Although Calgary’s Stampede stretches across ten days, I only managed to make it there for a day and a half. My half day was after work on the Wednesday just gone so that we could walk around the grounds and catch some of the chuckwagon races and the Grandstand show. The controversial chuckwagon races split most locals, with half of them concerned about the risk it poses to the horses who race, and the other unwilling to let go of the heritage and history it represents. Last year they apparently had to put down three horses after a horric collision and I know of at least one horse they had to put down this year.
The race is unlike anything that I’ve seen before. It’s a fairly complex set up involving four different wagons and a set of outriders (individual riders teamed up with a particular wagon). The course is only a single loop around a dirt horse racing track with the start the most dangerous part. The race begins with the four wagons navigating around a small set of beacons set on the ground only to thunder very quickly on to the normal race course. Combined with four powerful horses dragging the wagon, the smallest mistake could cost people and horses a fair amount of damage. I didn’t quite understand all of the rules, although it was fairly easy to pick a wagon to champion and cheer down as they headed towards the finish line. A few people received penalties based on whether or not they knocked any of the beacons over, causing quite a few to slip from first place to last.
I think we saw about four or five different races before they finished racing for the evening and they dragged the main stage for the Grandstand show across. A few people had warned me to expect a tacky, cheesy show yet I was pleasantly surprised to see a very well polished and, what seemed like, an almost neverending show. The show started off a little worringly tacky with a marching band and lots of people dancing and singing and it fortunately kept getting better as they brought out the stunt bikes, a number of circus acts, a bag piping comedian and plenty of fireworks to boot.
The rest of the grounds are definitely worth just walking around with plenty of entertaining acts, live music, lots of animals and demonstrations to suit all tastes. The midway has plenty of rides including the gravity defying Skyscraper that we went on. It’s easy to pig out of junk food and especially “interesting” North American fair food (sampling the fried coke, cheesecake and mini donuts between the group of us) and enough comparatively healthy food to tide you over until you get out.
Stampede is an event worth visiting Calgary for. It’s unique in every right, and with the weather this city typically has, is perfectly named as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Check out the rest of the album here.