The Calgary Stampede is changing the rules of the chuckwagon races and two rodeo events to make them safer, officials announced Wednesday.
Rangeland Derby heats will now have two outriders per team instead of the current four, said the vice-president of programming for the Calgary Stampede, Paul Rosenberg.
The rule change brings the Stampede's Rangeland Derby in line with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) and the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA).
Veterinarians will also do a thorough check of all horses before they're allowed to compete, and horses will have mandatory rest days, officials said.
Track maintenance will be enhanced as well, with the dirt on the track broken up and smoothed out more frequently.
Six horses, including four used in chuckwagon racing, died at the Stampede last summer from various causes.
At the time, the Calgary Humane Society acknowledged the deaths were unpreventable but urged the Stampede to make changes so that the animals are less often put at risk of injury and death.
In the tie-down roping and steer wrestling events, judges will now have more power to call for a re-run or a no-time if an animal seems to have been hurt during competition.
If a calf is jerked off all four feet and its body touches the ground before the competitor reaches it, the cowboy will be disqualified from that go-round, officials said.
Competitors will also be required to catch a calf cleanly by the head or face disqualification under the new rules.
"These changes help insure that rodeo and chuckwagon racing at the Calgary Stampede remain as two of the most exciting sports in the world," Rosenberg said.
Keith Marrington, Calgary Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon manager, said the Rangeland Derby now falls in line with other pro-circuit events.
"Our infield certainly accommodates four outriders, but again we're aligning ourselves with the association," he said. "We don't want to do anything different than they were doing from a race-format perspective."
But outrider Ed Melville said this will leave younger competitors on the sidelines.
"You know, the top eight guys are gonna get used regardless, whether it's two or four. By having four outriders, it allows those other eight spots to be taken up by the new ... up-and-comers that are good, [but] they just need a chance."
Melville said that would have a big impact down the line when veteran outriders retire with no one to take their place.
The Calgary Stampede argues the younger riders have plenty of opportunity to ride in the dozens of other races throughout the year.