Calgary Stampede

Calgary Stampede: All you need to know – the good the bad and the ugly!

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Calgary Stampede – if it’s good enough for royalty…

Rodeos have a long and complex history that dates back to the early days of cattle ranching in North America. They originated in the late 19th century as informal competitions among cattle ranchers and cowboys to showcase their skills in handling livestock. Over time, these events evolved into more organized and publicized rodeos, becoming a popular form of entertainment in Western culture. However, the rise of rodeos has also been met with criticism concerning animal welfare. Animal rights activists and organizations have raised concerns about the treatment and well-being of the animals involved, arguing that the events can cause stress, injuries, and even fatalities to the animals. The debate surrounding rodeos and animal welfare is complex, with passionate arguments on both sides. As public awareness of animal welfare grows, there is an ongoing push for rodeo organizers to find a balance between preserving tradition and ensuring the ethical treatment of animals involved in these events.

So…not overthinking it, or thinking about it at all, we bought tickets for the Calgary Stampede rodeo and the Final Evening show. It was only once we arrived in Calgary, and the events of the Calgary Stampede were highlighted daily on TV, that it became clear there was some controversy surrounding the humane treatment of the animals in the show. This gathered momentum as three horses died within as many days at what they called the Chuckwagon races. I regretted buying the tickets.

Nevertheless, we decided we should go ahead and visit and see for ourselves how it is. After-all many people were also defending it, and even Kate and Wills had been, so maybe it would be okay. We would see. Besides, when you are travelling the world for a year, it’s about making every experience count.

Calgary Stampede day

So, we arrived at the Calgary Stampede for the rodeo at 1.30. I had not much idea what a rodeo was. Of course, I’d heard of it and had seen bits on TV and in movies, but had never had an interest in it either way.

So, first off the whole day seemed to have a fairground feel to it. As many, if not more, people seemed to enjoy the rides, the beer tents, and the fairground games, rather than attending the actual rodeo. There were petting zoos and areas where people showed off their prize cattle or stock, as they called it. It reminded me of our annual Highland Show back in Scotland, so far, so good. Anyway, we hurried through all of that to reach the Grandstand for the rodeo.

The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth

Okay, so. Firstly, I can say the 25,000-odd people in the stadium, mostly Canadians and mostly from Calgary, loved the rodeo. And I understand this is their culture. For ten days, the entire city transforms into one of Canada’s premiere celebrations–a tribute to the Old West filled with cowboy hats, music, food, and culture calling itself “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”

Now, as an outsider, I would not proclaim to come in and say it shouldn’t happen. Indeed, with 1.4 million visitors in the ten days, it was one of the biggest attendances at the Calgary Stampede there has ever been. So popularity is not waning. It also made a staggering 150 million Canadian dollars. We are talking big guns here. I am not taking it lightly nor proclaiming to know half of what goes on. As is my way – I’m just saying it as I saw it, even if that is just my lil’ bit.

The Rodeo

So that said – unlike the other 24,999 people, I was silently rooting for the little cows to outrun the cowboys on the tie-down events. In calf roping, a calf is chased and roped by a rider on horseback, and then quickly tied down, which seemed to cause distress and physical strain on the calf and I winced when they were caught and slammed to the ground. At the same time, I could appreciate this is a skill passed down from days gone by. Similarly, steer wrestling involves a rider jumping from a horse onto a running steer and forcefully wrestling it to the ground, potentially causing injuries to both the animal and the rider. I wondered at how stunned the cattle felt when grabbed by the horns and hauled to the ground.
RodeoCrowds cheered at how quickly and skilfully some competitors did this; I think around 3 seconds being the fastest. I watched with bated breath for the cattle to get up, regain themselves and trot off. To be fair, they seemed to recover quickly, physically at least. It reminded me of a wrestling match, except in this case, one of them wasn’t a willing participant. The winner bagged $100,000 for each event.

It’s serious stuff.

Hold on to your head

Next up the saddle bronc and bareback riding. Highlights of the Calgary Stampede rodeo and showcasing the best of the best. Okay, well – I just hoped they wouldn’t be picking out my expression and putting it on the big screen. What in the heck! While everyone was yee-hawing, my head was in my hands. Equally fearing for the horse and its rider. How can they not get a concussion from this? Why did I seem to be the only one thinking this? Their heads are slamming back and forth; surely, there must be long-term brain trauma.
Calgary Stampede RodeoOkay, as I say, I maybe don’t know what I’m talking about. But. I’ve never seen a person willingly being walloped around like a rag doll on the back of a horse. As some riders were then flung in the air and then near trampled, or sometimes actually trampled, by their still raging bucking horse, I just hoped at that point they would stand up alive. I will never look at my Buckaroo game the same way again.

