Spencer-the-horse takes it to the top

David Cowley's unorthodox Stampede tradition

photo by toque & canoe

David Cowley, his eyes as blue as his turquoise cowboy shirt, sits atop a horse outside the Calgary Tower and fields questions from international media about the stunt he’s about to pull.

Why, for example, would anyone want to take a powerful quarter horse that measures “sixteen hands high” up the Calgary Tower in a tiny metal elevator?

“This has been a Stampede tradition since 1999,” says the 32-year-old whose family (as close as you get to cowboy royalty in these parts) runs the Rafter Six dude ranch located 45 minutes west of Calgary.

“What I’m trying to demonstrate to people is the trust a person can build with an animal,” Cowley tells us. “Spencer trusts me and you can bet I trust him if I’m prepared to go into an elevator with him to the top of the Calgary Tower.”

With Cowley – who says he speaks “horse” better than he speaks “human” – it’s all about the animals.

To celebrate this year’s centennial Stampede, his family traveled for five days by horseback through foothills and privately-held ranchlands to Calgary before joining the kick-off parade. (Cowley’s father, Stan, has not missed a Stampede parade in 72 years.)

“We had 25 horses – two teams but also riding and pack horses – and everywhere we went, animals came to greet us. At one point, a whole herd of cattle came running along beside us. They were really excited,” says Cowley.

“We camped along the way and drank cowboy coffee in the morning. It gave us an appreciation for what people went through to come to the Stampede a century ago.”

As for Cowley’s unorthodox Calgary Tower tradition? It was actually pretty cool.

Especially when the horse/rider duo stepped out of the elevator at 1228 metres above sea level and onto the observation deck with a full view of Stampede city.

And especially when Cowley asked bystanders to move back so he could crack his cowboy whip – which sounded like gunshot – and Spencer barely batted a thick brown eyelash.

As for the crowd of gobsmacked onlookers? Not so calm. These tourists weren’t expecting, frankly, to share the view with a 1100 pound quarter horse named Spencer.

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