When the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo opens for its 23-day run later this week, you will see changes in the rodeo arena, changes designed to keep the horrible events of last year from ever happening again.
Two horses died in accidents witnessed by thousands in the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.
In one incident, a Sunday night saddle bronc event, a gelding named Treasure of Patience, bucking wildly and trying to remove its rider, slammed into the rodeo arena's concrete perimeter wall. While a horrified audience watched, the horse dropped to the dirt immediately with a fatal spinal cord injury.
After several cowboys rushed to help, Treasure of Patience had to be removed from the arena with the help of a tractor.
“Obviously, you can imagine when we had two horses last year that actually ran into the concrete wall, that concrete wall does not give,” Fort Worth Stock Show President Brad Barnes said of the wall that has remained mostly unchanged since it was built in 1936.
So, in the last year, Stock Show and Rodeo officials conferred with veterinary experts at Texas A&M, companies that create padding used in gymnastics, and with NASCAR safety experts at the Texas Motor Speedway.
The result was a new perimeter fence that separates animals and humans from the original concrete wall. The fence has a padding system designed to disperse and soften a direct collision.
“Now, we're 122 years old," Barnes said. "We can always do better. Will this system work? I don't know. We're going to have to wait and see. But it's a start. That's all I can tell you. It's a step in the right direction.”
It's a direction the rodeo will continue to pursue when the events normally held in the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum move to the new Dickies Arena in 2020. The 14,000-seat venue, with construction now about 30 percent complete, will have approximately the same size rodeo arena floor, with the same updated safety measures in mind.
“So we have time to get through this stock show, see how that new wall operates and how it holds up with these animals and with patrons, and then we can make those adjustments to the arena here,” said Matt Homan with Dickies Arena.
“Our goal here, ladies and gentlemen, is to ensure that injuries to cowboys, cowgirls and our rodeo livestock is at an absolute minimum,” Stock Show and Rodeo spokesman Matt Brockman said.
That's a goal the Stock Show and Rodeo will begin chasing again when the three-week runs begins Friday.