Small Town Rodeos and the Wild West
Western Canada is a place where part of the wild west still lives on. Make sure to attend one of the rodeos during your Canada trip. If you don’t, you will miss out big time!
Cowboys on wild buckin’ horses and bulls during eight-second actions will get your adrenaline going. DO NOT MISS IT. Surrounded by chaps and spurs, country music and clowns, you will be entertained with action-packed performances.
If you are a horse person, you probably will make sure to plan for this event. For non-horsy travellers, it is still totally worth it.
Canada is home to a great rodeo scene with competitions across the country. Most of it happens in the west.
It’s a good place for you to get out your hats and boots and try to fit in. That’s where you meet the Cowboys. Most of these tough guys come from generations of rodeos and ranching families; it must be in the blood. The pretty cowgirls you will get to see in the barrel racing events.
Cowboys have long been a symbol of the Wild West. At rodeos, you will see the tough breed in cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, and Stetson hats and you will feel like being part of a Western film. But no, this is real!
The famous Calgary Stamped or a Small Town Rodeo
Overseas visitors often try to fit the Calgary Stampede into their travel schedule. The event attracts visitors from all over the world and it’s one of Canada’s largest festivals; its history is going back a long way.
Small town rodeos are the ones I like to attend. They have maintained the hometown feel and you will find mostly locals in the crowd.
The talent of cowboys at small-town rodeos is high and international, so you don’t miss out on quality.
Stampede vs. Rodeo
Sometimes you see a Rodeo advertised, another time it’s a Stampede. What is the difference between rodeos and stampedes you may ask if you are new to the scene?
Rodeos are much smaller and may just have the horse competitions. A stampede is more than a rodeo only, with lots of other attractions. It’s a fair or festival with thrill rides, competitions, shows, food and community and business booths and lots more.
Small Town Rodeos
If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a First Nation Rodeo in one of the reserves.
Or maybe your trip might take you to the small town of Falkland, British Columbia on Victoria Day on the May long weekend. Let me know if it does and we can meet!
The Falkland Stampede near Vernon British Columbia is a three-day event and one of the oldest stampedes in the country. You might see around 100 riders – from as far away as Australia and as young as 13 – competing for high prize money.
Williams Lake Stampede is another action-packed rodeo in British Columbia. This is a four-day stampede in July with many top cowboys and international rodeo competitors from Canada and the United States, most of which continue on the circuit to the Calgary Stampede the following weekend.
Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede Armstrong, British Columbia, is another event I never miss. This five-day annual Exhibition and Stampede attracts a large crowd from all over and is a little bit like the Calgary Stampede, just on a much smaller scale. The attractions keep you busy all day, and every night at 8 pm you can watch amazing rodeo action. The crowd is always inspiring and a few times I took guests for a couple of days in a row.
It’s held at the beginning of September and has been going for over 100 years. It attracts thousands of city and country folk alike to the Okanagan Valley every year.
Canadian Rodeo Schedule
The Rodeo Canada Website has a Rodeo list and schedule. Check it out and see how you can plan a rodeo event as part of your trip.
Rodeo is the name for a number of different events. Knowing how they all work makes the action-filled event more interesting.
Some of the following information is taken from the Canadian Finals Rodeo website.
This event is the most physically demanding in rodeo. The cowboy rides a bronc (unbroke horse) without a saddle. The rider, using only one arm, holds onto the leather strap of the bareback rigging which is cinched around the horse. The handhold is snug fitting and customized to the individual’s grip.
The rider has to keep his spurs over the break of the horse’s shoulder until the first jump out of the chute is complete. He is getting disqualified if he is touching the animal or equipment with his free hand, or if he gets bucked off before the end of the eight-second ride.
The event requires an extra rider, the hazer whose job is to keep the steer running as straight as possible.
The steer runs out of the middle of three chutes and gets a little head start before the riders are allowed to exit theirs. One of the riders, the wrestler, rides up on the left side of the steer, jumps off his horse and grabs the steer by the horns, with his right elbow from below around the right horn and with his left hand around the left horn from above. He swings both his feet forward and puts his heels into the ground. By doing so, he makes the steer turn a quarter round left and lay down on the left side with all four legs and the muzzle pointing in the same direction.
The steer must be flat on its side with all four legs extended before the official time is taken.
As soon as the steer is lying down, the wrestler lets go of the horns and they both get up and go their separate ways.
Team roping requires two ropers, a header and heeler. The steer runs out of the middle of three chutes and gets a head start.
The first rider, the header, tries to throw his rope around the head of the steer and makes it turn in a quarter circle. The other rider, the heeler, then attempts to rope the hind legs of the steer. Lots of skill is required to do that. If only one leg is caught, there is a five-second penalty. It is amazing to watch the horses doing their job.
The clock is stopped when there is no slack in the ropes and the horses are facing each other.
