Ponoka Stampede Day 7 Wrap

The Finals of the 2019 Ponoka Stampede will be memorable for more than just the un-July like weather conditions.

As the top twelve rodeo contestants in all the major events battled for one of the four places in the evening showdown, driving rain and wind added to their challenge. While the rain stopped come Showdown time, the single-digit temperatures stuck around.

But there was plenty of heat in the tie-down roping competition when Reese Riemer and Tyson Durfey, who both make their homes in Texas, wrapped up their calves in matching times of 9.3 seconds. So officials loaded the chutes with two more calves, and held a rope-off.

Riemer went first, but unfortunately missed his calf, so all Durfey needed to do was get one caught and tied. He did that, plus managed to better his initial time, capturing his very first Ponoka Stampede championship in 8.7 seconds. Adding his go-round and average payoffs with the $6225 he made in the Showdown, Durfey took home $12,374.

“To see a rope-off is really like a storybook ending for a calf roper,” said the 2016 World Champion. “I’ve never done that in my entire life, at any rodeo, ever! So it was a lot of fun.”

“Reese and I have actually matched head-to-head before, and he beat me. Not that this is any kind of redemption because we’re really good friends, but it felt good to get it here in my second home in Canada. It’s such an awesome experience to be here, to be able to rope in front of the fans and so many friends I don’t get to see very much anymore. So it’s pretty cool.”

Along with the beautiful trophy buckle came a very welcome jacket, which Durfey immediately put on. He acknowledged a Ponoka win came at a good time.

“I think I’ve been in the Final Four here five or six times, and never quite came through. So to finally get it done, at my age (35) and where I’m at in my career and what my plans are, is just awesome. It really means a lot.”

Riemer actually took home a little more prize money, from his efforts earlier in the week, earning $13,208.

Zeke Thurston topped the afternoon saddle bronc Finals with an outstanding 88.25 ride on the horse Timely Delivery, an old friend of his that has been good to him in the past. But in the Showdown the Big Valley cowboy drew the ‘newer’ horse in the pen, also from Calgary Stampede, called Ancient Delivery. The horse tested Thurston, but he prevailed and got an even better mark for those eight seconds, at 89 points. Fellow Showdown finalist Jake Finlay was 87 on Shadow Warrior, but defending Ponoka champion Sterling Crawley was dumped in one jump by Northcott-Macza superstar Get Smart (later named Saddle Bronc of the Ponoka Stampede) and young Kolby Wanchuk rode through a storm on Wild Cherry but was flagged for missing out his horse.

“That’s not at all how I thought it would go,” admitted Thurston. “Some of the other guys had some more proven, known horses that are outstanding. I didn’t really know my horse. He’s pretty young and kind of green to be on that big of a stage, but anything can happen in these four-man rounds.”

“He had some stuff going on, and got me rocked into my rein a little bit, and had all my weight on the right side. I thought I was going off. But I managed to shuffle over and finish him off strong. I guess in those situations you just keep hustling and charging, and it worked out.

It was a full sweep of all the available first placings for Thurston at Ponoka, netting him a whopping $21,388. Add to that some earnings from Reno, Airdrie, and another win at Williams Lake and he’s on track to be among the big Cowboy Christmas winners this year.

Coming from the heat of Texas to the cold of Canada wasn’t an easy journey for barrel racer Hailey Kinsel, but she made it worthwhile, when she and her horse Sister roared around the pattern in 17.359 seconds, to top the field of four in the Showdown round. They picked up $16,877 for their efforts in Ponoka.

Kinsel confessed she had to ‘cowgirl up’ for this one, especially the afternoon rainy run.

“I was petting my horse and telling her ‘you’re tough, you’re tough’. It’s raining sideways and 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), and we don’t run in that in Texas. In reality, I’m telling myself inside ‘you’re tough, you can do this!’,” she laughed. “I’m glad she toughened up a little more than I did.”

“I try to avoid mud when I can on her, but when it’s for a lot of money and I know it’s safe and we can stand up, she’s really good about squaring herself up and keeping her feet under her and staying smart in these conditions.”

