24 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 2

The busiest cowboy at the Ponoka Stampede finds himself on the leaderboard after making the most of his multiple opportunities Wednesday afternoon.
Riley Wakefield took over the lead in the tie-down roping after adding a solid 9.1 second run to his morning 8.1 second run, during the second day of action at the 88th edition of the biggest rodeo on the Canadian pro circuit. The combined 17.2 seconds puts him on top, and is a good bet for a return trip to Ponoka for Monday’s Finals.

Wakefield hails from O’Neill, Nebraska. It’s only his second trip to the central Alberta town, but he was eager to get back. The timed event specialist is one of the few who really likes the famous, or infamous, Ponoka long score, which gives the animals a generous running head start on the competitor.

“I made it to the Final Four in the steer wrestling last year,” says the 27-year-old. “These alley way setups just fit me.”

In an afternoon of steer wrestling where only three of the eleven contestants recorded a time, Wakefield was the first to do so, and his 6.9 seconds was best of the set, and is third fastest in the round. But for a broken barrier in the morning, Wakefield would have been in great shape in that event as well.

Wakefield focused more on his tie-down roping for several years, but the long score enticed him to do steer wrestling at Ponoka in 2023, and then he added in team roping this year, with his partner Clay McNichol. It’s the only event where he isn’t likely to get some Ponoka cash.

Why all three? Wakefield has some championship buckles in his sights.

“Here in Canada we’ll get to, hopefully, around 50 rodeos. So, with that number of rodeos you can do all three. It’s not easy. The entering’s not easy, but you can do it.”

“I’ve got goals I’ve had since the beginning of winter. I’d like to make the CFR in all three events, and I’d liked to win the All-Around,” states Wakefield.

The long score can be hard on the heart for timed event competitors trying to gauge the timing just right, at high rates of speed. Holding horses back or urging them on from one instant to the next is commonplace. But Wakefield was calm, cool and collected when he nodded his head, all three times.

“I just go back to doing my job. When I make mistakes, is when I try to go too fast, I don’t care what event it is. When I try to skip steps, that’s when bad things happen. I don’t know if my steer wrestling will get me a heckuva a lot of money in the second go-round, but if it gets me a piece of the go-round, I’ll be happy.”

“The calf roping’s been just decent this year. It’s been a little tough, I would say. So to have a go like this here in Ponoka, the biggest rodeo of the year in Canada, it feels good.”

Traveling with a trio of horses, one for each event, adds to the challenges. Especially when you blow a couple of tires on the rig, which forced Wakefield to leave his living quarters trailer in southern Alberta en route to Ponoka.

“Looks like we’ll have to take a stock trailer to Williams Lake, 13 hours away, and we might be roughing it for a little while. It’s going to be wild. But when you’re doing good, a rodeo cowboy doesn’t care. It feels like I could drive all night right now! Hopefully this pays for some expenses on the trailer. But it ain’t about the money. I just enjoy what I do, and I’m lucky to live this life,” says Wakefield.

The young cowboy leading the saddle bronc world rookie standings by a huge margin kept up his hot streak. Zachary Dallas made his first trip to Ponoka count, spurring out 87.75 points on the Prime Time horse Enigma to take over the number one spot. He’d studied the horses moves ahead of time, on video.

“It was pretty awesome, just like that, so I had high hopes,” says the 22-year-old from New Mexico. “I think it might have even been better this trip. I had to bare down through my spur out to stay ahead of it. But then I dang sure had to try.”

Dallas is just wrapping up his college studies at New Mexico State, and he’s fresh off a third place finish at the recent National College Finals. He’s traveling with fellow New Mexico cowboys Leon Fountain and Ross Griffin, who both made the CFR last year.

“They like them up here, so I figured they might like me,” grins Dallas.

Another cowboy making a first appearance at Ponoka slid into second place overall in the bareback riding during the second performance. Dean Thompson weathered the storm on a hard to ride Macza horse OLS Tubs Country Girl, for 86 points, and second place.

“I looked into the horse yesterday and found out she was a real deal bucker. She’s one you see one guy get by and be 86 points on, and then a bunch of zeros. She’s the one that bucks everybody off,” says Thompson. “That’s what you’ve got to have. You want the buckers. You’ve gotta have them if you want to win first place.”

The Utah hand knew Ponoka was a rodeo he needed to attend.

“Last year I was trying to make my first NFR, and this is a critical stop. Ponoka is one of the places you really want to be in. I jumped on it to enter and I didn’t really know how the Canadian pro rodeos worked, so I missed entries,” recalls Thompson. “Man, I was kicking myself hard. I ended up making my first Finals, but I think this one is going to help me to my second one.”

Thompson is one of many cowboys impressed with the Ponoka Stampede move to increase the purse for each event to $60,000.

“I think this is the biggest rodeo going on over the Fourth (of July run) which is unreal because you’re competing with massive American cities hosting giant rodeos, so this is just the place to be.”

“I’ll have to buy my plane ticket now. I bought my plane ticket to get here as soon as I entered. But the guys are so good and the horses buck so hard nowadays, you just don’t know. I mean, you’ve got to ride your tail off. Now I know, so I’ll be set to make it back over here.”

The best bull ride of the day came from a recent high school grad, who’s a second- generation bull rider. Grady Young of Leader, SK was 83.25 points on Macza’s Bruised Ego, to sit in fourth place.

“I always missed this one for high school Nationals (rodeo), so this is my first time here,” says the 18-year-old, who’s headed to college this fall in Snyder, TX on a rodeo scholarship. “It’s a good deal, I like it, it’s exciting! You’re about five miles away and you can see the big bleachers, and it just gets you pumped up. There’s nothing else to do but win.”

Young was so excited it didn’t really matter to him what bull they put under him.

“I know what I’m doing. I’ve just got to go back to the basics and keep it simple. The bull felt awesome, just floated underneath me, felt good, just like a day off. It was lots of fun.”

The fastest barrel racer of the day was Karli Cowie of Makota, SK with a 17.57, for fourth place, behind leader Emily Beisel’s 17.38. Leading the charge in team roping now are Trey Yates and Jake Clay, with 11.4 seconds on their two runs.
Cody Fraser of Sundre remains the bull riding leader at Ponoka with 86.25. Other overall leaders include Orin Larsen in bareback with 86.75, and Layne Delemont in steer wrestling with 12.5 seconds on two runs.



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