Millions visit the Calgary Stampede annually.
Millions visit the Calgary Stampede annually. Shirley Sinclair

Calgary Stampede will bring out your inner cowboy

A herd of 30 cattle. Three musterers on horseback. A 20' x 24' (6m x 7.3m) pen at the back of the arena.

The start signal is given and as the riders hit their stride, the announcer calls out the required number.

The riders' mission is to find the three animals with that number on their back, separate them from the herd and round them up and into the pen before closing the gate.

And they're on the clock: 60 seconds to separate and pen them. The fastest team will win the prize and bragging rights.

Sounds easy to the casual observer. The reality can be very different.

Finding the three, which may be spread throughout the herd, is difficult enough.

Coaxing them to leave the "safety in numbers" is the next hurdle.

One rider keeping watch over one or two at the back of the arena, while the other two riders try to round up the third, also holds no guarantee those animals won't bolt back towards their mates. Teamwork is the key as the three horses and riders pit their skills and training against the cattle's herd mentality.

 

A Team Cattle Penning Championships heat.
A Team Cattle Penning Championships heat. Shirley Sinclair

The Team Cattle Penning Championships at Canada's annual Calgary Stampede is a game of wits - one that "city slickers" will find fascinating among myriad events over the annual festival program.

CS, as it is affectionately known, began in 1968 and celebrated its half-century last year.

Billed as "the greatest outdoor show on Earth", it won't just bring out the cowboy in you, it will yahoo the socks off ya.

The 10-day celebration, held every July in southern Alberta's biggest city, attracts more than a million visitors a year.

To try to describe it in Aussie terms, the CS is like the Gympie Muster meets the Mt Isa Rodeo meets the Sydney Royal Easter Show meets the Nitro Circus meets Sydney Olympics entertainment program meets TV's Young Talent Time and a Royal Gala Performance.

But this is all-Canadian, all the way.

The CS dips its wide-brimmed hat to country life, and serves up the southern Alberta hospitality through friendly Calgary folk as volunteers.

Wrangle a couple of tickets and you'll have free access to bootscoot around various venues in the massive Stampede Park with western and agriculture competitions and displays aplenty, including the vintage tractor pull, the world stock dog championship and Dairy Classic Championship Show.

The frisbee-catching skills and antics of canine competitors in the Dog Bowl are also free to watch once inside the park, but you'll need to mosey on down well before the hugely popular shows start to get a seat.

 

Really, you can horse around all day here - taking selfies with members of the Calgary Stampede Showband while they perform at the foot of the Saddledome steps, marvelling at death-defying motorcycle stunt riders, taking a heart-in-mouth Slingshot ride at "sideshow alley", joining the back end of a line dancing display and wandering around colourful tipis in First Nations Exhibition.

And you can't miss the rip-snortin' music program. Tim McGraw, the most played country artist in history, has been invited to close the 2019 Calgary Stampede on Sunday, July 14, at the Scotiabank Saddledome as part of the ticketed Virgin Mobile Stampede Concert Series.

The 2019 concert series also has announced Zac Brown Band and Sugarland, with more artists in the line-up to be announced soon.

There's free entry to the Coca-Cola stage where visitors will find rock, alternative and pop music acts, as well as Nashville North - the home of live country music, and The Big Four Roadhouse - where you can eat, drink, be merry, dance and even play games like foosball in a chilled-out atmosphere.

But the two big guns of the CS program are the ticketed rodeo and evening show.

The Stampede Rodeo boasts that it is the world's richest tournament-style rodeo.

Some of the planet's best competitors, horses, bulls and steers take part in the program from 1.30pm daily. Nine rodeo events over 10 days carry $2 million in prize money. And every stride, every buck, every rope throw and tie, every victory builds towards Showdown Sunday: the world's largest outdoor rodeo. The Calgary Stampede Evening Show is a must-see doubleheader. First up is the GMC Rangeland Derby: a no-holds-barred, heartstopping pounding of hooves with reins flying in strong, skilled hands as the Grandstand Arena hosts chuckwagon racing.

A total of 36 chuckwagon drivers, supported by their outriders and 216 horses, have their eyes on the prize: $1.45 million in total. Nine nightly heats will have you betting among yourselves which of the four crazy chuckwagon teams will cross the finish line first.

The ever-popular Bell Grandstand Show is a breathtakingly elaborate program of song and dance featuring guest artists and the Young Canadians theatre troupe, stunt artists, acrobats (last year's program saw the real Eddie the Eagle Olympic ski jumper "fly" above the grandstand, to commemorate his part in the Calgary 1988 Winter Games) and a spectacular fireworks finale.

So whether you've lived on the land all your life, or just want to dust off the Akubra and give the Wrangler jeans and RM Williams checked shirt an airing from the wardrobe, saddle up or get on the chuckwagon heading north to Calgary.

PLAY

This year's Calgary Stampede in Calgary in Alberta, Canada, will be held from July 5-14.

Visit www.calgarystampede.com for tickets and more information.

Air Canada flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner direct from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Vancouver. Visit www.aircanada.com

Calgary itself is a pretty city and a walk along Bow River with its green parks and pedestrian bridges is a must. Hire a canoe, kayak or paddle boat and get up close with the ducks.

Calgary is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, about 90 minutes away in Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway.

 

The Calgary skyline.
The Calgary skyline. Shirley Sinclair

EAT

Giddy up for fast-food heaven on a stick - quite literally.

The variety is astounding - from Mexican-style street corn to giant squid on a stick, caveman-size turkey legs to the Quebec delicacy poutine (French fries and cheese curds in a brown gravy), Korean barbecue tater tots to deep-fried bacon onion bombs, and smoking charcoal ice cream in a cup to pop rocks mini doughnuts.

Last year's menu also had some surprises for those game enough to try.

How about rustling up a couple of Prairie Oyster Balls (classic mini doughnut "bear balls", topped with the balls of a bull - literally, then drizzled blueberry compote and topped with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed nuts).

Or cricket grilled cheese (four-cheese blend on thick Texas-style toast, topped with a healthy serving of crunchy, tasty crickets) and deep-fried banana peppers (mixed pickled hot pepper rings, battered in tempura and deep fried).



Two gongs for humble billionaire

premium_icon Two gongs for humble billionaire

"At all times my feet are still on the red soil ground of Bundaberg"

Patients told to hit highway

premium_icon Patients told to hit highway

"Their distribution is still vastly weighted towards urban areas"