Calgary Stampede: The Legend
Count to three. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. Then add one tenth of a second. Now imagine that a steer has been let out of a gate, a hazer is riding alongside to help keep it running straight and at the beginning of that count a cowboy on horseback has left the starting gate, caught up with the steer and wrestled it to the ground by the end of those 3.1 seconds. If you can imagine that then you can begin to imagine the excitement of the Rodeo, just one part of the Calgary Stampede.
The Rodeo is first regular season professional rodeo with over a million dollars in prize money. And Lee Graves, the Calgary cowboy with that 3.1 second Stampede steer wrestling record walked away with the $50,000 top prize for his efforts.
Besides the steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback riding and tie-down roping for men there is barrel racing. In the age-is-no-factor area, a women's event was won in 2005 by a 58 year old competitor. Fun to watch events include wild cow milking, wild pony racing and other events for the youngsters.
Chuck Wagon Bonanza
Maybe you're wondering where all that money comes from? Would you believe that the canvas covers on the back of the wagons are sold at auction to advertisers whose messages are displayed on the wagons during the Stampede? And the top bid, for one wagon canvas in 2005 was $100,000. A total of over $2,000,000 was bid at the 2005 auction.
Now that you know about the money you're probably thinking that these races had better be good. Well, if they weren't the bids would never go that high. So, let me tell you how the race works. Each wagon has a driver and four other cowboys who are the "outriders." The wagon starts facing the opposite direction in which it will race. At the sound of the horn, one of the outriders (while holding onto the reins of his horse) must throw a stove into the back of the wagon.
Two other outriders have to throw tent poles that are both fastened to the same canvas tarp into the back of the wagon. And remember, the wagon is now moving away from them. I got a chance to try this myself and it's not easy. If you're not perfectly coordinated with the guy on the other pole, they're not going into the back of that wagon. And, you have to throw them hard since the wagon is leaving. And, of course, you're holding your horse with your other hand. The advice given to me was simple - try to hit the driver in the back! And when I asked, the answer was yes, it has happened.
Oh yeah, there's another outrider - he's helping the driver get the team around the barrels and heading in the right direction. And there are penalties for knocking down the barrels, not getting the stove or poles into the wagon, interfering with other drivers and other numerous infractions.
Now, all the driver has to do is get those four thoroughbreds to pull the wagon around the track faster than anyone else and hope he doesn't have too many penalty points.
But don't forget the outriders. After they've completed their tasks they have to then jump on their horses and try to catch up. Even if a chuckwagon is first across the finish line it doesn't mean a thing if his outriders are not within 125 feet of the wagon when it crosses the line.
What you get is a fast and furious start with lots of action and a fast and furious finish with lots of action.
The chucks run 4 in a heat with 9 heats each evening. And when you see 4 wagons abreast and 16 outriders battling it out at the finish line it is an unbelievably exciting spectacle.
More Stampede Events
When you visit, be sure and get your tickets early - it's too good to miss!
They call it "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." I don't how much of that is just hype, but I can tell you that it is a lot more fun than any other event of its kind that I've been to. The Stampede is ten long days of good clean fun. And I'm talking about fun for everyone. There are lots of special events and special days. There is a Family Day featuring discount tickets for everyone, a free breakfast and free stage shows. A free senior day, including free coffee and donuts, free rides, free bingo and lots of discounts. Kid's Day allows free admission for kids under 12 and their parents. And, of course, free breakfasts. No surprise that they set a new attendance record this year of over 1.2 million visitors.
For entertainment there are several bandstands with all kinds of music. Everything from big name bands to lesser known local bands to Karaoke. Even marching bands and a Tiny Tunes singing contest for the little guys - age 3 and up. And, a talent search, ages 13 and up.
Part of the Stampede has a "state fair" atmosphere with animal barns, a beef expo, a livestock auctioneer championship competition, cutting horse show, a heavy horse pull youth livestock shows, arts and crafts, a Western Art Gallery, a kitchen theatre with celebrity chefs, and more.
I didn't even know about some of these events till after I left. There was so much to do that I couldn't have seen it all in the few days I was there. I think it would have been fun to watch the World Championship Blacksmiths' Competition and maybe the Antique Tractor Pull. And, I'd certainly like to spend more time at the Indian Village and some of the commercial exhibits. Maybe I'll get back next year and see the stuff I missed this year. Then I'll have to go the next year to see what I missed . . . well, maybe I better just move to Calgary.
Calgary is a wonderful walking city. I had a rental car which I left parked for three days at my hotel. I was staying at the really nice Days Inn South, within walking distance of the Stampede grounds and within walking distance of downtown Calgary. Plus, the light rail system was great and I could have easily hopped on the train had I tired of walking. One more thing about the Days Inn - they had a great little waffle machine with pre-measured mix that allowed you to make your own perfectly delicious waffles in about 3 minutes. What a great way to start the day!
Be sure and visit the Glenbow Museum and its excellent display which will tell you the importance of the Blackfoot people of Alberta as well as a new gallery featuring the Mavericks - the legendary and colorful personalities that shaped Alberta.
More about Calgary? The Calgary Opera, the Market Mall, the Calgary Zoo, Smithbilt Hats (Calgary's symbol of hospitality) and even Ranchman's Bar (think Mickey Gilley's place in the movie Urban Cowboy). Looks like I have to go back to Calgary outside of Stampede time and do another story on the rest of the city. Watch for it. Meanwhile, look for me at the Stampede in 2006 - I'll be wearing a white hat!
Before I wear out my welcome let me just mention that Calgary is very close to Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, Athabasca Glacier and the Rockies. And just a short drive from a great western horse riding experience at the Bar C Ranch near by. What are you waiting for?
If You Go
A former college professor, Robert Painter is author of one of the highest ranked Southwestern Art and Travel books on Amazon.com. He has traveled extensively throughout Indian country attending virtually every major American Indian art show in the Western U.S. and visiting Native American communities throughout the country. Robert has recently completed cruises on the Crown Odyssey, the Silver Cloud, the Silver Shadow, the Norwegian Dream, Seven Seas Navigator and the Windjammer S/V Mandalay. He has traveled to Italy, Greece, Barbados, Russia, Denmark and more countries than we have room to list.