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Steer suffers broken neck during top wrestling run

 March 17, 2006, 11:17PM

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A steer was euthanized Thursday night after its neck broke in the RodeoHouston steer wrestling competition.

Rodeo officials said such deaths happen every few years, and are rare but not unheard-of in the sport where cowboys violently twist the heads of steers weighing about 500 pounds to bring them to the ground.

"I was really surprised it happened," said Gregg Knape, the rodeo's veterinarian. "I've worked rodeos off and on for 30 years. ... That's the first steer I've seen with an injury like that." Shawn Greenfield of Lakeview, Ore., posted Thursday night's best time, 3.8 seconds, on the run that killed the steer.

"I knew that something wasn't right; that he was hurt. I just sat there and waited for someone to come help him and he was in good hands from there," Greenfield said before Friday night's competition, which he also won. "They give (the animals) good medical care just like they do for us." Knape said he recognized immediately that the injury was "devastating" and euthanized the steer within 15 minutes.

"It's a really unfortunate incident, but they're going to happen sometimes," said Knape, who has a practice in Alvin.

Still, the steer's death rattled some of the nearly 70,000 fans who turned out for the rodeo and pop singer Hilary Duff's performance.

"It was clear immediately that the steer was hurt or dead," said Pflugerville resident Victor Simonds, who attended the show with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. "They loaded him onto a pickup and the announcers never said anything."

Unlike the bucking bulls and broncs that are brought into town by stock contractors and used repeatedly in rodeos throughout the country, the cattle used in the steer wrestling competition are bought from local ranchers and used once before being sent to slaughter, said Leroy Shafer, the rodeo's chief operating officer.

The rodeo has been the target of protests this year from a group called Houston Helping Animals. The group, which plans to protest this final weekend's shows, contends the rodeo events are cruel to animals.