One of my favourite day trips from Calgary is to visit Cochrane, so when I had the chance to check out the Calgary Police Rodeo this weekend, there was no way I would pass it up.
My first time at this rodeo, I was surprised to see how close the grounds are to downtown Cochrane, making the arena a short jaunt from hotels and the other fun things to do in the area. Yes, that’s right, and you can even walk to MacKay’s Ice Cream or the Half Hitch Brew Pub (see below) from there.
This mid-summer rodeo is a teaser to the bigger Cochrane Lions Labour Day Rodeo happening on the upcoming Labour Day weekend (Sept. 2 to 4), an event that last year celebrated its 50th birthday.
If the Cochrane Lions Labour Day Rodeo is anything like the Calgary Police Rodeo, it’s definitely worth coming into town to see.
Featuring pro-circuit-seeking cowboys, the rodeo puts you right smack in the centre of the action. You can feel the rumble of the hooves and the excitement of the contestants in the air. You’re so close to the action that even the most city-dwelling person may feel the need to pull on some cowboy boots.
Intensely action-packed events like bareback riding and calf roping get the adrenaline pumping and the dust flying.
Dawson Northcott is the rodeo clown for the Labour Day weekend rodeo, keeping the entertainment rolling between events.
“When there is a lull in the rodeo, that is when I fill in to keep the action feel like it is still going,” said Northcott.
He can vouch for the popularity of the Labour Day rodeo, recommending that you get there early to find a seat on the popular hill for spectators. But there’s also infield seating, too.
“It is a great rodeo, it has great stock, there are great cowboys, it is a full day of action. It’s something to see.”
The cowboys that compete in the Cochrane Lions Labour Day Rodeo are not yet on the pro circuit, so this is a chance to show off their skills in the hopes of kicking up their career to the next level.
Ride of a lifetime
I had the chance to sidle up next to one of the bronco riders as he got ready to take on the ride of his life.
Cinching his hand in tight with countless readjustments, you could sense this riders’ intense focus and the adrenaline coursing through his body.
With the casual “ready to go boys?” the gate was opened and he was sent hurdling and bucking into the arena with what seemed to be a surprising sense of composure.
I’d never been so close to the such courage and a look of joy – something so obvious when you get a chance to see these cowboys doing what they love.
Jason Whitfield, arena director, knows what it’s like to get the chance to show your rodeo chops in this very arena.
“I came through here and then [went on to win] the Canadian title,” said Whitfield.
“Our rodeo is our history, it is Cochrane's version of the Calgary Stampede,” he said.
“It is one of the best amateur rodeos in Canada, if not North America. Not just the prize money but the contestants.”
Many of the contestants go on to compete at the Calgary Stampede and the National Finals Rodeo, he said.
“That is what sets our rodeo apart, really.”
But it isn’t all about the bull riding, calf roping and clowning around. The grounds are jam-packed full of food trucks and activities for kids.
Stroll into town
And because of its excellent location, you can take a stroll into town within minutes.
If you need a break from the activity, head over to the Half Hitch Brew Pub.The upscale micro-brewery-meets pub is filled with fun, local facts and board games, too, all part of the friendly atmosphere that goes along with a delicious menu and tasty locally crafted beers.
Tables are adorned with interesting memorabilia sealed into the finish, paying tribute to the local Heier/Kozloski family that made the brewery possible.
I ordered the pork belly tacos and a Farmer’s Daughter, an American Pale Ale beer brewed on site. Sitting on the patio, covered in dirt from the excitement of the rodeo, I watched the daily comings and goings in town surrounded by the foothills, just soaking up the day’s events.
It was a perfect combination and the ultimate way to refuel after an exciting afternoon of taking in Cochrane’s cowboy heritage.
If you go
Cochrane is less than a 30-minute drive west from Calgary. Use either the 1A from Northwest Calgary straight into Cochrane or, take the TransCanada and turn north onto The Cowboy Trail (Highway 22). After over half a century, the rodeo grounds are still centrally located in the heart of Cochrane.
Heading to Cochrane for the rodeo? Make sure to check in at Cochrane Tourism's official website and find out all the amazing things to do in the area.
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