Joey Bell Jr. takes down a steer during competition at the Calgary Stampede rodeo in 2009. The animal later had to be euthanized. ((CBC))

The Calgary Stampede has changed a steer-wrestling rule to make the event less risky for animals at this year's rodeo.

Steer wrestling is a rodeo event in which a horse-riding cowboy catches up to a steer and then drops from the horse to wrestle the steer onto its back by grabbing its horns and twisting its neck. An official time is taken once all four legs of the steer are off the ground.

The event has been criticized as cruel as it can break an animal's neck.

If a steer falls with its legs under it or pointing away from the cowboy, a judge will now automatically end the run, Stampede officials announced Wednesday. The cowboy will be given a "no time."

The Stampede is the first rodeo in North America to implement the rule, which came after a meeting with the Calgary Humane Society and the Alberta SPCA.

"We are always looking for new opportunities to enhance how we care for our animals and after reviewing last year's incident, we felt this rule change eliminates an unnecessary risk," said Dr. David Chalack, Stampede president.

A steer had to be put down after it suffered a spinal injury in last year's competition. Three chuckwagon horses also died at the 2009 Stampede.

This year's annual Stampede runs July 9 to 18.

Peace officers from the Calgary Humane Society attend the Stampede every day to ensure proper animal treatment, added Chalack.