Growing up in Toronto, a love of the Calgary Stampede rodeo was the furthest thing from my mind, so my first experience there wasn’t until 1998. I can still remember watching the Chuckwagon races and it reminded me of Charlton Heston chariot racing from the movie Ben-Hur, totally unique to Alberta and totally awesome! Watching the bull riding from the chutes is also a rush that is hard to compare to anything else. I took a lot of heat for wearing tennis shoes during my first day on the grounds, so if you’re new to the Stampede make sure at a bare minimum you have cowboy boots, jeans and a plaid shirt—then you’re good to go!
Every day at 1:15 p.m. the Stampede Rodeo is held on the infield. There are six feature events:
There is also great entertainment during the afternoon with Novice Bareback and Saddle Bronc riding, Junior Steer Wrestling, the RCMP Musical Ride and my personal favourite: Wild Pony Riding, where young kids basically dirt ski behind a pony. Major laundry alert for the kids during this event!
Of the feature events, three of them are time (Tie Down Roping, Steer Wrestling and Barrel Racing) while the others are a combination of time (riding the full eight seconds) along with performance of the rider and the animal (Saddle Bronc, Bareback and Bull Riding). The winner at the end of each day gets money, but the ultimate goal is to be there for showdown Sunday and a chance to win the title and a cheque for $100,000.
Pool A sees the same competitors from Friday, July 4th through Monday, July 7th. Pool B goes Tuesday, July 8th through Friday, July 11th. The top four money winners in each pool go straight to Sunday’s showdown. Two more competitors in each event can reach the Sunday showdown on Wild Card Saturday, which happens July 12th. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo is the richest rodeo in the world with over $2 million in prize money throughout the week. The rodeo is a must see, and if it’s raining you might get a little wet but the sloppy conditions can lead to insane action.
Every night starting at 7:45 p.m., the top 36 Chuckwagon drivers battle in the GMC Rangeland Derby. There are nine heats with four drivers in each heat, and each driver rides all 10 nights. Every day, the top timed outfit wins day money and as the nights roll on an aggregate time total is kept so you know who’s leading the overall. There are two titles that can be won during the week.
After night eight on Friday, July 11th, the aggregate winner will be crowned, while the driver and his outfit with the best average time over eight nights wins the Richard Cosgrave Memorial Trophy. On Saturday, July 12th, the final two heats contain the top eight timed drivers in the aggregate, which is called Semi Final Saturday. On that day, the top four times from that night move into the ultimate event, Sunday’s $150,000 dash for cash. High River’s Jason Glass won his first Rangeland Derby last year in an exciting final, and it’s hard to believe the Kelly “The King” Sutherland has won the dash for cash an amazing 12 times.
The actual racing may look a little wild and scattered, but it really is a team effort between the horses, drivers and outriders. Judges will be looking for any one of a couple dozen infractions including knocking over barrels, an outrider being late or failing to finish the race, or wagon interference. Every Chuckwagon driver says that riding penalty-free as often as possible is the key to making it to the dash for cash. At some point during the nine races, make sure to walk down by the rail to watch. It’s such a rush when the wagons fly by, and hearing the drivers yelling as they head for the finish line.
Guy Weadick founded the Calgary Stampede, and since 1969 an award has been presented annually to one Chuckwagon or rodeo competitor who embodies what the Calgary Stampede stands for. Recent winners include Chuckwagon drivers Jason Glass and Kelly Sutherland, to bull rider Scott Schiffner and tie down roper Cliff Williamson.
After each night’s chuckwagon races, make sure to catch the world famous TransAlta Grandstand Show. Under the direction of Emmy winner Dave Pierce, be prepared for a 75 minute high tech entertainment show. This year’s production is called “Barnburner” and ends with a spectacular fireworks display!
As you can see, the Calgary Stampede infield is busy with insane action from noon to midnight. If this is your first time attending the Calgary Stampede there’s a good chance it won’t be your last.