It was Kinsel’s first trip to the Ponoka Stampede. Fellow qualifier Emily Miller, who was fastest in the afternoon round, heads back to Oklahoma with a $14,954 Ponoka payday.

There was some drama in the bareback riding, when the initially announced marks weren’t the correct ones. While Caleb Bennett thought he’d won his second Ponoka title by a quarter of a point, it was actually his traveling partner Richmond Champion who had the quarter point advantage, with an 88.75 mark on Trail Dust, while Bennett was 88.50 on Xplosive Skies, both Calgary horses. Xplosive Skies captured the Bareback Horse of Ponoka honors.

“I had my pants off and was getting out of my riding clothes when they told me ‘put your clothes back you – you won’,” chuckled Champion, who was the Ponoka champion for the second straight year. “It’s splitting hairs with those two bareback rides. That’s what I thought when Caleb went – I don’t know what they’re going to do. They’re not going to be wrong either way. It was good bareback riding, and there’s nothing better than riding off against your traveling partner for this kind of money.”

Champion’s haul from Ponoka was $15,421, while Bennett wasn’t far behind with $14,201.

“We both put all our hearts into this, and we really push each other. That’s the epitome of it right there.”

They’ll have plenty of time to review the rides, as they drive to Montana for another rodeo. Bennett insists it will be Champion buying supper on the road.

There was an international flair to the Stampede, when Edgar Durazoclaimed the bull riding title. He made it to the whistle in style on the Vold bull Whiskey Hand, racking up 90 points and collecting $17,819 along the way.

“I know the bull. He’s strong and he’s a bucker,” said the bull rider from Moctezuma in Sonora, Mexico. “It’s my third time on him. I rode him the first time, he bucked me off the second time, and I know what was it. You’ve got to get him right. He’s very strong.”

Durazo has been staying in Canada, and was camped at Ponoka with pickup man Jim Kelts, who made him part of the behind-the-scenes rodeo family. Durazo has done mainly PBR events, so this is his first year on the pro rodeo trail and winning Ponoka is a thrill.

“It’s the best show I have ever went to. It’s the biggest rodeo. It’s special. There’s a different feeling. All the Canadians help me. I will be a Canadian one day – a Mexican-Canadian,” he grinned.

The bull of the Ponoka Stampede came from Outlaw Buckers – Blackstone After Party.

In the steer wrestling Showdown, Tanner Brunner edged Donalda’s Cody Cassidy by a tenth of a second, when the clock stopped at 5.1 on his run, while Cassidy was 5.2. He netted $14,440 from his second Ponoka appearance, a far cry from last year’s showing of only broken barriers.

“It’s always great to come up here and compete at rodeos like this,” said the Kansas bulldogger. “It gives you the opportunity to do what you love, and make a living doing it. It’s a great rodeo, a great experience.”

The Ponoka team roping buckles were captured by a couple of wily veterans, when the duo from B.C. of Mike Beers and Chad Evensonwere the only ones to catch their steer, doing it in 8.3 seconds. That gave them the entire Ponoka Showdown purse, giving them each $10,692.

“You don’t ever expect that,” said Evenson, who handled heading duties. “The best team ropers in the world are here, and it was lucky. We were on the right end of it tonight.”

Evenson had won Ponoka back in 2004, while Beers and his son had taken back-to-back titles in 2007-08. Both have been mainly roping recreationally in BC, but decided to come ‘over the rocks’ to a favorite place of theirs and enjoy the wagon races.

“We both enjoy this rodeo. It’s different that everywhere else in the world and we like it every time we come.”

Beers agrees wholeheartedly.

“This is one of the rodeos on your bucket list. It’s so much different for us because the score is so much different than normal rodeos. It’s like the Pendleton Rodeo. It’s so unique. The crowd is great here, the prizes are great.”

“It’s nice to win something with your friend,” smiled Beers.

B.C. cowboy Jacob Gardner, Canada’s current All-Around champion, earned the Ponoka Stampede All-Around award, as well as the High Point title.


Ponoka Stampede Day 6

It’s never over til it’s over, and some contestants who thought they were in great shape for the 2019 Ponoka Stampede Finals may be making other travels plan, after Sunday’s final regular performance.

