Yippee Yi Yay! The Calgary Stampede

Stampede Sign

Stampede Sign

For all of the images of the Wild West as being in Montana and Texas, the biggest cowboy show and rodeo isn’t even in the U.S. It’s in Calgary, Canada, and it’s the Calgary Stampede.

Barrel racer

Barrel racer

For ten days in July, thousands of cowboys, rodeo riders, ranchers, buckle bunnies, and Wild West wannabees fill this western Canadian city with Stetson hats and Tony Lama boots, stock trailers and roping saddles. Anything equine and most things ranching are on display. For those who live the life, it’s a gathering of colleagues, a chance to see what others are doing and what’s new in the industry.

Canada's First People

Canada's First People

Canada’s First People, the Native Tribes, display traditional living, food, and dancing. A midway supplies carnival food and rides. A surprisingly sophisticated marketplace showcases excellent western-themed art and products.

In the livestock barns, bulls the size of heavy-duty pick-ups stare at the passing crowds, unaware that they’re being sized up as potential patriarchs for a new bloodline of cattle. The World Champion Blacksmith Competition challenges farriers to demonstrate their horse-shoeing skills. Stock dogs herd sheep; sheep are judged to see which is best of breed.

Draft Horses

Draft Horses

Giant draft horses strain to drag pallets weighting up to three times their weight. At the other end of the equine scale, miniature donkeys charm spectators as they trot through an obstacle course or just stand in their paddocks looking cute.

The biggest events are the rodeo and the chuck wagon races. Even if the closest you ever come to the west is eating at a Roy Rogers, you have some idea about rodeo.

Bucking Bronco

Bucking Bronco

Bucking broncos, roping cattle – that sort of thing. The Calgary Rodeo is the Olympics of the sport. Bareback and saddle bucking-bronco rides, barrel racing, steer wrestling (jumping from a horse onto a steer and wrestling it to the ground by the horns), and calf roping (lasso a running calf, then dismount, flip the calf onto its side and tie three legs together). Aside from barrel racing, they all stem from working cowboy duties.

But that’s nothing compared to bull riding. It’s the highlight of the rodeo, the last event each day. This is an activity for the truly daring or perhaps truly deranged. Who in his right mind will get onto 1,700 pounds of coiled muscle which has the sole desire to buck you high, wide, and flat and then possibly tap dance on your fallen body? The riders get points for staying on 8 seconds, but that “8-second ride” can seem like a lifetime.

Bull riding

Bull riding

(By the way, since being ridden is not part of a bovine’s DNA, bucking is a natural reaction. Bulls are not tied, prodded, or otherwise forced into bucking. The ‘rankest’ bulls – the biggest, nastiest buckers – are as much rodeo stars as the riders, with fan clubs and followings. They are worth a lot of money and are very pampered athletes. And when they retire – hey, they’re bulls. New job. Fun benefits.)

Chuck wagon race

Chuck wagon race

Almost as popular as the rodeo are the Chuckwagon Races. This event pays homage to the cattle drives and the ‘Cookies” who kept the cowboys fed. It’s an elimination competition with heats spread out over ten days. Four-horse teams race chuckwagons around a half-mile track, trailed by outriders assigned to each wagon. The action and speed make the Kentucky Derby look like a Sunday hack through Central Park.

The Centennial of the Stampede is July 6-15, 2012. Tickets go on sale Oct. 1. That’s when the hotel/ticket/travel packages will start to show up. For the best information, keep tabs at the Calgary Stampede website.

Photos ©Fran Severn All Rights Reserved

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