Dr. Gregg VeneKlasen has an unmatched, decades-long history in the rodeo business. The New Mexico native has served as doctor and friend to four-legged rodeo stars from both ends of the arena for many years, and is a trusted member of the rodeo family. Now 68 and working out of his renowned Timber Creek Veterinary Hospital in Canyon, Texas, VeneKlasen is the 2022 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Veterinarian of the Year.
Q: What year did you graduate from veterinary school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and what were your career ambitions as a young veterinarian?
A: When I finished school in 1982, I wanted to be a wildlife vet. I’d spent my summers with the New Mexico state veterinarian, and worked on ranches that ran cattle and sheep. I really enjoyed the wildlife part of it. Dr. Glenn Blodgett, who ran the 6666 Ranch for 40 years starting in 1982 (and just died in November 2022) hired me right out of school to be the veterinarian at the 3-Bar-D Ranch in Canadian, Texas. I was just a young kid, like a deer in the headlights. It was incredible. That’s where I started doing non-surgical embryo transfers. I started on cows, then went to horses.
Q: What and when was your first rodeo-related veterinary experience?
A: I worked five breeding seasons at the 3-Bar-D Ranch, then I met Brenda Michael (the daughter of Benny Binion; Brenda also died in 2022). Brenda was in the cutting world, but she’s the one who opened the rodeo world up to me and introduced me to Clint and Mindy Johnson (Clint’s a Hall of Fame saddle bronc rider, and his wife, Mindy, is Brenda’s daughter). I went to a lot of rodeos with Brenda, including the NFR, and she told me to “pay attention, because every event is different.” It was so much fun, and that’s when I started figuring out which legs are important to which horses in which events, and started working on a lot of timed-event horses.
A: Yes, we taped those horses together, and they lasted a long time. It all started when I met Speed because Viper had an abscess at the NFR, and the rest is history. Viper was the most amazing horse I’ve ever worked on, and Viper at 80-percent sound was better than any other head horse. I swear that horse scored himself, and knew exactly when to go. Bob was a little loco, but when you got him outside and into the big arenas, he could not be beat. Bob had a broken navicular bone and fractured extensor process on his left front, and a fractured bone in his hock in the right rear. We kept him going, and it was so much fun to be part of the team. Viper’s buried here at the clinic.
Q: You wear a gold buckle, and your office is a rodeo treasure trove.
A: Yes, I wear Speedy’s 1998 gold buckle. I’ve never taken it off since he gave it to me. His world champion header saddle is in my office. I have an NFR go-round buckle from Rich, Trevor (Brazile) gave me his first steer roping (National Finals Steer Roping) go-round buckle and Tee Woolman gave me his all-around buckle from Cheyenne. I have Tomas Garcilazo’s spurs, world champion bucking horse buckles from Frontier Rodeo and some really cool rodeo photos given to me by cowboys after I worked on their horses. Cody Ohl is another dear friend. My office looks like a disaster, but the things in it are amazing.
Q: For many years, it was all about timed-event horses for you. You just worked the 2022 NFR as the caretaker of all the bucking horses there. Talk about that transition.
A: Yes, I’m mostly into the bucking horses now—reproduction, soundness, injections and anything else they need. They are really and truly the most fun horses to work on, because there are no people involved. And I like to listen to horses. I watch them buck, and I walk through the barn and talk to them at night. They talk to me, too. It’s always been about the horses with me. Sixty-one of the bucking horses at the 2022 NFR have either been here at the clinic or their mothers have. A lot of them live here.
Q: You were first nominated for PRCA Veterinarian of the Year in 2010 by Trevor, Speed and Travis Tryan. What did that nomination mean to you coming from cowboys like them?
A: It meant a lot to me to be part of their team. They gave me a bronze for being a finalist, and that’s in my office, too. But I never thought about that award again after that. You don’t expect to win anything when you’re old. You just do what you do because you love it.
Q: What’s the #1 injury you see in team roping horses, and what’s your explanation for that?
A: There are a lot of suspensory problems now. Today’s horses aren’t quite as conformationally correct as they used to be.
Q: What’s your best advice to team ropers looking for the longest, healthiest possible careers for their horses?
A: Keep them in good shape, and don’t torture them with too many runs.
Q: Is there a backstory to your trademark Hawaiian shirts?
A: Brenda gave me my first Hawaiian shirt. I have 150 of them now, and have never bought one.
Q: How has being involved in rodeo changed the course of your career and life?
A: My life is the horses. Cutting horses. Timed-event horses. Bucking horses. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to be an equine vet. It’s my calling. I start my 41st year in 2023, and would like to go another 20. We’re doing some wicked-cool stuff here for horses, and my clients are like family. So many people work to retire. How sad. I feel so lucky to love what I’m doing.