In fact, in the barrel racing, half the field of qualifiers made the cut from Sunday’s performance. They were led by Emily Miller of Weatherford, OK who posted a speedy 17.240 second run, pushing back the long held leading time of 17.511 from Hailey Kinsel. In the end, you had to be faster than 17.839 to earn a second run at Ponoka.

Among the six who made it Sunday was local favorite Kim Gerwatoski, running a 17.694 on her seven-year-old horse, Elvis.

“He likes to go really, really fast to the first barrel. So I usually have to steady him and try to get his head down so he can see where he’s going,” explained Gerwatoski. “Our first (barrel) felt really good. On third, he has a tendency to look around. I was yelling at him and hoping he’d pay attention enough. I think we lost a bit of time there, but he did pretty good. It’s his first time here.”

The home-trained horse was both a Futurity and Derby champion, and she and her husband Deven, a tie-down roper, will be heading south of the line to rodeo after Ponoka.

Despite living in the area, Gerwatoski denies having any home-town arena advantage.

“No, not with a seven-year-old,” she laughs, while confessing it is nice to do good in front of friends and family here. But that shouldn’t amp the pressure factor come the Finals.

“Every run is the same to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s for big money or a jackpot, I try to do my job.”

It was a world championship tussle in the tie-down roping, where Tyson Durfey managed to wrangle away the top gun position from Shane Hanchey, when he put together two runs in 17.3 seconds Sunday.

Durfey, who now makes Texas home, was happy to turn around a cold spell he’d been experiencing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve won a cheque, about fifty days,” commented Durfey. “I was just so excited when I placed in the first round! Now I’m super excited to be back in the short go at Ponoka.”

Durfey describes them both as businessman runs, aiming to be smart and consistent rather than for speed. He borrowed horsepower from Ty Harris, who didn’t qualify and was leaving, so Durfey was busy making arrangements to ensure he had a mount for the Finals.

“Canada’s like my second home. I spent a few hours with Al Bouchard today. I don’t get to see him very often anymore and we’re best friends, and we talked about roping, and life and kids. It just puts me in a good frame of mind being back, being able to win and be successful. If somebody wants to rodeo, this is a good place to do it.”

The visit must have been good for Bouchard as well, since he finished right behind Durfey, capturing two calves in 17.8 seconds to finish second in the ‘long round’.

The bull riding was chock full of great rides in the Sunday sunshine, but no one was more pumped than Coy Robbins from up the road in Camrose. The talented cowboy, who turned 20 last week, combined with the Outlaw bull Panda Haus for a whopping 89.75 points, to emerge the long-go winner.
Robbins is on the comeback trail after spending a year out of action after shoulder surgery.

“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, thinking I was a step behind,” said Robbins. “But in my head, I should be thinking I’m a step ahead. I’ve been out for a year, I’m hungry as ever, and I spent a lot of money last year, so I need to recoup that!”

“I was so excited. I put on a good bull ride in Airdrie, so got the confidence and the ball rolling there. I mean, this is the Ponoka Stampede. This is what I’ve wanted to ride at for my whole life. I’m just happy to be here and back doing what I love.”

While his ride was phenomenal, Robbins admits his get-off technique needs some work, needing a rescue from the bullfighters.

“I got thrown underneath him and I was starting to panic, I couldn’t get out. Good thing they don’t mark you on the dismount!”

Wyoming cowboy Brody Cress secured himself a spot in the Finals for saddle bronc riding, but it took him a little extra effort. He marked 84.5 on a horse called Candy Alice.

“That second horse I’ve never seen, but she was good. She made me work for it a bit at the start where she was having those lead changes, but after that it felt awesome,” said Cress.

“I mean you’ve got to have those horses that will test you a little bit to be able to get back at a rodeo this big, where you’ve got to be some points.”
Zeke Thurston finished on top for the long round in the saddle bronc riding, with his 89 mark.

It was the best of days and worst of days for steer wrestler Harley Cole. The Okotoks hand had the fast run of the afternoon in 5.6 seconds, but it was a costly one, as he tore a bicep in the run. His total time of 12.0 seconds was fourth best and he’d earned a Finals qualification, but he had to withdraw due to the injury. That enabled defending Ponoka champion Scott Guenthner, who was in the crying hole with 16.7 seconds, to fill Cole’s spot and compete Monday. Tanner Brunner remains the fast man heading into Monday with his 11.3.

