Cowboys waiting in the chutes for the bucking events at the Calgary Stampede will have some company this year.

A professor at the veterinary school at the University of Calgary will be alongside to measure the stress in the animals.

Ed Pajor will use infrared thermography to measure the heat of the animal's eyes with the theory that heat equates with stress.

Pajor says novice animals tend to show more stress than veterans.

"Is it true that the temperature of the animal eye should be related to their fear response?" he asked. "Is it actually higher in novice animals compared to more experienced animals? If that's true, then what we have is we have a tool with infrared thermography that allows us to actually get a sense of the stress the animal might be experiencing in a non-invasive manner."

Pajor says the infrared technology is less invasive than taking a blood test.

He says it's impossible to tell if an animal is just getting excited to perform or whether it's experiencing a dangerous level of stress at this point, but the study could eventually help the animal's handlers.

"Perhaps there's a way of managing the animal better beforehand or managing the animal after the event that will kind of decrease that as quickly as possible," he said. "But we won't know that until we have some way of actually evaluating and measuring what's actually happening."

New chutes also installed

The rodeo will also see new chutes this year at Stampede time which are designed to increase animal and cowboy safety.

The Stampede’s existing chute system, installed over 30 years ago, was recently replaced with a new advanced system that employs modern technologies and animal-handling techniques.

"It was time to replace the Stampede’s old bucking chutes and technology has advanced to a point where we are able to provide our cowboys and animals with the finest equipment out there," said Keith Marrington, rodeo and chuckwagon director, in a release.

Features of the new rodeo chutes include:

  • Four-inch spacing between gate bars to reduce the risk of getting legs and hooves through the bars and stuck in the gates.
  • Customized six feet six inches tall gates expected to reduce the risk of horses and bulls going over the top of the gates.
  • Bucking chute safety pads behind the on-the-roll gates to offer enhanced safety for the cowboys in the chute.