How to attend the Calgary Stampede

By Jessica Bruno | November 14, 2014 | Last updated on November 14, 2014
4 min read

You’ll be heading to Calgary next year to see clients who manage an oil company. They’re new to the area and have never been to the Stampede—nor have you—but you’re treating them to a day at the rodeo. While you didn’t grow up on the back of a bronco, you can still showcase the best of the West.

The Calgary Stampede runs for 10 days every July. More than one million guests come to see cowboys rope calves, race chuckwagons and ride bulls. Tickets go on sale every October. Calgary advisor Dave Lougheed, vice-president and portfolio manager, Private Client Group at Raymond James, entertains clients at the Stampede and volunteers on the courtesy car committee. He says, “Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been there 20 times, it’s easy to be drawn in.”

Cheat sheet: Stampede events

Bareback: A cowboy must ride a bucking horse for eight seconds. He uses one hand to hold onto a special grip around the horse’s back. He can’t touch any part of the horse or equipment with his free hand. As the horse bucks, the rider must also try to extend his feet forward.

Barrel racing: At the only women’s event at the Stampede, the rider guides her horse as fast as she can across the arena floor and around three barrels arranged in a clover-leaf pattern. The horse may nudge a barrel, but if it falls over, a five-second penalty is added to the rider’s time.

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More event info, and photos from the Stampede!

Lougheed starts planning in January, and invites clients six weeks before the event. He plans for one client event a day, choosing between the afternoon rodeo or the evening chuckwagon race and concert. His favourite hosting venue is the Infield Suites. Surrounding the competition area, these hospitality rooms are as close to the action as guests can get. Horse-riding contestants burst into the arena from pens directly below each suite. The suites accommodate 15 to 50 people, and come with bar service, wait staff and food. The menu boasts lobster tails, oysters and bacon-wrapped bison.

For an exclusive feel, choose premium seating areas such as the Ranahans or The Lazy S. You and your clients will be served a meal of local favourites, like Alberta beef and saskatoon-berry pie. Then you’ll watch events from the comfort of a private patio.

Advisor Tammy Truman, owner of the Truman Insurance Agency at The Co-operators Group, is a longtime Stampede volunteer and sponsor. She says it’s best to entertain clients on weekdays. “It’s a little less busy and you get more service.”

There’s also no difference in the events you’ll see day-to-day: competitors run the gamut as they attempt to qualify for the finals and a shot at $100,000.

To make your client’s experience special, have a rodeo star or chuckwagon driver come by for a meet-and-greet. Even for the uninitiated, there’s plenty to talk about with a cowboy, says Lougheed. “Talk to them about what they do, and how they [got] started,” he says. You can also ask how a competitor’s season is going, and where else he’s toured. For a chuckwagon driver, he also asks whether the track is in good shape.

what to wearWhat to wear

Men and women: Stetson cowboy hat, collared plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves and snap-button front, denim jacket and jeans, belt with an oversized buckle and cowboy boots.

For an insider experience, Truman uses all-access passes to take clients behind the scenes before or after the nightly chuckwagon race. She arranges for them to go to the barn and meet a team and their horses. Guests can walk the straw floors of the immense building, and in the back there’s a driver’s area with a barbecue and bar.

The passes are perks for Stampede sponsors, explains Jennifer Booth, Stampede spokesperson. Truman suggests finding someone in your network who’s a sponsor and offering to trade services for extra tickets.

When it comes to watching an event, the announcers know there are plenty of first-timers. “They walk people through what’s happening, so even new people understand how it works,” says Lougheed.

For most events, riders have to stay on their animal—bull or horse—for eight seconds. They’re scored on technique, and beast-and-rider duos are evaluated on how well the animal performs. “They get marked on how they buck and how they move when they come out of the chutes,” he says.

While newbies and non-locals are welcome, everyone has to dress like an old hand. If you buy new cowboy boots, she advises breaking them in before wearing them on-site. Also, the Stampede grounds can be dusty and muddy, so wear easily washable clothes.

While the rodeo is the big draw, clients may be interested in some of the dozens of Stampede-themed events taking place across Calgary. Each morning there are scores of breakfasts, usually hosted by community groups. Lougheed recommends the Bullshooters Breakfast, hosted by the Stampede City Progress Club. It comes with drinks, a live band and dancing. Tickets are $125 each.

Jessica Bruno is a Toronto-based financial writer.

Jessica Bruno