For bareback riding, North Dakota’s Ty Breuer spurred his way to another horse at Ponoka, by making an 87.25 point ride on the Outlaw Buckers horse Vee Bar Nine.

“It seems like anytime you come to Canada, the horses are so good and they’re so even that it makes it a spurring contest and that’s what I think is fun about coming up here,” noted Breuer.

It took a high 84.25 points to make it back in the event this year, and since there were two of those, it went to a tie-breaker. Ky Marshall had earned a single point more on his spur ride than Orin Larsen, so he makes the Finals and Larsen didn’t. Spur Lacasse finished the round in first with his 88.25.
Young guns Joey Romeo II of Nanton and Riley Roy of Strathmore turned some heads with a 5.3 second team roping run, giving them second place in the performance round. The only team to advance to the Finals Sunday included Wyatt Eirikson of Okotoks and Logan Spady of Alliance, with a 14.7 second total for 7th overall. Top spot went to Erich Rogers and Paden Bray for their 11.5.

The novice saddle bronc champion for Ponoka Stampede was Sawyer Eirikson of Okotoks, for a 70.25 point ride, with novice bareback honors going to Chett Deitz of Milo, who turning in a 61 point ride. Tristen Manning of Yellowhead County had an outstanding 80.25 point steer ride to claim that buckle. Wild Horse Racing went to the Jason Loken team.

Ponoka Stampede Day 5

There are some things you can count on at the Ponoka Stampede.

There’s bound to be the odd thunderstorm, like the one that punctuated perfectly the thundering herd as it entered the arena Saturday with some real live thunder and lightning.

And there are a few cowboys that just seem to always excel when comes their turn to ride or run.

Like Zeke Thurston, the superstar who already has a World Gold Buckle to his name, along with a trio of Calgary Stampede titles, and a Ponoka one to boot.
The saddle bronc talent rolled into Ponoka for an eight second date with a C5 Horse called Showtime, and the two did put on a show. It was one the judge’s determined was worth 89 points, which jumped to the lead in the event.

“That was a really good horse, that I’d never even really seen before. He did just what they said it would – take a scoot, find a spot and show off, and that’s what he did,” said the Big Valley cowboy.

“That was a lot of fun!”

“This rodeo’s always treated me pretty good. It’s been a cool rodeo for a long time, and it’s only an hour from the house.”

That means Thurston has a chance for a day off for some family time during a hectic time in the rodeo year, coming back Sunday for some ‘Dad duty’ with little daughter Lucy Lou, while wife Jayne competes in the breakaway roping taking place in town as well.

Even though Thurston is only 23, the younger crew is nipping at his heels already with 20-year-old Dawson Hay of Wildwood turning in a shiny 87.75 mark on C5’s Thunderstruck to take over second place in the event.

“I’ve seen that horse a bunch, and I’ve seen my traveling partners and buddies all do good on him,” said Hay, a second-generation bronc star. “Once you get out on him, he’s just a really good horse. He jumps and kicks really strong and just the horse you’d really like to draw here at Ponoka.”
Hay is just coming off a three-month break for some knee surgery, but a win this month at Wainwright helped restore his confidence and get him rolling again.

Tate Hartell-Macdonald of Strathmore made an impressive 85.25 point ride on the showy horse Fabio to move into fifth place in the bareback riding, where Spur Lacasse is still the name on top for his 88.25 point ride.

There were two qualified bull rides to add to the list from Saturday’s action, with the top mark an 84.25 from Roscoe Jarboe of ID on Calliopi King. Cowboys now need to have a score better than 83 to make the cut in bull riding, where sometimes it’s been hard to get the full roster of riders for the top twelve in the Finals. Dawson Creek BC’s Jacob Gardner remains on top with his 88.75 from Friday.

