Stetsons and stampedes

Would you comfortably wear a Stetson in the stockman’s bar at the Royal? I didn’t think so.

But you would be laughed at for not wearing one at the Calgary Stampede in Canada.Calgary almost shuts down for the 10 days the stampede is in town.

It’s a celebration of Western culture that unites the community, an extravaganza of the Western way of life, featuring a host of farming events and attractions, both contemporary and traditional.

For those 10 days in July, whether it’s for the Stampede or just as everyday work wear, people in this Alberta city don the traditional outfit of a cowboy: jeans, hats and “bling” belt buckles bigger than you would think many waists could support.

People can even tell you’re a tourist from what type of hat you wear. I bought a slightly pricey one to escape ridicule and ended up getting chatted up by a pro-rodeo rider who thought I was a local gal!

The chuckwagon racing is a popular event with the prize pot for competing with these light but sturdy canvas-covered wagons nearing $1m.

Being the shy girl I am, attending the evening entertainment I found myself swapping T-shirts with one of the race teams – the Mavericks.

Naturally, I did it for the benefit of the group – who were desperate to see behind the scenes in the stables where carts and Stetsons and stampedeshorses were prepared to race.

The time, effort and money involved in preparing a team of four horses with outriders soon became apparent, with each team having at least 18 horses, one vet and an entourage of dedicated groupies.

The Richer Rougher Rodeo show, held on each of the 10 days with a prize fund totaling $1.6m, also drew the crowds.

Bona-fide cowboys completed for titles in events like bull riding, steer wrestling and tie-down roping.

I’m not sure riding Limousin steers in the main ring at the Royal Show would have quite the same appeal (but maybe it’s something Young Farmers could consider!) “Nashville North”, the entertainment tent, was also worth a visit, although our view of the performers – many seemingly good enough to rival Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers – may have been distorted by the free-flowing Canadian beer or by concentrating so hard on mastering the “two step” with the locals.

True, the agricultural impetus of the Stampede has diminished over recent years, 2006 being the first event without beef judging. But the World Simmental congress, stampede super shear, World stock dog championship and other events still ground the event in agriculture.

There’s one thing, though, that visitors to it will be left in no doubt about: how proud the public are of Canada’s farming industry.

There wouldn’t be many places where commentators of a televised event would promote so openly the “We love Alberta Beef” campaign.

If we could get that sort of publicity in Britain, maybe farming would be a little more supported here, too.

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