The Calgary Stampede and Exhibition is rich in tradition and it is also known for the cowboy atmosphere that takes over the city, everybody gets out the cowboy boots and Stetsons for the 10-11 days of good fun. This year (2006) it starts with the Calgary Stampede Parade on July 7th. Calgary's dedicated volunteers and community supporters present the world's largest western parade as the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" kick-off to the over 350,000 on-route spectators and a global television audience.
In 1912 the great Stampede was born from the vision of Guy Weadick. Guy was a famous working cowboy and vaudeville entertainer featured in the traveling wild-west shows that were popular world-wide in the early 1900s. He was a man with a dream of celebrating the romance of the old west. The Stampede we enjoy today has evolved from Guy's vision. He was successful because he understood that as much as things change, we need to believe in the way things were. Every year, the Stampede reminds us that Guy was right; fundamentally we believe in the same western values today as our grandparents did in 1912.
In the early 1920, the Exhibition part was added to the Stampede, giving western farmers and ranchers a showplace for their horses and cattle. This too was later expanded to take in all farm livestock, whether two-legged or four. This year, 2006, the agricultural portion of the Exhibition has been tagged "Ag-tivity Day in the City" to help celebrate Alberta agriculture. Cattle, canola, chicken and even egg producers will be on hand. You'll see beef on the hoof, enjoy some Alberta Beef and you can grab a "I Love Alberta Beef" bumper sticker. That should impress the folks back in Long Island, although perhaps you should exercise discretion in displaying in Texas cattle country!
Every year there are hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world who come just for the Stampeded and Exhibition. Among those visitors are a number of RV Caravans that wind their way north from the USA on the long drive to Alaska. Some of these caravans have over a hundred units of every shape and size and their tour is timed to arrive in Calgary the day before the Parade which is always on a Friday and stay over the weekend, leaving on their trek Monday morning.
A highlight of the show is of course the Rodeo. The Calgary Stampede's rodeo pays out some of the biggest prize money in the sport, always attracts the best riders and ropers from around the world and many of it's winners have gone on to win the National Finals Rodeo in the fall.
Like any sport, rodeo has its fair share of spills and thrills, talented athletes and unsung heroes. Besides the saddle and bareback riding events, the bull riding is always a big attraction. Ladies have barrel racing competitions. For comic relief (except for the contestants) there's a wild cow milking event. Every evening there are the chuckwagon races, followed by the Grandstand Show.
In case you are in the dark about rodeos, here is a little "Rodeo 101". There are two main categories of events, bucking and timed. Bucking is where most of the thrills, spills and crashes occur. Bucking events cover bareback and saddle bronc riding and bull riding. In all three events, cowboys hang on for dear life while trying to control the movements of their animal and themselves. Incidentally, the "spurs" the contestants were are nothing more than a smooth disc and have no effect on the animal. They wear them because the rider is judged on the smoothness of his ride and his spurring technique while he holds on to a saddle or rope with one hand. These account for half his points, the other half is awarded by how hard the horse or bull tried to buck him off. To complete the ride he must stay on for 8 seconds; that's a long time of the back of a bucking horse or bull.
Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling and tie-down roping are the timed events at rodeos. Steer wrestling and tie-down roping are both inspired by real work done everyday on the ranch. In steer wrestling, a hazed (slapped on the butt with a straw hat) steer is released from it's pen. When it reached the end of its head start, a breakaway cord automatically releases the barrier rope in front of the cowboy, allowing him to race after the steer on his horse. He eased down the right side of his horse, reaching for the steer. After he has grasped the horns, he leaves his horse (who's in a full gallop) and digs his heels into the ground to slow the animal. Using leverage and the momentum of the moving steer, the steer wrestler rolls the animal onto its side.
Being quick and accurate with a rope aren't the only requirements in Tie-down Roping (also called Calf Roping but they are big calves!). A successful roper must also be an experienced horseman and a fast sprinter. After roping (throwing a lasso, again at a full gallop – every rodeo event is done at a full gallop!) The tie-down, the cowboy quickly dismounts while his horse backs up just enough to keep tension on the rope, runs to the animal, lifts and lays it on its side and ties any three legs together. Once he completes his tie, he remounts his horse and allows slack in the lasso rope, the animal must remain tied for six seconds. It is important to note that contestants are fined for any unnecessary roughness.
For the final timed event, Barrel Racing, female contestants must circle three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. Rider or horse can move a barrel, but is assessed a five-second penalty if either knocks the barrel over. The fastest time wins in this extremely athletic event for both horse and rider.
The Chuckwagon Races were taken from the actual cattle drives, when the wagon would be loaded up, the tent taken down and the cook would drive his team up ahead of the drive to where the herd would be held overnight. Sometimes there would be two or three ranches driving together. The cooks would race each other to get the best spot to set up camp. The Chuckwagon Races at the Stampede are billed as "The Half Mile of Hell". Each chuckwagon has its driver, a team of four horses and four outriders (cowboys riding their horses.) That's four wagons, four drivers, 16 horses and sixteen outriders all vying for the same space next to the rail while racing at a full gallop around a half mile track. There's a very loud air horn blowing to start the race, there's an announcer going nuts over the PA system as he calls the race, the wagons and horses are thundering around the track and the crowd's on its feet at the finish screaming their heads off. Sound crazy? Yes. Exciting? You have to see it to believe it. There's nothing else like it. And in five minutes, the next race is off and running and it starts all over again!
There are people who travel thousands of miles every year to take in "The Greatest Show Outdoor Show on Earth". They'll book their rooms for next year before they leave for home this year. It's enthusiasts like these, from far and near, that continue to make the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition what it is.