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Driver Rae Croteau Jr., right, in white, guides his team around the second barrel during chuckwagon racing action at the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Monday, July 12, 2010.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

New rules are coming to rodeo events and chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede following a disastrous year in which six horses died.

"The safety of all participants … both animal and humans is our number-one priority and always has been," programming vice-president Paul Rosenberg said in a release Wednesday.

"These changes help insure that rodeo and chuckwagon racing at the Calgary Stampede remain as two of the most exciting sports in the world."

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At last year's Stampede, two horses died of heart attacks, two were destroyed after suffering injuries and another broke its back from bucking too hard. Another died after experiencing health difficulties 40 minutes after a chuckwagon race had ended.

All horses will now be inspected by veterinarians when the animals arrive at the Stampede and before and after every race. There will also be a mandatory rest day after every four days of racing.

The number of outriders that accompany each chuckwagon as it thunders around a dirt track is being reduced to two from four. Several riders have been seriously injured over the years while participating in the sport.

The new format is already recognized by the World Professional Chuckwagon Association and the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association.

"We're confident the Stampede is making these important rule and format changes to make the Rangeland Derby even safer for our drivers, riders and horses," said Pat Powell of the world association.

The Stampede has also announced a rule change in calf-roping and steer wrestling events. A judge will now have the discretion of intervening if a calf or steer exhibits an "obvious injury" during competition.

The change is supported by the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.

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The chuckwagon was historically used for carrying food and cooking equipment. In the Rangeland Derby, outriders toss tent poles and an imitation stove into the back of the wagon. The driver must then execute a figure-eight around a barrel in the start area before bolting onto the track for one hectic lap.

The outriders follow on horseback and have to finish within 45 metres of their wagon if they don't want to incur time penalties.

A growing number of animal welfare organizations have taken the Stampede to task for what they say is cruelty masquerading as entertainment.

Last year, the protest spread to Britain. A group called League Against Cruel Sports called on Ottawa to end "the immense cruelty" inherent in rodeos and suggested to British travel agencies that they refuse to offer vacation packages to the Stampede.

More than 50 MPs signed a motion in the British House of Commons that asked the Canadian government to improve how animals were treated at the rodeo.

A spokesman for the Vancouver Humane Society said more than 50 chuckwagon horses have died since 1986.

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This year's Stampede runs July 8-17.

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