In order to beat the crowds, get to the massive Stampede grounds early and head to the agricultural center for a chance to interact with cows and horses before later witnessing their relatives trying to buck off rodeo stars. Farmers from all over Canada come out to showcase revolutions in growing as well as some of their cutest critters. Visitors can learn about properly draining their lawns and environmentally friendly ways to handle trash while also petting baby goats, baby chickens and miniature donkeys. And for anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to be a draft horse, you can don a yoke to see how much weight you can pull.
Nearby is the indoor Stampede Corral, where last year’s shows included an ice-skating musical featuring Olympic gold medalists, acrobats and a live band. After sitting in the dark for an hour, though, it’s time to get the adrenaline flowing with the roller coasters and other amusement-park rides. It’s a section of the park dedicated to embodying the carnival feel of the entire city, so make sure to stroll through it — if you get woozy, you can calm your nerves with increasingly bizarre foods like a hamburger with a donut bun.
The afternoon is devoted to one of the two main attractions: the rodeo. This invitation-only competition pits some of the best athletes in the world against the Stampede’s famously rough stock in events ranging from bull riding to steer wrestling to barrel racing. Try to get tickets for the final day, Showdown Sunday, when riders compete for more than $1 million in prize money. And stay until the end to catch the Wild Pony Races, where teams of up-and-coming cowboys attempt to mount a ferocious pony in under 20 seconds.
While the riders are icing their bruises, walk slowly across the park to Indian Village, where the First Nations people construct towering teepees. Find a cozy place on the lawn overlooking the stage where aboriginals of all ages perform traditional dances and skits about their history. The highlight of Indian Village is the Inter-Tribal Powwow, and at the end of each day, the audience is invited to join the ornately decorated dancers in a two-step “friendship” dance that even the most rhythmically challenged can enjoy.
If Stampede is nothing else, it is the chuck-wagon races. Every evening, thoroughbreds get to do what they do best — run their hearts out in teams of four while pulling a rider and his wagon on a half-mile track.