24 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 5

The horse he’d drawn for the 88th Ponoka Stampede was appropriately named – Cracking the Till. If there was ever a cowboy who knows the winning combination in saddle bronc riding… it’s Zeke Thurston. With career earnings well in excess of two million dollars, four World Championships, four Canadian Championships and three Ponoka Stampede titles among his resume highlights already, the Big Valley talent was a good bet for Monday’s Finals. And he and the Calgary Stampede horse did not disappoint, with an 85.5 point performance to move into third place.

Cracking the Till wasn’t the easiest to get out of the chutes on, but Thurston is a true horseman, and handled her with care to get out to the big playpen.

“She’s kind of like that. She’s pretty unpredictable on what she’ll do,” explains Thurston. “She never really has the same trip twice. She’s been around long enough she knows all the tricks in the bucking chute. We made it work anyway.”

Little did she know, Thurston has a few tricks of his own, and can now make his busy rodeo agenda include a return trip to Ponoka Monday.

“I find myself back here quite often. It’s a fun one to compete in,” grins Thurston, who turns 30 next month.

Local rodeo fans were excited to see a pair of Ponoka cowboys put themselves in the hunt for another steer to rope on Monday. Jackson Braithwaite and Derek Hadland, who live just outside of Ponoka, roped their first steer in 7.7 seconds and then speeded things up in the performance with a 5.7. The 13.4 second tally puts them in the middle of the team roping qualifiers, at sixth spot.

“We drew a really good steer. Our buddies who we travel with actually drew him this morning and he was really good,” says Braithwaite, who’s 23. “I kind of just licked my lips when I saw we’d drawn him. We just wanted to make the most of it.”

“It’s our third time here in Ponoka, but first time we’ve got two captured, so we’re kind of pumped about that.”

It didn’t bother the cowboys to rope in front of the hometown fans, as they have roped in pressure situations before.

“We’ve been to Vegas to the World Series (of Team Roping) and that’s a way bigger crowd, so it’s not too bad. I was nervous this morning, because it’s the first time I’ve rode this horse here, so I was glad he turned. He was perfect.”
Braithwaite’s Dad, Todd, is a former bull rider and raises bucking bulls. So paying attention to the team roping is a relatively new venture.

“Yea, it’s starting to grow on him a little bit,” chuckles Braithwaite. “He doesn’t really know the rules, but that’s ok.”

Hadland, the header, grew up in Fort St. John, BC and two years ago, bought a place near Ponoka to be in the unofficial team roping zone of the province, near the Bonnett family, and less travel time to rodeos.

“This morning, I was really late and we made the best of our steer. I got him captured and Jackson did a good job heeling him, but it wasn’t easy. This afternoon we knew we had a really good one and tried to make the best of it,” says the 24-year-old.

Garrett Green is back to pro rodeo in Canada after focusing his bull riding program solely on the PBR for the last several years. He’ll be making a return to the Ponoka Stampede grounds Monday, after being one of two qualified bull rides Saturday afternoon. The 84.25 point ride on the Calgary bull Hot Potato sits fifth among the 12 cowboys who’ve made the eight seconds.

“I’ve seen him twice this year, with the same tracks,” says Green, about his draw. “I knew he was just going to be really good. I knew he was going to look left and then back to the right we go. About seven or eight seconds, he decided to jump ahead and really jerk me down hard,” says Green.

“My free arm smacked one of his horns, and my helmet, they say it smacked his nose, but if felt like it hit something harder than that.”

With the head hit, Green decided to opt out of competing in the evening Wild West PBR at Ponoka. He wants to be ready for the Monday Finals.

“I haven’t won it here. I got second one year. I made the Four Round one year, and got stomped out in the 12-round. I was 86 on that Kish This bull and he stomps me pretty hard. So I ended up turning out of the four round and giving my spot to Tyler Thomson, and he ended up winning the whole deal.”

Green admits every once in a while he likes to remind Thomson, who’s now a pick-up man at the rodeo, about the big Ponoka favor he gave him.
Steer wrestler Dakota Eldridge made short work of his afternoon draw, overturning his steer in 4.9 seconds. Combined with his morning 9.2, he’s now sitting in third with a combined total of 14.1 seconds.

“As easy as the average is, it’s still really tough, so you’ve got to kind of try the barrier on,” says the South Dakota cowboy, who is sitting second in the world standings. “Man, I got a great start. I was able to ride a great horse of Curtis Cassidy’s, and he makes my job a lot easier.”

Tyson has been named World Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year three times in his career, and Eldridge was grateful to ride him for Ponoka.

“Today, I kind of just let it hang out and tried it on him, and it worked out. It’s kind of a cowboy deal here. I’ve been here a handful of times and yea, you still get butterflies when you get in there.”

Valerie Gillespie was the only barrel racer to crack the top twelve ranks on Saturday. She did it in style, with a rapid 17.49 to take over second place.
“He just felt awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better run. I think we had the best day for ground, right after the rain,” says Gillespie, who’s a brand inspector from Finnigan, AB.

There were a couple of horse stumbles among the racers, but Gillespie’s nine-year-old horse Murphy would have none of that.

“I train my horses on ice, so they learn to stand up on Canadian ground. I ride at home outside all winter. You’ve just got to keep them square and they’ll find their feet.”“I’m really happy, and proud of my horse today.”

Texan Trevor Hale was the fastest of three ropers Saturday to ink their names in the top twelve of the tie-down event. He managed to do with the fast time of the afternoon at 8.0 seconds, for 19.4 on two and sixth overall.

“My first calf was strong, and he was really running, and then ducked right. It just wasn’t the best run. I knew I had to come back and be aggressive, on a good calf, and it worked out good.”

The overall Ponoka Stampede leaders, with one performance left to go, are: Haven Meged in tie-down roping (16.9); barrel racer Emily Beisel (17.38); steer wrestler Layne Delemont (12.5); bull riders Cody Fraser and Chase Dougherty (86.25); Zachary Dallas in the saddle bronc riding (87.75); Trey Yates and Jake Clay in the team roping (11.4) and Orin Larsen in the bareback riding (86.75). Ethan Mazurenko was the only bareback rider to factor into qualifying Saturday, with an 84.75 on Calgary’s Zastron Acres.

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