CALGARY — Take a cowboy with smouldering brown eyes. Add a cowgirl in tight blue jeans. Then throw in plenty of booze and a party atmosphere and you risk rustling up a whole heap of trouble during the Calgary Stampede.

The 10-day annual event has been known to descend into debauchery for some, as inhibitions and even common sense vamoose out the window.

“You’ve been branded,” says one young cowgirl as she plants a kiss on the cheek of one wanna-be cowboy.


“Call me if you want to get together later,” she murmurs, slipping him her phone number.

As Calgarians shed their business attire for hats, boots and jeans, some seem to find that the gold wedding ring gets as tight as the necktie from that three-piece suit.

“The number of people starting to file for divorce also spikes after the festivities of Stampede have come and gone,” says Karen Steward, founder and CEO of Fairway Divorce Solutions.

Within about six weeks of the festivities, calls from people talking about divorce go up about 30 per cent, she says.

“Perhaps somebody was out on their own and thinking, ’You know what, the grass might be greener on the other side.’ Or maybe, ’I didn’t like the behaviour of myself or my spouse and it’s time to move on.”’

The Stampede can bring focus to the strengths or weaknesses of a relationship, Steward says. Close couples get closer. But tensions surface between partners having problems.

Affairs and infidelity are big factors in many divorces, she says, and the Stampede offers opportunities for some couples to see what else is out there.

“Is Stampede gasoline on the fire? Absolutely.”

The impression that the cowboy festival and bad behaviour go hand-in-hand was lampooned several years ago in a spoof advertisement that many people took as truth. A downtown hotel advertised its Stampede party with a promise that patrons could check their wedding rings at the door — and then get a spray tan to erase any tattle-tale tan lines.

The hotel later made clear the ad was in jest.

Dr. Sonya Lee, a family physician and professor at the University of Calgary, says some people do take risks while partying western-style.

“We would say that people do engage in high-risk sexual behaviour during Stampede, and we know that Stampede is a great attractor for young adults and adolescents.”

It brings with it several factors that can prompt risky sexual behaviour, including the use of alcohol and drugs and travel away from home, she says. “(At) some (sexually transmitted disease) testing clinics, we have actually seen increased visits and increased testing rates a few weeks after Stampede.”

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