Eight seconds. Hold your breath. Grip the rail. Time stops. Eight seconds is how long the cowboy must stay on the back of the 1,800 pound, seriously annoyed bull madly thrashing beneath him. The buzzer sounds, the champ leaps clear of the flying hooves and tips his hat to a crowd gone wild. Welcome to rodeo, Alberta style.
Professionals in bull riding, calf roping, bronco busting (saddle bronc and bareback) and barrel racing come from near and far, travelling the rodeo circuit to compete for points and prize money. The Calgary Stampede is known as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth for good reason – it boasts the best stock and is the world’s richest rodeo, with the top competitors vying for more than $2 million in prize money over the 10-day tournament. And if you’ve never been to a chuckwagon race, you’re in for heart pounding thrills.
To get to the heart of rodeo culture, head to any of the dozens of small towns on the circuit in Alberta. You’ll see the same contenders as at the Calgary Stampede but up close and personal, as you cheer them on from the rail.
The showdown at the end of the season is the annual five-day Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton in November – the largest indoor rodeo in Canada. Stakes are high – prizes often top $1 million. The rivalry is fierce as the top prize winners of the year compete for national honours. With an equal mix of rodeo families, devoted fans and enthralled newcomers, the energy is through the roof.