They call the Calgary Stampede the richest rodeo in the world because it awards a million dollars in prize money. 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the annual event which is held every July. This got us reminiscing about our visit to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” when we traveled to the Calgary Stampede in Canada early in our Trans-Americas Journey.
Inside the Calgary Stampede
In addition to the rodeo events, the Calgary Stampede also features a whole concourse of carnival rides and all manner of fair food including the usual suspects (hello, corn dogs!) plus a local cult favorite called Mini Donuts—basically tiny, tiny donuts that everyone buys and eats straight from the bag right before they get on a big, fast, spinning carnival ride. What could go wrong?
There’s also a beer garden, big-name concerts, ag displays, and more.
Classic rodeo at the Calgary Stampede
The main attractions, for us, were the classic rodeo events during which we watched dozens of the best cowboys in the world compete for some of that famous Calgary Stampede prize money. We were amazed by the athletes both human and non human. Here are some photographic highlights from each event.
Bareback bronc riding
Saddle bronc riding
Tie-down calf roping
The goal is to catch, rope, and tie down a calf as quickly (under 10 seconds) and precisely as possible. These experts make it look easy as you can see in our animated gif, below.
The biggest adrenaline rush of the entire Calgary Stampede came from a competition which isn’t, technically, a rodeo event. We’d never even heard of chuckwagon races but we were soon hooked.
Meant to recreate the important duties of traditional chuckwagons—the mobile kitchens which fed the pioneers heading west by covered wagon train—each modern-day chuckwagon racing team includes a smaller, lighter replica of a chuckwagon, plus a chuckwagon driver, a team of four thoroughbreds to pull the chuckwagon, a team of four outriders on four additional thoroughbreds, and a bunch of bits and pieces that represent the gear used in these mobile kitchens.
At the beginning of each race all four outriders from each chuckwagon team must dismount. One of them throws a barrel into the back of his team’s chuckwagon and another tosses in poles, a tarp and other gear. Then the chuckwagon speeds off as the four outriders re-mount on the gallop so the whole team of five men and 32 horses can fly through a figure eight course before thundering (the ground literally shakes) around an oval racetrack in a frantic bid to beat three other teams doing exactly the same things at exactly the same time.
Chuckwagon racing is (barely) controlled chaos as 15 men and 96 horses race around the track at the same time. Get a taste of what it looks like in our animated gif, below.
If you ask us, chuckwagon racing is the new extreme sport. But you can judge for yourself since we have plenty more action-packed Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Race Photos.
We were so inspired by the whole Calgary Stampede experience that Karen finally gave in to her decades-old desire for a pair of true cowboy boots. Since this is no faddish whim, we headed straight for the Alberta Boot Company. Listen, if they’re good enough to supply boots to the Canadian Mounties, they’re good enough for us. Karen is still wearing her Alberta Boot Company boots, by the way, and she gets compliments on them all the time.
Here’s more about travel in Canada
So that’s the division of specific competition games. I always wondered about the stampedes and you just answered my question. The pictures are also divine!
Wow, I love this – that’s a huge rodeo! Who knew Canada had rodeos like this?! Going to a rodeo is still on my bucket list – so far we’ve only stumbled across a small one in Arizona, but I’d like to see a big one like the Calgary Stampede.
Great family experience and one not to be missed – shame though about the horses that got hurt in the chuckwagon races, which seems to happen every year and does somewhat mar the whole experience.
Despite being Canadian I have never been but I would LOVE to go.
It seems wonderful to watch such events like this.
Thanks so much for this. The photography was excellent. Loved the bronc coming out of the chute straight up and the 63 yr old cowgirl winning the barrel racing!
Thanks for this wonderful account of the Calgary Stampede, it is the most interesting thing I read all week. Not all cowboys are from Texas.
The Calgary Stampede is always an outstanding event, and this year (100th year) was no exception. My favorite is always the chuckwagon races and the grandstand show afterwards. Great entertainment for the whole family! If you haven’t been, you really should see it at least once!
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