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Bull riding, Scott Schiffner

Ty Wallace of Collbran, Colo., gets tossed off the bull named Chicago Gangster after his eight-second ride during the Calgary Stampede last week.

Todd Korol

If anybody knows how to win at the Calgary Stampede rodeo it’s bull rider Scott Schiffner. He has won more bull-riding events in Canada than any other athlete, and has twice won the Calgary Stampede.

“Calgary can scare people,” the 37-year-old said. “But it can also make people rise to the occasion. You can’t let it get into your head, you have to be prepared both mentally and physically.”

To prepare for rodeo’s most dangerous event, Schiffner will try to come into the Stampede as healthy as possible, which can be tricky at this time of year with so many events going on, referred to as Cowboy Christmas. “I really work on my stretching, just being prepared mentally and I try to even eat better.”

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Every cowboy admits winning the world’s richest rodeo can be life changing. “Worldwide, everyone knows about the Calgary Stampede. Eight seconds can make you a house hold name around the world,” Schiffner says, smiling.

Tie-down roping, Shane Hanchey

Stetson Vest of Childress, Tex., flips a calf in the tie-down roping event.

Todd Korol

It’s Friday at the Calgary Stampede and Shane Hanchey, the Louisiana cowboy, has been in a self-proclaimed “funk.” For the past three days, he has been close to the bottom of the pack with no earnings. This is a situation the past champion of the tie-down roping event is not used to.

“How you handle the lows dictates how you handle the highs,” Hanchey says right after shaking off the funk and winning the round on Friday.

Physically there is not much Hanchey can do to prepare as he too is on the Cowboy Christmas run of multiple rodeos in a short period around North America.

It’s the mental game for Hanchey that makes the difference. “Your highs can’t be too high and your lows can’t be too low,” the cowboy says. “You have to lay low, get some rest and shift your focus to be as fast as you can.”

“It’s a dream come true,” Hanchey says of winning the Stampede. “It’s a cliché, but people don’t realize it’s such a big deal for cowboys down south. It’s the best guys, the best stock and the best rodeo.”

Steer wrestling, Straws Milan

Chason Floyd of Buffalo, S.D., wrestles a steer.

Todd Korol

When you’re talking to Straws Milan, he’s smiling. When he’s in the arena talking to the other steer wrestlers, he’s smiling. When he’s behind the chutes with his two brothers, Tanner and Baillee, yep, smiling.

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Milan’s biggest smile perhaps came in 2011 when he won the steer-wrestling event and $100,000 at the Calgary Stampede. “What a day,” Milan remembers, beaming.

Milan, who came from a working cattle ranch near Cochrane, Alta., had a shot at playing junior hockey, but picked steer wrestling at 17.

Before the Stampede, Milan was home for just one day from travelling the rodeo circuit. “You practise, you try to come in as sharp as possible. I spent my time studying cattle. It’s like watching game-day films, but I watch videos of the steers, my rides.” Milan, always looking for an edge.

Bareback, Kaycee Feild

Caleb Bennett of Tremonton, Utah, hangs on the best he can on the horse Xrated Dancer in the bareback event.

Todd Korol

Before the Calgary Stampede started, Kaycee Feild rolled in having finished a sprint of 14 rodeos in 10 days. “You want to be physically sound coming here, but getting on these horses can be a tough, violent fight.”

To help him cope with the long stretch, Feild relies on his mental game. “You have to really stay focused for eight seconds. Right before the ride, I really focus on my breathing and try and have a mental image of my ride.”

Every event at the Stampede rodeo has its dangers and bareback is no exception. But for bareback riders, it’s not the rides, it’s in the bucking chutes. “You’re trapped in a steel box with a wild, wild horse that can rear up and smash ya up,” Feild says.

Along with winning the Calgary Stampede, Feild is an extreme-sports junkie. The Utah cowboy has tried Motocross, surfing, skydiving. The list is long. “But not one thing is half as exciting as getting on a bucking horse.”

Chuckwagon, Jason Glass

Chad Harden of Thorsby, Alta., takes the lead in a chuckwagon race.

Todd Korol

It’s an hour before chuckwagon driver Jason Glass races. He sits calmly in a reclining lounge chair in a Calgary Stampede horse barn, surrounded by his horses, studying a small book filled with horse photos.

Team building for the world champion and past Calgary Stampede champion never stops. “I’m always trying to improve my team,” Glass says. “It’s just like a hockey team, I have my one, two and three lineup.”

Glass, who comes from a long line of chuckwagon drivers, has lived this sport his whole life, and knows what it takes to win the Stampede.

“You need horses that can run, you have to stay away from penalties and everyone has to be strong. The Stampede is a marathon,” he says.

The most critical moment for Glass and his team is when they pull into the barrels right before the race. “You drive with your hands, you have to feel the horses with the reins and they feel you. Everything happens in a millisecond. And the one thing about this sport is, you can never blame the horses.”

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Barrel racing, Tiany Schuster

Kelly Bruner of Millsap, Tex., rides in the barrel racing event.

Todd Korol

There is a lot of pressure on Texan Tiany Schuster at this year’s Stampede. Last year’s winner of the women’s barrel-racing event started to feel it weeks before the Stampede started.

“I turned out of six or seven events just to prepare for the Stampede,” the 41-year-old said. “Horse fatigue plays a huge part, so I really wanted to be ready.”

Schuster lives, eats and breathes barrel racing, and owns the Stampede arena record with her 8-year-old horse, Showmance. “Well it was a Cinderella story last year. He almost died after an allergic reaction to an antibiotic a month before the Stampede. But I told the doctors he’ll get better and we are going to win the Stampede,” she said.

“It’s like the Super Bowl here. Winning is very rewarding. It means you have the best horse in the country. This rodeo just means so much. You’ve come and you’ve conquered.”

Saddle bronc, Wade Sundell

Justin Berg of Marwayne, Alta., gets set for flight on the horse Until Kamloops in the saddle bronc event.

Todd Korol

It’s an easy-going attitude that Oklahoma cowboy Wade Sundell carries around in his back pocket. As other cowboys stretch and get ready for their ride, Sundell hangs back, sitting deep in a sofa and laughs with another cowboy in the change room.

After competing in the saddle-bronc event in 10 to 12 rodeos in the previous eight days, he’s not worried about resting. “Gettin’ on everyday is all right,” Sundell says. When asked about taking a day off, the reply is the same. “That’s okay, too. I don’t think much about it, I just live every day to day”

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For Sundell it’s a simple recipe. “Basically, you do your part and give it everything you’ve got, ride the horses and let it all hang out,” he says with his Western drawl.

The two time Stampede winner, not even sure when he won admits the Stampede is his favourite place. “Winning here is at the top of any cowboy’s list, and if it ain’t, they’re lying.”

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