In this event, the cowboy is riding a unbroke horse. He brings his own saddle, together with a braided rein, spurs with dull rowels, and chaps. The saddle has no saddle horn, I’m sure you figure out why.
The rider holds onto a thick rope that is attached to the halter on the horse. Therefore, there is no bit and the nose strap is 2-3 inches wide in order to spread the pressure over a larger area.
To qualify, the rider must have his boots over the break of the horse’s shoulders until the horse has completed his first jump out of the chute.
The rider spurs from the horse’s neck in a full swing toward the back of the saddle in time with the bronc’s actions.
He will be disqualified for touching any part of the animal or equipment with his free hand, losing a stirrup, or getting bucked off before the end of the eight-second ride. A rider will gain points for spurring high in the horse’s shoulders back to the cantle of his saddle.
The roper must remain behind the barrier until the calf crosses the scoreline. Breaking the barrier adds 10 seconds to the roper’s time.
After roping the calf, the cowboy must run down his rope and throw the calf by hand. If the calf is down when he reaches it, he must allow the calf to get up and then throw it. The roper then ties any three legs with a string. The tie must hold for six seconds after the roper remounts his horse and during that time his rope must remain slack.
To watch the manoeuvres of the horse is impressive. The horse has to rate the speed of the calf, stop on cue in a single stride and then hold the rope taut while the roper runs to his calf. These are true working horses and come at a high price.
Ladies Barrel Racing
In this ladies rodeo event, the rider must circle three barrels set in a cloverleaf pattern. The closer she rides around the barrels, the better time she makes. If she knocks over a barrel, an extra five seconds is added to the rider’s time.
The barrel racer’s time is started when she crosses an electric beam of light and the time is completed when she recrosses the beam after completing the pattern.
Basally, a fast, well-trained horse is the key to winning this event.
The rider can be disqualified if she and her horse break the pattern. Times are measured in hundredths of a second and horse and rider require great precision to race quickly, yet cautiously.
Bull Riding is definitely the most dangerous event in rodeo. It requires a positive attitude from the cowboy and good nerves. A braided rope is wrapped loosely around the bull with a weighted cowbell hanging underneath, allowing the rope to fall free when the ride is completed.
The rope has a woven handhold that is pulled tight around the rider’s hand. During the ride, the cowboy must keep himself close up on the handhold to prevent his arm from straightening and jerking his hand loose.
During the ride, the rider must only hold on to the rope with one hand. If he touches any part of the bull, himself, or the equipment with the other hand, he gets disqualified. He has to stay on the bull for eight seconds after the gate opens and the bull bursts into the arena.
Once hitting the ground, the bullfighters distract the bull until the cowboy is safely out of the bull’s range.
According to statistics, bull riding accounts for almost half of all injuries and is the most fatality at a rodeo.
Other Rodeo events
A big parade with floats, old tractors, cars, fire trucks and horses is often part of the rodeo day when the whole town comes alive.
Other common events are chuckwagon races and wild horse races and more.
At the small town rodeos, there is often dance on Saturday night with good entertainment and the place to be if you want to meet the Cowboys.
Rodeos are part of a unique lifestyle. It is a tradition handed down for generations; Cowboys and animals competing against their neighbouring ranches to see whose “outfit” had the best-skilled cowhands and best animals.
Today, there are many opponents out there who would like to shut down the rodeo events.
According to the Rodeo Canada official homepage, “the rodeo stock contractors are expert stockmen and are very proud of their animals. They own & care for hundreds of heads of livestock. They take pride in the conditioning and athletic ability of their animals, and, like a well-trained human athlete, an animal can perform to the best of its ability only if it is healthy and in top physical condition.
Their young ranch-raised horses are fed the best hay, grass, and grains in order to enhance their growth and stamina. Generally, at the age of three, the horses are tested as to their bucking ability and then turned out to roam free for another three to four years in order to let their muscles and bones completely develop. They then come back to live out their adult life as a bucking horse with lots of time between rodeos to rest and be physically ready for the next competition.”
So why do these animals buck?
They are bred to buck and it comes naturally to them. They are not broke to ride, so they instinctively try to get the rider off, and it’s all over in a few seconds. Horses have an amazing memory and sure know, that they won’t get hurt.
I know that situations can get ugly, for the animal or the cowboy, and I have seen it. Ugly incidents happen in horse racing and jumping as well, check out YouTube for that.
I’m an animal lover and a softy when it comes to animals, I would never want to hurt any of them.
The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association has strict enforcement of rules and regulations in place to ensure the welfare of the animal. So, for me rodeos are okay and I hope they won’t disappear soon.
Taste some real Canadian Food while you’re there. Try the mini-donuts, the horse blankets, or the corn on the cob. Or maybe taste crunchy kettle corn or a taco for some real cowboy food!
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