Risk Blossoming has a bucket list of events we want to attend, and the Calgary stampede was on that list. Last November, we put it on our 2019 schedule. In January, we started buying tickets to select events. After months of planning, it all came together for three magical days this July. The stampede bills itself as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. They did not disappoint!!
Party of Four
We arrived at the Bow River’s Edge RV Resort in Cochrane, British Columbia on Wednesday afternoon. Early Thursday afternoon, we picked up our daughters, Tara and Brandi, at the Calgary Airport and the show was on. They flew from Seattle to join us in a first-ever event: four people in BAM for three nights. We have always had a saying that “BAM can host cocktails for six, dinner for four, but sleeps just two.”
“Cocktails for six, dinner for four, sleep two.”
For three nights, BAM did sleep four, and we all managed to stay out of each other’s way inside our little 350-square-foot living space. It helped that we were at the stampede day and night during their visit. After railing, last week, on the train’s horns at Lake Louise, I felt really bad each night when we returned after midnight to a very quiet RV resort. To lock Willy, you push the lock button and get a horn report to confirm the action.
The Stampede was started in 1912, and offered the richest purse in rodeo to entice American cowboys to come north. It was a one-year event, interrupted by WW1. In 1919, after the conclusion of the war, it re-started as the Victory Stampede, a celebration exposition that was more that just a rodeo. It showcased an exhibition of Charles M. Russell’s greatest paintings. This year’s 100-year anniversary Stampede included another Russell
Exhibition, billed as the greatest collection of his masterpieces ever assembled.
Nothing says the Calgary Stampede like the Chuckwagon Races. So, the Rangeland Derby and Grandstand Show was the first event when we headed in to Calgary for Thursday afternoon.
I was amazed that Calgary has a much larger central core of mid- and high-rise living, shopping, and business workspace than I expected for a prairie town. Traffic was not congested and parking ($25) was expensive but less than a block from the entrance.
Once inside, we went straight to a western wear store just off the midway carnival. A white cowboy hat with a red band is the official hat of the Calgary Stampede as well as the City of Calgary. The city presents them to visiting dignitaries year round. Tara went with the traditional white while Brandi went black. The smell of corn dogs, fried pickles, BBQ, poutine, and kettle corn was gastronomic as we worked our way caddy-corner, through the midway to the grandstands.
The Chuckwagon Races
I had no idea that Chuckwagon Racing was an actual money sport that has its own circuit. I thought it was just a fun western show prior to the evening’s musical entertainment. Instead of the exhibition I was expecting, there were nine races, each with four wagons. Cumulative times were added each day leading up to a final race on championship Sunday.
We watched in awe and wonderment as the first race rounded the track. The start is organized chaos that seems to work. All four wagons are stationary and pointed away from the oval track. At the horn, the wagon’s teammate and chase rider has to lift and place a “stove” into the wagon before the driver can take off. The stove must remain in the wagon the entire race. Then, in very tight turns for a four-horse wagon team, each driver commands his horses in a figure-eight around his two-barrel course. The wagons actually get whipped sideways around the barrels by the power of the horses. The reins are pulled mightily on one side or the other to get the team of horses to turn so tightly.
And the Race Is On
Sitting in the grandstands, you see a mass of activity: four wagons, four drivers, and their 16 horses along with four chase horses and their riders. It is impossible to grasp who is starting faster until one of the four teams emerges onto the track with the lead, accompanied by loud cheering and screaming in the stands. The early leader does not always win, but it is clearly an advantageous place to be.
The chase rider can’t jump on his horse until his wagon has cleared the first barrel. After that, they ride outside and behind the wagons. The speed of the wagons was way faster than I ever imagined. The chase riders are literally jockeys on thoroughbreds going full speed chasing the wagons. The track goes around and behind the infield rodeo grandstands. During this portion of the race, you watch on jumbo screens, which present a great closeup of the drivers and their control of four sets of long leather reins.
The cheering ratchets up as the wagons emerge on the final turn and head down the straightaway. It is almost always a two-team race at this point. The drivers are pushing the horses by raising their arms high and then whipping down on the reins. They brace their legs against the front of the buckboard to remain seated on a wooden chuckwagon bench. It’s a powerful display of teamwork between a man and four horses pulling a chuckwagon.
The next new event and sport this evening was a bareback relay race. There were four teams, and it went like this: a team was one rider and three horses. Bareback is the keyword here. It starts with the riders on the ground. They jump onto the first horse and take off, racing all the way around the track. At the start/finish line, they bring the horse from full speed to a quick stop, jump down to the ground and then up and onto the next horse and take off. In horse racing, jockeys ride using stirrups and rarely touch the saddle. In bareback racing, the riders are hunkered down when they ride, using their legs for what little grip there is. The event was dominated by talented indigenous athletes, several of whom rode bare-chested.
Somewhere during all this activity, the Budweiser Clydesdales were paraded by to keep everyone drinking $8 cans of their product. And that price was for the regular 12-ouncers, not the big boys.
The Grandstand Show
The races truly fired up the crowd and there was a real buzz in the stands. It was now 10 pm and getting dark. The evening stage was pulled down the track by a massive green tractor. Fireworks and about 50 people dressed up as tap-dancing cows started the show.
In the next three days, over in the Saddledome, The Zac Brown Band, Jennifer Nettles/Sugarland, and Tim McGraw were playing on consecutive nights. Here, the Grandstand Show is an all-local and all-Canadian musical. There was something to look at in every direction, every minute of this fast-paced, ringmaster-themed show. This was an entertainment extravaganza, completely different from the adrenaline-charged races. Our first day at the Calgary stampede was in the books!
We learned quickly that the correct Calgary stampede terminology was YAHOO. That’s right, YAHOO—not yee-haw. The debate is over; it’s officially YAHOO. And we joined the thousands of fans in the grandstands to cheer on this masterfully orchestrated rodeo—with YAHOO. The crowds showed up in their western regalia. Everywhere you looked, there were cowboy hats, boots, jeans, snap shirts, and silver and turquoise. If the sun had set sooner, I would have thought I was right at home in the Southwest.
My First Rodeo
The Calgary Stampede had been on my bucket list for a long time. This was a dream come true, and it truly exceeded my expectations! To make it even more special, this Native Arizonan had never been to a rodeo before. That’s right, folk; This was my first rodeo.
Tim made a plan, and we did it right. The fact that we shared it with our daughters made it even more special.
And we are excited to share the next two days of the Calgary stampede with you in next week Risk Blossoming Blog (The Calgary Stampede – Part Two)
Your Bucket List
Do you have a bucket list? What is on your bucket list?
Allow me to share why, I believe that creating a bucket list is so important to a vibrant, dynamic, and enjoyable life.
First, by creating a bucket list, you hold yourself accountable for all of that stuff you’ve always said you wanted to do.
Writing that list will be your first step in changing your life.
Sharing your list will change your life.
Don’t waste another day.