Howdy y’all! Love cowboys? Big fan of Garth Brooks (Get out of here if you don’t know who he is)? Own a lot of check shirts? Then the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada is the place for you! I have ALWAYS wanted to go to a rodeo and I absolutely love anything involving horses.
OK, OK, I realise that there are animal rights issues. But after watching it, the only event that I have an issue with is the steer wrestling and the tie down roping. Otherwise, it seemed fine to me. If you want to read more about animal welfare at the Calgary Stampede have a look on their website and make up your own mind.
That aside, here’s everything you need to know about the Calgary Stampede.
My Guide to the Calgary Stampede
About the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede is known on the cowboy scene ( yeah, that’s a thing) as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”. And, after experiencing it myself, I’d be inclined to agree. It is 10 days of cowboy boots, rodeos, horses, food trucks, funfairs and all sorts of wonderful western-style things. It is normally held on the second week of July.
It attracts over one million visitors each year from all across the globe and has been going since 1923. During the Calgary Stampede the entire city of Calgary gets into the cowboy spirit; shop fronts are painted with bucking broncos and staff wear cowboy hats with pride. The atmosphere in Calgary during the stampede is hard to describe. You NEED to experience it.
The Calgary Stampede Opening Ceremony
On the first Friday of the event, usually around 9am, a massive parade through Calgary marks the start of the Calgary Stampede. Also, each year, on the first day of the Stampede a horse is brought up the Calgary Tower in the lift. I saw this when I was watching the opening ceremony on TV from the safety of my apartment in Edmonton. If I hadn’t watched it myself I wouldn’t have believed it.
Buying Tickets for the Calgary Stampede
The are several different ways to purchase tickets. You can buy a simple one day entrance ticket upon arrival at the Stampede grounds (or online via TicketMaster). This gives you access to the Stampede grounds, all the stalls and free shows running within the grounds. We did this and it cost $18.00 (CAD).
However, if you would like to attend any of the actual rodeos, ticketed concerts (Lady Antebellum played this year) or the famous evening show then you will need to buy an additional ticket. You can do this on the day if you like to keep your schedule flexible OR you can purchase a ticket package online. If you buy a ticket to a rodeo or concert the price includes general entrance to the Stampede grounds as well.
For more information on ticket bundles, packages and offers check out the official Calgary Stampede website.
Rodeo Events at the Stampede
Does what it says on the tin really! This is where brave (crazy) cowboys attempt to ride a bull for 8 seconds. The bull and the cowboy are scored separately. Then the average is taken. So, it doesn’t matter how good the rider is, if the bull doesn’t have much pizzazz (technical term) then the score isn’t good. Most of time there are no injuries, though we did she one guy break his nose.
BUT you’d be surprised how entertaining it is. My boyfriend and I were getting well into it, screaming for a “re-ride” and saying things like “Good ride, good ride, that’ll be a high score”. We’re absolute experts obviously. Oh, a “re-ride” is when the bull/horse either trip/fall OR don’t buck at all and the rider doesn’t get a chance to prove himself. SOOOO, then the judges can decide to switch the horse/bull and give the rider a “re-ride”.
SIDE NOTE: It is exactly like the Garth Brooks song “Rodeo”.
The rider is on his horse chasing a wild steer (like a teenage cow, not a grown-up, not a baby). The rider then jumps off the horse, on to the steer and wrestles it to the ground by twisting the horns. The cowboy that does this the quickest wins the prize! Not an event that I was too interested in, but it’s definitely something different.
Tie Down Roping
In this event the rider is on a horse and must lasso a moving calf. The rider then hops off the horse, grabs the calf, plants him on the ground and ties three of his legs together. Whoever does this in the quickest time wins. I didn’t find this one as entertaining but it’s certainly skillful.
The same as the bull riding but with a horse….. and a saddle.
Basically the same as the bull riding but with a horse.
This is where women ride their horses around a triangle of three barrels. The objective is to make tight circles around each barrel and complete the course in the shortest time possible. Usually it can be anywhere from 17 to 20 seconds depending on the ground condition. This year Mary Burger, at 62 years old, won every barrel race that she competed in! Pretty impressive.
Wild Pony Racing
This is THE event. I cannot explain to you how much I LOVE this event. It is possibly the most entertaining thing I have ever seen in my life. Essentially teams of three children attempt to wrangle a wild, Shetland-sized, TINY pony and then one child must hop on and ride bareback for a second.
It usually ends in three children clinging onto a rope being dragged along the ground behind a tiny, yet formidable, pony. This is especially fun when it has been raining and the whole thing becomes a giant mud bath. Even if you can’t attend the event, you MUST watch this on le TV.
Food at the Calgary Stampede
At the Calgary Stampede there are plenty of food options. Stalls are EVERYWHERE. BBQ, artisan ice-lollies, mac & cheese sandwiches, bottomless slushies and all the munchable things your stomach could ever dream of. In fact, while I was stuffing my face with a mac & cheese sandwich I actually got interviewed by a chef for a short foodie Stampede video. It was then televised during the Stampede so I actually saw myself on TV, which was insane. Have a look, I’m at 24 seconds in!
Where To Stay During the Stampede
Being essentially only 10-15 minutes walk from the centre of Calgary there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from. Let me give you a couple of examples;
Calgary City View B&B is a small B&B just minutes walk from the Saddledome. However, it only has 3 rooms so you’ll need to be organised and book in advance. Stampede prices are $238 (around £139) per night including breakfast.
The Fairmont Palliser is the picture of classic luxury while always moving with the ever-evolving trends of modern Calgary. At $440 CAD (around £260) per night for the cheapest room I get that it’s not exactly for everyone. However, if you have the money and want to do the Calgary Stampede in style then the Palliser is the place for you.
I stayed for one night and really loved the amount of effort the staff put into the cowboy theme. There were hay-bales everywhere and all the staff wore jeans and cowboy boots. My room had an incredible view of the Calgary Tower, which is right next door. Even if you can’t afford to stay in the Palliser it’s worth popping in to taste one of their signature Calgary Stampede cocktails.
If you need some more options then have a look at the Visit Calgary Website and don’t forget my firm favourite, Airbnb. Bare in mind though that during the Calgary Stampede accommodation prices will sky rocket and availability will be extremely limited. Make sure you book well in advance if you’re hoping to pay a reasonable price, your bank account will thank you for it.
Got any other questions about the Calgary Stampede?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll try answer them as best I can.
* The Fairmont Palliser did provide me with a complimentary stay during my time at the Stampede. However, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this piece are, as always, my own.