Unleash your inner cowboy and buckle up! I recently joined the more than 1 million visitors at the self-proclaimed ‘greatest outdoor show on earth’. The Calgary Stampede is two mad weeks of the world’s largest rodeos, parades, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, chuck wagon racing and First Nations exhibitions. It’s Fieldays on steroids!
The atmosphere is fantastic, fuelled each morning by pancakes with maple syrup, and you simply wouldn’t dream of stepping out without a cowboy hat! Resist all you like but before long you’ll be joining in the ever present catch-cry of a very elongated ‘Yahoooo!’
After some 88 years of refinement, the stampede organisation runs like a well-oiled machine. Never a dull moment, we marvelled at bare back riding, saddle bronc, tie-down steer roping, steer wrestling, bull riding and barrel racing – the only women’s event. Competition is fierce as participants focus on the finals day prize purse of $100,000. The rider is given a score and the horse or bull is awarded one too. Very unfortunate for the riders who get stubborn animals that stand still or don’t buck. Ideal for riders on “old hands” – when the time horn sounds, they stop bucking, remove their rider gently and trot calmly over to the exit gate and down the chute back to their pen.
We did see some animal rights protesters assembled outside the grounds. However, from my experience, the animals did look very sleek and healthy, and many thoroughly enjoy the limelight, with pricked ears and prancing step. The commentators do emphasise the care with which the animals are treated.
After dark at Stampede Park, the uniquely Albertan event of chuck wagon racing takes place. The ‘half-mile of hell’ that sees four chuck wagons and outriders hurtle around a racing track at around 60km an hour is a sight worth seeing!
Each day come to a spectacular end with major concerts. For my group, a huge stage was rolled into place and we were treated to a music and dance tour of Canada by hundreds of young dancers and musicians. A stunning light show illuminated artists who came flying in on overhead wires and rose up through trapdoors in the stage. Everything from tap to ballet and from pop songs to classical violin, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display– and this happens every night for 10 nights!
July really is a wonderful time to visit Calgary. Rodeo’s just don’t get any better than this.
– By Helen Tait