Another sure bet each year at Ponoka is to have a Cassidy in the steer wrestling Finals, and Cody made his play to be there on Saturday. While Mike McGinn of OR made short work of his steer in 4.6 seconds, it was Cody Cassidy who bulldogged his way to tie for second place overall with his 11.8 second tally on a pair of runs. That’s the same number Ty Erickson has, and it’s just behind the 11.3 from Tanner Brunner of Kansas.

“It was a little bit hairy out there for a second, but I got a time and that’s all that matters,” said Cassidy, of his afternoon run where he had a hard-running steer.

“It’s not a race, it’s a marathon (at Ponoka). I think this is maybe eight times now I’ve made the Finals. I love it. I could come to one of these every day and I’d be happy.”

“That’s not a lot of rodeos anymore that get my heart beating and give me some butterflies but this is one that still does.”

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because it can make your year so much easier if you can come and do good here,” said the five-time Canadian steer wrestling champion.

Another timed event competitor who’s a regular at the July first Finals at Ponoka is tie-down roper Timber Moore, who won the whole deal in 2013. The Texan moved into a tie with Shane Hanchey at the front end when he put together two runs in 17.9 seconds.

“It feels good,” said Moore. “I drew two really good calves today. This afternoon my horse slipped a little bit and I was late. I kind of had to reach, trying to catch the calf and missed, but it fell on, luckily, and I just went down and tied ‘er.

“It feels good to be coming back to the short round and hopefully I can come back on another good one, and hopefully rope a little better,” he said, referring to his ‘fishing expedition’ with the last loop.

“I need to go buy my license after that one!” he quipped.

Moore, who has cousins in Canada, feels right at home in Ponoka.

“I’ve always had great success here. I love having to run them a long ways. You can still tie them really fast and the calves have always been great. I’ve just always had a good vibe here.”

Darren Dublanko of Thorsby had the fastest run of the afternoon at 8.2 seconds, putting him into a tie for second place in the go-round, but a broken barrier in the morning will keep him from advancing.

It was a speedy day for barrel racing, with five different competitors snagging a spot in the top twelve standings. It was Lynette Brodoway of Brooks who managed to slide into second overall by posting a 17.612 second run, followed by Mary Walker of Texas with a 17.624. The fast time remains the 17.511 from Hailey Kinsel.

Ty Johnson of Breton and Travis Gallais from Sylvan Lake impressed team roping fans in the performance with a 5.8 second run, third fastest of the go. But that was their only successful run. It was Riley Warren of Stettler and his partner Clay Ullery of Two Hills who made the biggest move, catching two head in 12.9 seconds to take over second place behind leaders Erich Rogers and Paden Bray with their 11.5.

Two cowboys share the lead in novice saddle bronc riding, with Ks Thomson and Lachlan Sheppard both marking a 67, while Chett Deitz tops novice bareback with a 61. It’s Kegan Kmita with the lead in steer riding after posting a 72.75 Saturday.

Ponoka Stampede Day 4

Parade day brought out the sunshine for the Ponoka Stampede, and the mud left from Thursday’s downpour began to quickly dry up.

The steer wrestlers were definitely in a good mood, shaking up the leaderboard in the fourth performance. Montana’s Ty Erickson made the speediest bulldogging run of the Stampede so far, when he got one turned over in four seconds flat Friday afternoon.

But Tanner Brunner took over the number one spot overall, after he was 4.6 in the morning slack, and followed that up with a solid 6.7 in the afternoon. His 11.3 second total sets the new pace, followed by Erickson with an 11.8.

Brunner was anxious to make amends in only his second appearance in Ponoka.

“I broke two barriers last year,” recalled the Kansas cowboy, of his Ponoka debut. “I came back this year with a new opportunity, and lessons learned, and wanted to give it a second shot.”

“My morning run was a little wet. But the grounds crew did a great job, getting the arena dried down as much as they could. I just wanted to get out at the barrier first off, go from there and do the best I could on the steer.”

“I came back this afternoon with the mindset of just getting out at the barrier and going and making a good run on the ground. I was able to have another good steer, as well as good horses to ride. To put two together in this situation is a little difficult, but it’s about consistency, and just doing your job day in and day out.”

They brought out the juice in the bull riding Friday at the Ponoka Stampede. But this time it was the cowboys who showed their stuff, dominating over some tough bulls. In fact, they qualified more bull riders in the fourth performance than in the previous three days, with eleven names now on the Finals list.

