Friday, August 10, 2012

A western adventure - and the Calgary stampede

My recent posts this summer have been about my travels to Canada's east coast - Cape Breton Island. I came home for three days and caught another plane with my family, this one heading west to another family wedding. We landed in Calgary Alberta and you can tell from the stetsons and cowyboy boots and people walking down the centre of one of this beautiful city's main streets, that The Calgary Stampede is on. Our hotel was located at this corner and we had just arrived in the morning. The street was closed off to vehicular traffic in both directons four about eight blocks - and all manner of artisans, musicians, buskers, magicians and entertainers were out in force. Lots of tourists, lots of people having a lot of fun.

This annual fair was celebrating its 100th anniversary - and in high style.
While we watched, The Indian Parade marshalled in front of our hotel.  I spent some time s chatting with this young man about his tribal dress and his horse. Some of his garments had been handed down through his family - his cuffs, headband and the beaded emblem at his side. His horse's name was Jazz. I was completely taken with the animal who rubbed his head against me and when I stopped stroking his neck or chest, nuzzled me to tell me to keep going.

Well if you've followed this blog - you know by now how I love horses.

The costumes were amazing. When I spoke with some of the participants in the parade, I learned that most of the individuals were wearing ones that were ancestral - belonging originally to great-grandparents. The participants came from all over Alberta, and other parts of Canada and I think the US as well. These First Nations had a large area set aside which they arranged a bit like an old traditional village, for their ceremonies and information booths as well as all the usual booths with artists' work such as carvings, bead work, and paintings. Pow wows occurred every day as did the parade.
And so the group of First Nations representatives left to ride their horses through the streets of Calgary and encourage people to visit their area of The Stampede.

There was so much to learn. And so much fun to be had and also controversy to be discussed.

Later in the afternoon we went to The Stampede. This is the grandstand with the chutes ready with horses and bulls that have been selected for riding that afternoon. The chute gates each have a letter which spell "Calgary Stampede" under the red and white bunting seen in this photo. There are people who have standing room only tickets all along the rails but also those who want to visit with competitors and friends. We sit off to the side in the bleachers, but as we were told, there are no bad seats and that's correct.

We managed to find our way through a carnival of booths, music shows, agricultural shows, food booths and crowds of people. It is after all, the semi-finals of the competitions this day and the next the finals and grand show closes. Like any exhibition or show there are all kinds of attractions, but the most important is the rodeo.

There is lots of controversy around the Stampede rodeo. Many feel that parts of it are not humane. I'm in agreement with a lot of those opinions and was glad to not be present when one of the horses died suddenly from an anuerism in the chuck wagon races. Those and calf roping are particularly inhumane, in my opinion anyway.

But we enjoyed the barrel racing, and also kids trying to ride wild ponies.

The bronco and bull riding I found exciting but also frightening for both man and animal... you have to be awfully young and resilient to take this kind of punishment I think. The horses and bulls bred for this are also athletes who have as much skill at trying to rid themselves of the irritating riders as do the riders trying to stay on.  The enthusiasts celebrate the champion animals as well as the champion riders. And one stud who was a champion bronco who fathered several champions was retired that day - with all honours for his ability as an athlete as well as a sire.

Rodeo is obviously a western enthusiasm. One that has become a tradition.

There will likely be some people who object to this particular post - I accept that. It's a controversial subject, and I too have mixed feelings. But I do know that it was an adventure and an experience that I am glad I had. What do you think?

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