veterinarian. The x-rays were negative. The vet suggested injecting his knee and taking 30 days off. When he put the needle in Ropenator’s knee, the fluid was cloudy and indicative of a possible joint infection (I had him injected about 30 days prior to this). The vet went ahead and injected the knee and told me to watch him over the next three days. If there was in infection, his leg would get worse. I felt very uncomfortable waiting on the possibility of a joint infection, so I consulted with two other vets. I was correct to be concerned, so we took the four hour drive to the Wisconsin Equine Hospital where they are equipped with digital x-ray, ultra sound, an MRI unit and vets that specialize. Also, Dr. Langer was kind enough to consult with me after hours. I felt confident that we would get the answers and treatments that we needed.

Dr. Langer’s diagnoses included a possible joint infection in the knee, a possible stress fracture (it can take 30 days for it to show) and two tares in his suspensory. Ropenator received a knee joint lavage (flushing) and an intensive regiment of antibiotics, 30 days of cold therapy utilizing a Game Ready unit, an anti-inflammatory and stall rest with limited turn out. The goal was to take care of the possible infection first then come back in 30 days and check again for a stress fracture and take another look at the suspensory. We were then looking at a six to eight month lay off assuming no joint infection.

Donna Irvin with shoulder taped down
Do research to find good veterinarians backed
up with the best technology.
Above, Dr. Douglas Langer uses an ultrasound
to pinpoint the lateral suspensory tears and
the existence of free gas (a sign of joint
infection) in Ropenator's knee.

After 30 days, Ropenator showed improvement. His suspensory was healing nicely and his pain level was down. The second round of x-rays confirmed a stress fracture and the start of arthritis in his knee. He is currently receiving Adequan, daily applications of Surpass and cold therapy. I have been fortunate to have the resource of a Game Ready Unit that combines cold and pressure to accelerate healing and minimize pain. It has been extremely helpful in Ropenator’s recovery. Dr. Langer was especially pleased with the healing progress of the suspensory. At this time, we are hopeful that Ropenator will make a full recovery with six to eight months off. He is scheduled for a 60-day check up the first of October.

It has been a challenging year working with injuries. And I have learned some very valuable lessons along the way. It is my hope that sharing these experiences will help others dealing with similar challenges.

Here is a recap of what I’ve learned:

  • Listen to your instincts; do not quit until you are comfortable with your prognosis and the prescribed treatments.
  • It takes a team of good health care professionals that understand the physical demands of our sport for both yourself and your equine partner.
  • Do research to find the best professionals backed up with the latest technology.
  • Recovery can be a long road. Stay committed and optimistic, even when things take a turn for the worse.

I have been told that “you have to rest your body to rest your mind and you have to rest your mind in order to heal.” Both Ropenator and I are experiencing that lesson. I have finally parked the truck and trailer, caught my breath and am close to 100%! These days, Ropenator is a little crabby and antsy but is learning to enjoy the confines of his paddock too! I believe that despite our challenges we will be stronger and better for the new season ahead.