A year ago this month, Joshua and Jonathan Torres were ranked 15 in the world and seemingly on the brink of qualifying for their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. They’d been rodeoing up in the Northwest, when Joshua missed the books for the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up. When they left the Lewiston (Idaho) Roundup and headed toward Texas, they stopped and spent the night at the fairgrounds in Tremonton, Utah.
“When we got up the next morning, Junior’s right hind hock was swelled up and he had a baby puncture on it,” said Joshua, the big brother and heading half of the team that was born and raised in Miami, Florida. “He wasn’t that lame on it, so I ran water on it and gave him some Bute and Dex to keep him comfortable. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. We were headed to Albuquerque (New Mexico), and I was planning on riding him there. We loaded up and kept driving.
“Within two or three days, Junior’s hock was a lot more swollen and had really heated up. By then, he was getting pretty sore. So we dropped him off at Josh Harvey’s (Outlaw Equine Hospital and Rehabilitation Center) in Decatur (Texas). Clay Smith let me pick up the dun horse he’s ridden at the NFR that he calls Jazz, and I rode him at four or five rodeos to finish out the year. Cory Kidd also let me ride his horse at (the rodeo in) Stephenville.”
According to Dr. Harvey, they got Junior there just in time.
“Junior had an infection in his hock joint, and Josh said if we hadn’t gotten him there when we did, the infection couldn’t have been controlled,” Joshua said. “Junior stayed there with Josh for a month of antibiotics and flushing the joint out, then rehab.”
Dr. Harvey’s take-away advice on what started as such a seemingly small medical situation?
“With very small punctures, people make the mistake of thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just a little scratch, he’ll be fine,’ whereas if it was a huge laceration it’d be obvious it was a medical emergency,’” Harvey said. “When bacteria get introduced through a very small portal like that, it’s embers to start with, then it bursts into flames.
“Immediate medical intervention is the key in such situations. The first thing I always ask is where the puncture wound is. If it’s right over or in close proximity to a joint, it’s automatically more serious. We never want to give horses antibiotics unnecessarily, but giving a horse a safe, broad-spectrum antibiotic doesn’t hurt in a situation like this. It’s also important to get it clean. A little bit of Betadine and alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide, if you have it, is good. If nothing else, pack it with Neosporin once you get it cleaned up, and wrap it.”
Joshua didn’t get to ride Junior again until the All American Finals Rodeo in Waco in October. After that, their next rodeo was Odessa (Texas) in January of this year. Why the additional three months on the sidelines?
“I took Junior to a jackpot in December, a kid whipped his horse and he jumped into Junior. When Junior tried to pull away from that other horse, he strained and tore the deep flexor tendon in his right hind leg—that same leg he had the infection in before,” Joshua said. “He was really sore in it right away, then he got better, so I rode him at Odessa. After that, he’d get a little gimpy every fourth or fifth steer. I thought maybe he just had some bruising. We didn’t know his deep flexor tendon was torn until February.”
Junior’s gotten to see Dr. Harvey every 21 days since February for an ultrasound and shockwave treatment. When Joshua and Jonathan are on the road, Joshua’s wife, She’rae, stays home in Stephenville just to take care of Junior.
“They built a special shoe for that right hind,” Joshua said. “As of July, he could get out of his stall and move around for five or 10 minutes at a walk and trot. That tendon is healed, so now it’s a matter of strengthening it. We’re bringing him back slow, so it’ll likely be closing in on 2020 before I run another live steer on him.”
The last rodeo where Junior was able to do his job was in the first round at San Antonio in February. Joshua has meanwhile tried 25-30 head horses, and has since ridden a 12-year-old, blaze-faced sorrel he calls X Man. Torres now also owns Rango, the 15-year-old sorrel horse that’s been in Drew Horner, Trevor Brazile and most recently Charly Crawford’s barns before Joshua’s. Sponsor-partner buddies of Joshua’s made both purchases possible.
Dr. Harvey says Junior’s prognosis for a full recovery is good.
“Of course rope horses need every leg, but I see a lot of head horses that hurt their front flexors facing, because there’s a lot of rotational torque,” he said. “Leaving the box loads the deep flexors in the hind end, but this was just a freak accident. Junior tore his tendon below the ankle. Supportive shoeing is helping take the load off of that deep flexor, and he’s had all kinds of therapies, including ice, swimming and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) therapy.
“Because he was lame on that same right hind leg, it would have been easy to make the assumption that it was related to that original infection. That’s where diagnostic blocks that isolate the problem are helpful. Junior blocked sound to the foot. Blocks and flex tests have become a lost art, but they’re really helpful in isolating the problem and diagnosing injuries.”
“It’s been a hard road this year, but God’s been really good to us,” Joshua said. “When Junior got hurt, I cried. I’ve never had that feeling before, especially as close as we were to making the Finals for the first time after being in the Top 15 all year. But it could have been so much worse. Josh said if I’d brought him in two days later, I’d have had to put Junior down. The biggest lesson I learned from all the tough times was that you always need to keep looking for more head horses. I need to have three or four good horses, so I have one I can win on at all times.”