Summer time in July. The time when all things country and western converge on Calgary for the annual Stampede Festival. In 2009, I decided to see for myself what all the excitement was about.
Arriving in Calgary at Stampede time is a magical crazy experience. I met up with my friend in Calgary for dinner and one waitress made comment: “all the crazies suddenly appear at Stampede time, we don’t know where they come from but they just appear”. This means that the only people who dress up in country and western attire are those who visit. The whole city looks like a rodeo festival.
With your 2 day Stampede ticket in hand, gets you entry into the grounds to wander around the free exhibitions and shows. Inside the grounds it more of a fairground atmosphere. When it comes to food, don’t expect healthy options. Everything is fried and double fried. If it can be fried then it will be fried. There were numerous displays to visit in Stampede Alley which is similar to the arcade lane ways at the Royal Show back home with a country and western theme (think Tamworth Festival in New South Wales). Sideshows such as defense force displays, agriculture centre and a variety of acts can be found to entertain, amuse and delight the whole family.
A couple of the display shows I stopped by to watch were the heavy horses and wagons in the Saddledome (the building is shaped like a saddle). These were working horses trained to pull passenger wagons around the arena in time to music. Although the horses were big and clumsy, once they started the exhibition it looked graceful and well rehearsed.
The other show I saw was a fun one for the whole family. It was called Superdogs and must have been the most popular show in the Stampede because I had to come back later because the early ones were full. Once inside, it was easy to see why. Everyone loves cute animals. Not only were the dogs different shapes and sizes, but they also had their own attitudes. It was a funny, acrobatic and entertaining show to watch.
On the first afternoon, the Rodeo commences and you can watch events like bare back horse riding, steer wrestling, saddle broncos, bull riding, wild pony and barrel racing. There was even an Australian competing in the bucking bronco event this year. He did not win but at least managed to stay on board for a reasonable length of time.
With bull riding, although it may seem cruel it is captivating to watch the skill and concentration required to stay on top of this animal. Generally, the bull wins and is successful in knocking its rider to the ground. That year I remember only one rider lasting the full ride only to be bucked off at the last second. Then comes the steer and small cow rustling. A calf is released a few seconds before a rider on horseback. The rider lassos the calf, jumps down and ties the feet together. Whoever does this the fastest wins. Yes, they do release the calf from the ropes after.
On the second afternoon I watched the Chuck Wagon racing which consisted of teams of wagons and riders. These team would race around the barrels in a figure eight before racing around the track. The riders must follow within so many metres of their team wagon and cross the line together for a win. It was amusing to see some of the riders failed to mount the horses when the race began.
For us the spectators, the events at the Stampede are entertaining. However, for the competitors take them seriously and you can see the tenseness and determination. There is a lot of prize money to win on these events.
After the race was the Big Show which is a celebration of Canadian country and western music and culture. From acrobatics, baton twirlers, marching bands and traditional country dancing, it was a magical way to end a two-day adventure in the wild west land of the Calgary Stampede.
To experience the excitement of the Calgary Stampede is a once in a lifetime event. To be part of the carnival atmosphere if only for a couple of days was something I had to do at least once. Would I return to Calgary? yes because outside of the Stampede grounds the city is also beautiful. There is a lot more to see and do without the country and western carnival. I also have a great friend who lives there so I will be back one day soon.