Best of the high marking bunch was Utah’s Tyler Bingham, in his very first trip to Ponoka. He was matched up with Kubota Summer Warrior.

“I’m not gonna lie – he tricked me,” admitted Bingham. “I thought he was just going to go left, and he faked and went right, then came back left. He about bucked me off, but somehow I hung to it.”

The resulting 86.75 mark moved him into second place, just behind the 88.75 from Jacob Gardner the day before.

Bingham is in the truck with five-time World Champion Sage Kimzey, and his younger brother Trey.

“It’ll be a good year. You know if you want to be the best you’ve got to ride with the best. That’s why I like to jump in there.”

It was a good day for the truck, with Trey chalking up 83 points and Sage earning 86. Then the three of them dashed down the highway to compete at Airdrie in the evening rodeo performance. They’ve got a hectic weekend ahead, but so far, the plan is for all three to head back to Ponoka for Monday’s Finals.

“They’ve got big money here on Monday, so we’re ready to come get it,” grinned Bingham.

Ponoka’s own Jordan Hansen put himself in contention to be part of Monday’s bull riding Finals as well, when he turned in an 83.5 point ride on Click Clackin. He didn’t see much of his home though, only arriving in the morning after an all-night drive from Williams Lake, and heading out to Airdrie as well for another bull Friday.

“I’m making the Reno short go, so I get to fly back there tomorrow, then Cody, Wyoming the next day and then get on another plane to fly back home for here if, hopefully, I can stick around in the top twelve.”

Hansen is happy to be feeling healthy and back to riding, after missing a big chunk of last season from injuries.

There was a little rain in the saddle bronc riding, of the cowboy variety, as a fresh pen of horses left some big names in the dust before their whistles went. But Dusty Hausauer managed to weather the storm, on one of the strong ones, the Calgary Stampede horse Tiger Warrior.

“I got on him quite a few years ago in San Antonio, not for very long, but I got on him,” quipped the North Dakota rancher. “He’s pretty unpredictable. He’ll do anything to get you on the ground. You just don’t know what he’s going to do. Like my traveling partner Chuck (Schmidt) was saying, ‘by the time you get done with the jump you’re trying to ride, he’s already on to the next one, moving in a different direction’. It feels like you’re one jump behind him.”

“Which is a lot better than last time, because I rode him for about one jump.”

Hausauer’s grit was rewarded with 83.25 points, putting him eighth on the qualifier list.

“I actually wanted that horse, and entered for today. I’m glad I got him rode. I hope I make the short round.”

It’s still Chase Brooks of Montana on top in the bronc riding with his 86.5 mark.

The ground was a little sticky, which made it a bit slower for the barrel racers. The fastest run of the afternoon came from Eryn Coy of High River in 18.149 seconds, which puts her in a tie with Shayna Weir of Ponoka and they’re hanging on to the final qualifying spots so far. No one’s been able to budget Hailey Kinsel from the lead with her 17.511.

Hometown favorite Jacob Stemo of Bashaw had the high bareback mark of the performance at 82.75. Ironically, it came on Calgary’s Soap Bubbles, and Stemo is on the ‘bubble’, holding down the twelfth and final qualifying position, with Spur Lacasse still the number one man for his 88.25. Tie-down competitor Reese Riemer of Texas took over second spot in the roping, when he went to the head of the class in the afternoon round, with a snappy 7.8 second run, giving him 18.2 overall, just behind the 17.9 from Shane Hanchey. Kyle Lucas of Carstairs and his partner Troy Fischer of Mayerthorpe, the silversmith, made a smooth 6.3 second team roping go in the performance, but it was Keely and Logan Bonnett of Ponoka who came out the best on two for the day with 19.6 seconds, good enough for seventh overall. Ks Thomson of Lundbreck is the leader in the novice saddle bronc riding, after turning in a 67 point ride Friday afternoon.

Ponoka Stampede Day 3

Payback can be sweet. Just ask Jacob Gardner. The Dawson Creek, BC cowboy had an appointment in Ponoka he wasn’t about to miss.

