I grew up at the Calgary Stampede.
For 10 days every summer (12 or 13 days, really, with set up and tear down), I was a Stampede brat. I cleaned stalls and swept and answered the same questions a thousand times a day. I knew where to find the “secret” bathroom with no line ups, the best gap the fence to peek through for the chucks, when the Queen Mary started moving in it was past time to go home to sleep, and that if we were still there at the fireworks it was going to be awfully hard to get out of bed to do chores the next morning.
I don’t spend quite as much time with my Stampede family these days. I’m there for 3 or 4 days instead, but I wouldn’t miss it. Ever.
So many people talk about the Stampede, and their stories are of beer tents and midway rides, poor decisions and hangovers. I’m not judging … if that’s their brand of fun, power to them. But that Stampede isn’t my Stampede.
My Stampede is watching the World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition in the Saddledome, accompanied by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, tears in my eyes as the beautiful team of high stepping Percheron mares took their victory lap.
My Stampede is the hazy memory of a very little girl watching the retirement ceremony of the great Cindy Rocket, squealing with delight when they turned out her foal to play in the arena, already bucking with joy, like she was bred to do.
My Stampede is running through the barn in my dress and heels, racing back from a wedding in time to be onstage at the Grandstand Show, then looking out over an unbelievable sea of people, tens of thousands strong.
My Stampede is rain dripping off the brim of my hat, perched in the back of a wagon and looking up at people on balconies, cheering and waving the Stampede Parade.
My Stampede is savouring the moment, driving my favorite horse in the Big Top one last time at the Centennial Stampede.
My Stampede is waterfights in the wash racks and plastic spiders on strings dropped over barn rafters.
My Stampede is racing through the midway, horse in tow, to find my Grandad and tell him about an exciting win in the show ring.
My Stampede is about agriculture, the animals and the people who love them.