“The most dangerous eight seconds in sports”.

Finally, the most terrifying event was bull riding. Bull riding is perhaps the most dangerous event in rodeos, where riders attempt to stay on a bucking bull for eight seconds. While bull riders are equipped with protective gear, the bulls often experience stress and discomfort during the event. Now, who in their right name of giddy O’Malley would want to do this? Cruelty to bulls aside or not. The cheers from the crowd were raucous. I cowered, hoping desperately not to see a human mauling before me.
Bull rider at Calgary Stampede

I, I don’t know. For me, perhaps rodeos, the Calgary Stampede, is not my thing. That said, I don’t want to weigh in on the argument and certainly don’t want to show any disrespect to the beautiful Canadians of our current host nation. But for me, no.

Yay to the little cows who got away. And honestly, a round of applause for the skills of these guys which can’t be denied – but could you do it without hurting the animals?

Beer tent talk

Now. While we sought shelter from the rain with a couple of beers and lovely poutine, we awaited the Final Evening show. We contemplated where the heck we were and what was actually going on! I tried to bring perspective.

Okay, we weren’t talking about the human sacrifices of Bolivia. No – so tick for that. We were told the animals are well cared for at all other times, hmm, well okay, tick, at least they weren’t on the menu like in China. Okay, so let’s see the final event.

Calgary Stampede – one of the top parties in the world?

Again, I noticed the majority of people stayed around enjoying what was really a big party. Lots of drinking, spontaneous dancing, fairground attractions, and big names in music were playing at various stages.

People may just be more interested in having a good time. Did they actually care so much for the rodeo? Maybe on a bigger scale, the Calgary Stampede is more of an annual get-together. An exceptional event for the town. After all, it was once ranked as one of the top parties in the world by CNN.

The Chuckwagon Races

Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Races

Well, the evening event was – the Chuckwagon races. Well. Now. I didn’t get this. Okay, you could say the afternoon’s rodeos events were a show of practical skills learned through the generations. Okay, I’m not sure it would ever have been a useful skill to ride a bull, but go with it! I will just cut to the chase here.

In Heat eight – four Chuckwagons ceremoniously charged off, out of sight around the back of the stadium around the track and then only one, two, three Chuckwagons came back.

There was an uneasy stir among the crowd. No. People did not like this. They knew what this meant. The commentators did a skilfully rehearsed job of telling you all was well. The horses train to do this; they are the best in the business. Indeed, they love to do this bla bla.

Calgary Stampede – the ugly

Well, not so, we discovered in the news the next day, for 3 of the 4 of the wagon’s horses who died on the track. Nor indeed for the severely injured outrider. Although no one was saying what had happened on the night, things took a dark turn. The races temporarily stopped while the aftermath and clean-up went on behind the scenes.

Tradition: ‘the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.’

Tradition right? If it’s tradition, it’s okay. Is it? Or is it monkey say monkey do?  And I’m not just talking about the Calgary Stampede here, thinking too of the human sacrifice ‘traditions’ of La Paz.

Surely progress is more important. Progress: “advance or development toward a better, more complete, or more modern condition”. With the growth of knowledge, there have to be amendments. Horses dying for sport is undoubtedly no longer an acceptable form of entertainment.

It persists, I speculate, at least in part, because there is also big money in this. Humans being sacrificed in 2019 in Bolivia is certainly a no-no. No, NO. Pachamama needs an upgrade, and I’m pretty sure Mother Earth would agree with me. ‘Tradition’ can’t be an excuse to continue to do something harmful.

Calgary Stampede farewell

And so we left the Calgary Stampede with respect for the skill and visible hard work of the rodeo riders. Sadness for the animals who died. And a final Yahoo from me for the little cows who got away.

As for the rodeo, it’s a one-off experience for me – tick.

I did read later that the Chuckwagon Races are now under review. Riders are keen to improve conditions for their horses, following what now ties as the second deadliest Calgary Stampede for the horses.

Because of these concerns, rodeos now face increasing scrutiny and calls for improved animal welfare standards. Some rodeos have implemented changes to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals, including regulations on handling practices and veterinary care. Others have faced protests and debates over whether these changes are sufficient to address the underlying issues. Let’s just hope they lead to improvements for what is otherwise the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ for the people of beautiful Calgary.Rodeo

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