Smiles and holiday cheer could be felt all around on a crisp November day at the 26th annual Giddy Up Christmas Event on Saturday, November 30, 2019, hosted by the Calgary Stampede Queens’ Alumni committee.

Giddy Up Christmas is one of four of the Queens’ Alumni annual Giddy Up events, which focus on sharing Stampede spirit with special needs children in our community through unique sensory-sensitive experiences.

Queens’ Alumni members, Stampede Royalty, Stampede volunteers and Giddy Up Christmas guests.

“The Giddy Up events are our flagship events that have come to distinguish the Queens’ Alumni committee and the Calgary Stampede in the community, with the goal of bringing the Stampede’s brand of western hospitality, community spirit and an extra little sparkle to children with special needs,” said Amy Smith, Chair, Queens’ Alumni committee.

At Giddy Up Christmas, young guests were greeted by Queens’ Alumni members, Harry the Horse, the Calgary Stampede Royalty and Promotion committee members. The children in attendance enjoyed a craft station, face painting, sleigh rides around the Grandstand track and a visit from Buddy the miniature horse. Of course, no Christmas event would be complete without a visit from Santa Claus himself – each guest got to spend a few moments one-on-one with Santa and received a gift to take home and enjoy.

Sleigh ride around the Grandstand track at Giddy Up Christmas.

Over the 26 years of Giddy Up Christmas, the event has really expanded and grown, now offering two different event times for the third year in a row, more than doubling the capacity of the event from 80 guests to 180.

“Our connection to the special needs community is incredibly important to us and we treasure the relationships we have built. Working with these children and their families is an honour and certainly a humbling experience. These events are extremely heartwarming and will hopefully make a positive difference in their lives,” shared Smith.

Throughout the year, the Queens’ Alumni committee hosts three other Giddy Up events: Giddy Up Aggie Days, Giddy Up Grits and Giddy Up Rodeo.

The Queens’ relationship with the special needs community began 40 years ago in 1979, with the first-ever Giddy Up Grits event. In 1979, a few former members of the Royal Trio decided to come together and host the event. The Stampede liked what they were doing so much, they encouraged these women to form a volunteer committee – Queens’ Alumni – and gave them a budget and a mandate to keep engaging the special needs community through events like Giddy Up Grits.

“The Giddy Up events with special needs children are always feel-good events. A few of the current Queens’ Alumni members also have special needs children, so the work that we do is even more meaningful, knowing we have a positive impact on our own families, too,” said Tara Linton, former Chair, Queens’ Alumni. “We also build a connection with the children at each of these events. We see them year-round with their families at all of the Giddy Up events – we see them grow up with our events – and it’s pretty meaningful for everyone involved.”

Queens’ Alumni members serving up pancakes at Giddy Up Grits.

Giddy Up Grits is the Queens’ Alumni premier Stampede event, where guests are invited to a lower-sensory experience at the annual Calgary Stampede in July. The morning kicks off with a Stampede breakfast and then the families are invited to enjoy the rides on the Kids’ Midway before Stampede Park officially opens to the public, courtesy of North American Midway Entertainment (NAME). Scooter Korek, President of NAME, liked the idea of Giddy Up Grits so much that he has since implemented a similar event at an annual fair in Detroit, modelled after Giddy Up Grits.

Similarly, Giddy Up Aggie Days provides an opportunity for special needs children to enjoy Aggie Days in April, before the event opens to the public and the hustle and bustle begins. At this event, guests get to have an agricultural experience, getting up close with animals and having a chance to interact with the different exhibits in a quieter environment.

At the Giddy Up Rodeo event in October, the children have the opportunity to experience the world of rodeo, trying their hand at different rodeo events, including lassoing, barrel racing on stick horses, bull riding on a bull teeter-totter and horseback riding. There are also animals on hand for ample petting and visiting.

Barrel Racing at Giddy Up Rodeo.

“We do many other things in the community year-round, but the Giddy Up events are our committee’s main purpose,” adds Linton. “We want to do these events bigger and better every year, working with as many children as possible to give them the Stampede experience. We want to make it so there are no barriers for the special needs community to experience the agriculture, western hospitality and so many other wonderful experiences the Stampede has to offer.”

In 2020, the committee hopes to introduce a brand new Giddy Up program – Giddy Up Strides. This program will be an equine-assisted learning camp for children with special needs, furthering the hands-on, agricultural education that the committee and the Stampede provide.