Ride ’em cowboy! From Dubai to the Calgary Stampede

Tariq Elnaga loves a good rodeo. After immigrating to Calgary from Dubai, where he grew up, Elnaga fell in love with Alberta’s ranch culture. He’s now a full-fledged rodeo amateur—and he’s also a CRIEC Champion for diversity and inclusion, doing his part to help newcomer professionals.

Tariq kindly took time with us during his favourite part of year—the 10 days of Stampede—to talk further about horses, finding a job and why it’s worth it for newcomers to participate in the Calgary Stampede.

What was it about ranch and rodeo culture that appealed to you?

After coming out to Calgary in 2010 for a vacation and attending the Calgary Stampede, I absolutely fell in love with Western culture. It was so raw, authentic and real, and very different from everything I grew up with, which was very urban/city like.

Watching rodeo for the first time was like watching a Western movie, especially that I have no horse experience at all, and I couldn’t help it but tell myself – I gotta try this!

How would you describe your involvement with ranch and rodeo culture today?

Ever since I moved here I’ve joined the Airdrie & District Ag Society (as a member and 3 year board member) and started volunteering with the Airdrie Pro Rodeo.

I’ve done everything from “working the land” to driving tractors, and most recently, learning how to herd on the back of a horse. I’ve also helped with hosting harvest demos for “city slickers,” which I personally find very ironic, because I was one just a few years ago.

My goal for this summer is to attend at least 5 rodeo events (I’ve already been to 4!) and learn ranch skills on horseback. I’m working with an outstanding horse whisperer—Nancy Lowery in the Airdrie area. I’ve had the absolute honour this year of volunteering with Nancy and her horses for a demonstration at the Stampede. Never would I have ever imagined being backstage with a team of horses at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth! It was a proud moment for sure!

If you had to pick one thing, what would you say you enjoy most about Stampede?

There’s so many great things about the Calgary Stampede, but if it must be one, it’s the rodeo – it’s where it all started! The Rangeland Derby (chuckwagon races) is a close second!

Why do you think it’s important for newcomers to get involved with Stampede?

The Stampede is woven into the fabric and history of the city, and it’s the biggest and busiest event of the year so the opportunities to learn about Calgary and Alberta’s history and culture are massive. I love that the Stampede is a great way to learn about our First Peoples as well, and that the event is a great way to network, both professionally and personally.

The Stampede also drives many events throughout the year, so the more you are involved, the more you will learn about Calgary and meet people from many walks of life.

How different (or similar) is cowboy culture from the culture you grew up in?

While the way of life is completely different, as I grew up very urban, many of the values of hard work, resiliency, family, community and entrepreneurship are actually very similar.

If you could give one piece of advice to a newcomer experiencing the Calgary Stampede for the first time, what would it be?

You must visit the grounds at least once in the 10 days, and take in all that you can! Try everything once, even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone a little bit—while being safe of course. I would personally recommend you attend the rodeo if you can, but there’s so much happening that I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like. Better yet though, volunteer and get involved in your favourite activity!

What is your day job and what was your own personal journey to employment in Calgary?

I’m an engineer that works in Talent Development and HR for the energy sector – I’m very passionate about, and involved in leadership development, mentoring and performance management. When I moved out here I just did what many others do: network, meet people, learn about both the corporate and local culture, adapt my skill set, and apply for roles that I thought was suitable until I got hired. I did need to go through a number of interviews until there was a good fit, but I couldn’t be happier now.