I must say that Stampede has been quite an experience! I live downtown where all the action is and between all the Stampede breakfasts and parties, there is plenty to see, do, and hear. Some of my friends told me that if I wanted to go from meal to meal, I could eat for free in the city for the full 10 days of Stampede- that is how many free events are happening! I woke up to “Stand By Your Man” blaring through my window at 7 am on my birthday when the pancake flipping started at the Stampede breakfast at the Blood Bank behind my house. That day, I went out and bought ear plugs. Thank goodness for that invention because I think I’d be pretty loopy from lack of sleep otherwise! Still, I have my sense of humour. I lay in bed laughing that day at how amusing the whole scene actually IS! For those of you that haven’t been to Calgary during Stampede, it is 10 days when the city goes back to its cowboy roots. People dust off the cowboy boots and hats they have in their closets and take them for their annual spin. The parade of urban cowboys and cowgirls is endless. To give you an idea for what a standard outfit looks like, here is a picture I took during the rodeo:
The beer in hand is typical too. The feather boa, however, is an embellishment I’d not seen until I saw this gentleman. There’s boldness for you!
And, yes- I did go to the rodeo. I debated this as the events are not ones that sit well with me ethically. However, I figured I can’t really give an opinion until I go and experience it and so I did. There are debates about whether it is animal cruelty and whether or not the Stampede does enough to ensure safety. Last year, 6 horses died during the chuck wagon races. I watched the saddle bronc event, the barrel racing, and the bull riding. The saddle bronc was borne out of traditional horse breaking methods cowboys used to “tame” wild horses. I was taken by the feisty spirit of the horses and their strong defiance to having their power taken away. Unlike the other horse events I’d been at, these horses did not look like or feel like they were having fun. Although I again admire the athleticism of the cowboys, it doesn’t feel right to use such methods to get an animal to do our bidding as humans. And it is evident to me that the rodeos generate a LOT of money using horses for sport in this way. I felt the same way about the bull-riding. Those bulls were just MAD and seeing puffed up cowboys walking- or limping- away from the animal in triumphant poses was a bit hard to stomach. Some of the horses and bulls did not want to come out of the gates and were forced out by the human handlers. A refreshing contrast were the female barrel racers. This is the event where a horse races around barrels and the purpose is to make good time without knocking them over. The women riders expertly led their horses around this track and seeing them blowing around the barrels as fast as wind was thrilling. I sensed the horses got a kick out of it too and had a good bond with their owners. The women each patted and stroked their horses after. One woman was captured on camera talking to her horse before and after the event. The mutual respect was evident. It showed me what the rodeo *could* be at its best: animal and human working together to accomplish a goal as well as entertain the crowds.
My favourite two places on the Stampede Grounds have to be the Indian Village and the Artist’s Spot in the BMO Building. There were beautiful photos, fabric art, and visual art displayed that all captured the feel of natural Alberta and cowboy culture. The music was fantastic. And the Indian Village was a wonderful place to hang out and meet people from local nations: Stoney, Blackfoot, Blood, and Tsuu T’ina. The dances were entrancing and powerful as were their drum teams. They invited all the spectators up on stage to do an inter-tribal dance as well. It was wonderful to see people of all nations, young and old dancing together.
Here are some photos:
I will definitely go again next year!