23 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 3

When it comes to birthday party places, the Ponoka Stampede has to be one of the best. Jake Gardner celebrated his big day with thousands of folks by making a shiny 86-point bull ride to take over the lead in his event, during the third performance.

“I’m having a pretty good day,” grinned the now 27-year-old, moments after being the only one in the bull riding line-up to make the whistle. “It’s a fun rodeo, so it’s hard to keep it cool. But I kept level-headed and focused and got my job done today, so I’m going to let loose and have fun tonight!”

Gardner had lots to celebrate since the Kesler bull he tamed called Down with the Devil has only been ridden the full eight seconds once before… by Gardnerhimself!

I’d seen him all last year. He bucks real hard. He hadn’t been rode and I drew him at the CFR and got him covered there. Then I drew him here. I mean, what a good birthday present!

After three performances, there are only two qualified bull rides for the twelve available spots in Sunday’s final round. Gardener doesn’t believe the drought will last.

“I think the bulls are just bucking, but there’s a few more good performances here with some really good guys, and I don’t think that’s going to hold up in the lead.”

The cowboy who comes from Ft. St. John B.C. is an All Around hand, the current holder of the Kenny Maclean Award for excelling in both ends of the arena. He wrestled a steer in 6.1 seconds in the performance, before hustling back to the chutes to warm up his bull rope.

“Bulldoggers are great guys. They’re always there to help me out. I rode Brendan Laye’s horse and it worked phenomenal for me. I wish I’d done better on my first steer, but it’s just good to get one down on this long score.”

I’m going to start entering Ponoka every year for my birthday. It seemed to work out good,” added Gardner.

There were other lead changes during Wednesday’s round, including in the steer wrestling. Pacean Deleeuw capitalized on his 4.5 second run in the morning, adding in a 5.3 second afternoon run to overtake the lead with a 9.8 second total.

“My heart’s still beating like crazy. I just can’t believe it right now,” admitted the steer wrestler from Athabasca, competing at just his second Ponoka Stampede as a pro. I did good on my first (steer) and I wanted to do good on my second. I didn’tthink it would be that good, but I’m sure glad it was. My horse worked awesome, and I caught up to the steer really good, and the steer did his job, just like I did mine.”

It’s my favorite rodeo. When I was high school rodeoing, I just started steer wrestling in my grade 11 year. The Ponoka High School rodeo was where I won my first steer wrestling buckle.”

And with two solid runs like he’s already made, Deleeuw has put himself in position to contend for a much more valuable Ponoka buckle.

“This will help me huge to have confidence with two good runs, so I can build off that, and keep on going.”

The Graham brothers of Wainwright have been tearing up the team roping circuit this spring, and they rolled into Ponoka to record times of 5.6 and 6.3 seconds, to speed up the event with their 11.9 second lead on two runs.

“Honestly, this is the first time we’ve ever caught two here!” admits Dawson Graham. “So that feels pretty good. A rodeo this big and this good that a guy’s never done good at, it’s kind of nice to get two caught, hopefully get a little (cash) in the rounds, and come back to try again on Sunday.”

Heeler Dillon credits his new horse for their success. He managed to convince his friend Keely Bonnett of Ponoka to sell him his award-winning horse, Cruz.

“He was wanting to help us out,” says Graham. “Our goal is to make the National Finals this year. That horse is going to be a huge part of it.”

“We need a good fourth (of July run) right here,” adds Dawson Graham. “It would help us.”

When Tuf Cooper rolls into town, no tie down roping lead is safe. The Texas looper who’s collected four world buckles and a Canadian one showed why, by roping his first calf in 8.1 seconds, then coming back to shave off a tenth for an eight flat in the performance, leading on two with 16.1.

“I knew I had a good chance and I wanted to come back and make the same type of run I made this morning, and it was pretty close to it, so I can’t argue with that,” says Cooper, who used the great Canadian rope horse Peso, owned by Logan Bird.

It’s such a relief to know you get to come up here and have that type of dancing partner. It takes care of everything and you’re able to clear your head and just enjoy what we get to do for a living.”

There’s a few different approaches to coming down the lane. I like to start just a little bit early. That way I have time to hold my horse up or give it more gas if I need to. It seems to be better to use the brake and the gas, instead of just the gas.”

I’ve won Ponoka twice, and I sure would love to make it three. We’ll see what’s in store.”

Traveling partners Sage Newman and Chase Brooks both bumped former leader Ben Anderson back in the saddle bronc riding. Brooks has the edge after marking 89.25 on Duane Kesler’s Double Red

“It’s been hard this year leaving the house,” says Brooks, a Montanan who was living in Texas for the winter. “Having a one-year-old daughter changes a guy’s perspective, so it’s been tough. At least when it goes like this, it’s worth it.”

“This spring, I pretty much sat at home. But now it’s go time. I can’t really sit around anymore. I better get at it now.”

The best bareback ride of the day was an 85.75 from Canadian champion Ty Taypotat on Cowboy Up, which moved him into third spot behind the 89.25 still in first from Kade Sonnier. Celeste Montpellier of Stettler ran the barrel pattern in 17.75 seconds, and she’s still on track to be among the top twelve at sixth spot.

There’s more rodeo action at 1:00 pm Thursday.

Back to Stories