As luck, coincidence, or fate would have it, my plans in Canada coincided perfectly with the Calgary Stampede (the world’s biggest rodeo for prize money) so there’s no way a wannabe-cowgirl could miss this opportunity!
My original plans were for two days in the city of Calgary and two days on the stampede grounds but once I arrived and saw the crowds of people in cowboy hats and boots and checked shirts and big shiny belt buckles I couldn’t resist and ended up spending all four days at the stampede.
The actual rodeo show is of course one of the main attractions at the Stampede. There’s a rodeo every day of the stampede, starting at 1pm and running for about four hours. There are two pool of competitors, each pool competes for several straight days and then some of the members of each pool qualify for championship Sunday.
Before the stampede my knowledge of rodeos came mostly from the Heartland TV series so I was excited to see the events in real life.
PS. It rained for all four days (unsurprising as the rain definitely follows me around the world!) so the below photo is the closest thing I have to a photo of the rodeo in the sun and the ground is still soaked!
One of the well known rodeo classics, bronc riding is really fun to watch. This is an event where the horses compete wearing saddles and the riders must stay on the horse for 8 seconds. If they manage this then they are scored out of 50 for the rider and out of 50 for the quality of the animal (eg. If the horse bucks harder you earn more points than a horse that bucks smaller). At my first rodeo I saw this category for both adults and juniors and as great as the adults were, those kids were so young and brave it was even more special to watch.
Bareback riding is similar to bronc riding in that both are horse events and the scoring works the same, but in bareback there is no saddle, just a strap that the cowboy must hold on to. In both bareback and bronc, the horses are bred specially for this purpose, to buck big and to buck hard! Before actually going to a rodeo I didn’t realize that this was the case, I had always thought they were just unbroken horses. But on the contrary they are trained to buck and the cowboy can ride bigger bucks out of them with their heels.
Tie Down Roping
This is one of the rodeo events that was shown in Heartland so I knew a surprising amount about this one already! A calf is released through a gate at the same time as a horse and rider, the rider must rope the calf around the neck and then dismount his horse, pull the calf to the ground and tie it’s legs together. The clock is stopped when the cowboy raises his hands to show he is finished. The fastest time wins.
This was one of my favourite events purely because of how quickly it could be done. On championship Sunday the winner of each event takes home $100,000 and I think the winning time for steer wrestling was around 4 seconds… Not a bad pay check for 4 seconds of work! The aim of this event is to tackle a steer (a castrated bull) to the ground (instead of roping as they do in tie down) and that’s pretty much it (although it certainly looks harder than it sounds…!)
Definitely one of my favourite events, barrel racing is the only rodeo event at the stampede that women can compete in. This event involves three barrels that each competitor must ride around in as tight a circle as possible before galloping over the finish line, the fastest time wins. As I mentioned, I went to the rodeo three times and was so happy to be able to attend Championship Sunday to see this year’s barrel racing champion, Mary Burger. At 67, Mary Burger was the oldest stampede competitor and an absolute crowd favourite. Not many riders get a standing ovation in the pouring rain! Lisa Lockhart is another popular barrel racer who I was lucky enough to cheer on all three times. Although she tipped a barrel in the final and only placed third she did walk away with the prestigious Guy Weadik (the founder of the stampede) award for the competitor who best embodied the stampede spirit. Power to the barrel racers!
Here’s where the rodeo gets real. This is another of the most famous events, most well known for its danger and the drama that accompanies that! This event is the same as bareback except the horse is replaced with 1,700lbs of angry bull. Here is where the helmets and face guards come into play as well as the ridiculously brave bull fighters who stay on the ground and protect the cowboy once his ride is over (whether he completed the 8 seconds or was dumped unceremoniously on the ground). The pure power and strength of these animals is what makes this event so fun to watch but, similarly to the horses, they are bred for this purpose and once the cowboy and straps have been removed watching the bulls trot calmly out of the arena is entertaining in itself.
So that’s a roundup of my first (and second and third) rodeo. More posts on the rest of the Stampede coming soon!