Eight seconds is the magic number in rodeo. If you can follow the rules and stay on that horse or bull until the classic car horn blows, you and the animal are awarded points by the judges. You can do just about anything for eight seconds – balance on one foot or swim under water – that’s easy. But what about holding a skinny rope sitting on a big cranky bull called Burnt Rubber as he bursts out of a rodeo chute? He is going to spin to the left, kick to the right and attempt to fling you into orbit. And if he does…your flight is not pretty. Maybe cheering on the professionals from outside the fence is a better idea.
The Rodeo Road to Glory
In rural Alberta, rodeo is the main event. Sure, you can see a polished rodeo at the Calgary Stampede where the finest cowboys and cowgirls test their abilities against the roughest rodeo stock every July. But stamp around Alberta on almost any weekend from mid-March through September and you’ll find a small town rodeo hosting the same athletes on much of the same bucking stock – with one big difference: you are nose to nose with the action with every thump of a hoof vibrating through your body!
From Benalto to Vulcan, close to 100 junior and pro rodeos are held each year. Qualifying for the annual fall championships in Edmonton is based on aggregate points and earnings so during the peak rodeo season, cowboys tip their hats to the spectators in as many as three rodeos per weekend.
Learn the Ropes
The Innisfail Professional Rodeo in mid-June, is a perfect place to learn the ropes. It’s rural, it’s intimate and it’s wild. The stands are full of past champions, rodeo families and contestants who will gladly explain the rules of the main events and get you up to speed on cowboy jargon. For instance, did you know that nodding your head and yelling “outside!” is bull rider speak for “open the gate” when the rider is ready to go?
Like most rodeos, the bareback, saddle bronc, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing and bull riding events are preceded by the cutest event called Mutton Busting. That’s where pint-sized future rodeo stars get their start clinging to the back of a bolting thick-coated sheep.
Stand along the fences as the cowboys challenge a steer to a wrestling match, then cheer on a cowgirl as her talented steed bolts around the barrels. But step back when the bucking stock is in the arena – that’s when the dirt really starts to fly.
If the chuckwagon races are your passion, head to the Ponoka Stampede in late June. Along with the regular rodeo, the rigs rolling that figure eight pattern and lunging round the track will definitely get your heart pumping.
Small Town Saturday Night
When the dust settles it’s time to kick up your heels. Most rodeos include a dance on Saturday night where you can meet many of the contestants and hear firsthand what eight long seconds on the back of a bucking animal really feels like.