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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > June 2016 > BACK IN THE SADDLE

BACK IN THE SADDLE

Put your feet in the stirrups, pull on a ten-gallon hat and gear up for an all-Western adventure in Canada’s Alberta – land of cowboys, pioneers and adventurers for over 200 years
Guides from Banff Trail Riders cross the glacier-fed Cascade River, deep in the Rocky Mountains
PHOTOGRAPHS JUSTIN FOULKES

@amandacanning

@justinfoulkes

The fairground at Calgary Stampede in full flow, with Downtown just beyond

The sun’s heat is already ferocious when Tim O’Connell sits down for breakfast, his shy smile in shadow beneath the brim of his straw hat. Around him, families start the day with mugs of coffee, bowls of chilli beans and easygoing chat. ‘It’s a game of bumps and bruises,’ he says in the nonchalant manner of someone discussing the weekend’s DIY plans. ‘I’ve broken every knuckle, broke my shoulder, ripped my ear half off, torn my collarbone off my sternum, Thankfully, the good Lord fixed me up.’

In four hours, Tim will make the short walk from the park to the grandstand. He’ll tape up his hands, check his riding rope and climb on to the back of a horse that would like nothing better than to remove him as quickly as possible. A bareback rodeo rider for six years – and a horseman since he was knee-high – Tim is one of the sport’s top athletes, invited to take part in one of its top competitions: the Calgary Stampede. ‘I’m from a little small town in Iowa,’ he says, fingers resting on his belt buckle. ‘We got a stop sign and a bar, that’s pretty much it. It’s a whole different world here. Where else are you going to go to a rodeo where there’s 30,000 people in the stands at noon on a Monday?’

Ribs on the barbecue at the Stampede. LEFT Bareback rodeo rider Tim O’Connell ready to compete

For 10 days every year, Calgary goes cowboy-mad. Well over a million people pour through the gates for the Stampede, each in the compulsory uniform of broad- brimmed hat, denim jeans, checked shirt and cowboy boots. Some skip the rodeo and agricultural exhibitions that have been the historical focus of the festival, and head straight to venues paying less obvious tribute to Canada’s Western heritage. Streets of food stalls prove the old adage that if you can put it on a stick, deep-fry it then wrap it in bacon, everyone will want to eat it. At the enormous fairground, teenagers strap themselves into rides designed to fling them up and down and round and round until they passionately regret that last grilled- cheese doughnut. And in the outdoor bars, friends gather for cans of Stampede-branded Budweiser and a chance to ride the mechanical bull (‘Good job, little lady!’ yells the compère as the latest recruit stumbles away defeated).

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