Nashville North

Courtesy CBC

The Calgary Stampede may be smaller than most years, but organizers, rodeo competitors, and attendees are just glad it’s back.

Stampede spokesperson Kristina Barnes told Western Standard attendance has been “about half of what we would normally see,” but will pick up “as people become a little bit more comfortable with the return to live events and that experience and also as they learn more about what’s happening.”

The 2021 Stampede also features a ranch bronc riding event where women can compete against men. The entertainment includes Broncs After Dark, described by Barnes as “a high adrenaline kind of experience” that includes trick riding as well as “amazing” and “incredible” performances by riders from Quebec’s Festival Western de St-Tite.

“One is a pickup race, so one rider does a tight circuit on a horse and a second rider jumps onto the back of the horse. One is an exchange race, so one rider will jump off a horse and another rider will jump on. And then the third one is a Pony Express so that one rider would exchange from one horse to another – all done about 50 kilometers an hour.”

Some subtle changes have occurred to accommodate varying comfort levels. The usual fare of midway rides and food vendors have fewer offerings to allow people a bit more space. The Nashville North music venue has a canopy roof instead of an enclosed tent and there are fewer seats for rodeo spectators.

“They can choose to be seated with more space between them and other people, or they can choose the more densely seated area of the grandstand as well,” Barnes said.

“This is still a bit of a transition phase for the community. Coming out of all the restrictions, people have a different level of comfort.”

Barnes said getting rodeo performers was “a bit of a challenge knowing the border was closed. [There’s] many that have come up across the border through a modified exemption program that we have worked with the federal government on. So it’s been a great first couple days of competitions.”

Calgary’s own Connor Hamilton was glad to return for bareback competition.

“It was kind of a big thing when all the invites got sent out for Calgary. And they were asking everybody to come up and quarantine and if possible, get vaccinated,” he told Western Standard.

“The Calgary Stampede is one of the biggest rodeos of the year and just happens to be my hometown rodeo, but I feel like everybody just kind of accepted that and took it under their own power to make it happen.”

Hamilton has spent six years in rodeo, a sport the Calgary Mustangs Junior A hockey player took up after turning 19.

“I didn’t even have any family [in rodeo], I didn’t really know anyone who did it. I just went out to Olds College and they had practice nights out there. And I went and watched a few of them. And then talked to a few guys and they lent me some gear and helped me out. I ended up getting on a couple [horses] and then I just started entering a few rodeos.”

Hamilton could still count the rodeos he entered on his fingers when he took the title at the Stampede’s Novice Bareback competition. “That was a massive step in my career,” recalled Hamilton, who won the event in 2015 and 2017.

Hamilton is looking forward to rodeos in Medicine Hat and Strathmore later this summer. In the meantime, he is enjoying top-five results at the Stampede.

“As much as COVID hurt the world and hurt Canada, it has been one of those things that we just have to take in stride and take it as it is. But it’s so great to see some smiling faces and people out having fun.”

Lee Harding is a Western Standard correspondent based in Saskatchewan.

Senior Contributor (Saskatchewan)

Lee Harding is the Senior Saskatchewan Contributor for the Western Standard and Saskatchewan Standard based in the Regina Bureau. He has served as the Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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