Why was he so anxious for a mere eight seconds with a one-horned, nasty yellow beast by the name of Devour?
“I got on that bull last year in Elnora,” explained Gardner. “He bucked really hard and injured me pretty bad. I was out a while. So I’ve definitely had his number ever since, and I’ve been waiting to draw him. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to get back at him.”

Gardner made every second and every jump count, even getting in a few spur licks for good measure. The judges were impressed and rewarded the performance with 88.75 points, to shoot Gardner to the bull riding lead at the Ponoka Stampede.
“I took my time (coming back). With concussions, you’ve got to take them seriously, so I did and it worked out. But I definitely hadn’t forgotten. When I saw my name next to him (in the draw) I knew if I just stayed focused, calm and cool, and did my job, it would come together. So I was pretty excited, but nervous at the same time.”

“There’s no better feeling than spurring,” said Gardner. “I was pretty happy to get a little bit of revenge on that bull.”
There’s more in this cowboy’s rigging bag than just a bull rope. He’s also a steer wrestler, and wears the buckle of Canada’s All-Around champion this year. He did wrestle a steer in the mud half an hour before his bull ride, and his 7.4 second run there is placing in the go-round so far.

“This year, I’m focusing a lot on my bull riding. I want to do better at that. But I’m entering here and there in the steer wrestling. It’s coming. I’ve got some work to improve on, but I’ve just got to keep entering and going at ‘em and eventually I know it’ll come together.”

Gardner came up empty on his steer in the morning, so he won’t be making the Finals in two events, but he is excited to be leading the charge back for his first bull riding qualification ever at the Ponoka Stampede.

Another Canadian Champion has risen to the top in the tie-down roping, as Shane Hanchey takes over the number one position. He put together a 9.1 and 8.8 second combination for a pace-changing 17.1 second total on two runs.

“I had the calf I wanted,” admitted the Louisiana looper, who pointed out the afternoon conditions were quite a bit muddier than the morning slack run.

“That made me breathe a lot easier. It’s funny because you want one that kind of waits on you but what’s tricky about slower calves is this head start. You’ve got to judge that thing just right.”

“It worked out. I kind of missed picking up my string, maybe it wasn’t where I thought it was going to be with that mud. It was just a minor error, but you know calf ropers. We tend to point those things out. I could’ve been 8.5. It’s easy to say that now,” smiled Hanchey.

For the first time, Hanchey was using his horse Bam Bam at Ponoka, and he was pleased with how the horse handled the challenges, and how he did too.

“You’ve already got a lot going on here with this long head start, and then they throw some weather at you, and it really makes you scratch your head. I hadn’t won anything at five rodeos. What I told myself was ‘you’re a gamer. If you’re a gamer, you’ve got to win at Ponoka, at the big ones’. So this makes me feel good.”

The leaderboard didn’t have any other adjustments at the top end after the third performance of the Stampede, but there were contestants who took care of business by putting themselves in Finals position. Jesse Pope of Missouri had the top-marked bareback ride of the day for his 84.5 point ride on Vold’s Sheer Ice. Spur Lacasse stays first with his 88.25. The top mark in saddle bronc riding was an 83 from Lane Cust of Ardmore on Pedro, with Chase Brooks holding on to first with his 86.5. Washington steer wrestler Taylor Gregg had the cleanest run of the muddy performance at 6.3 seconds, and slid into seventh overall with 24.2 on two runs. Hunter Cure is still the pacesetter with his 13.0 second total. Grady Branden of Barrhead and Colton Fletcher of Wainwright clicked for two team roping runs in 21.7 seconds, still good enough for seventh behind leaders Erich Rogers and Paden Bray and their 11.5 second tally.

Hailey Kinsel remains the fastest barrel racer to date with her 17.511 second time, but 2018 Ponoka Stampede champion Stevi Hillman wasn’t far behind despite a muddier track Thursday, clocking 17.848 seconds.

“That’s part of rodeo,” sighed Hillman, also a Texas cowgirl. “My horse normally likes the mud and rain, so we just let that leave our minds. He had a little trouble on the second (barrel) with the footing but we did the best we could with the conditions. It’s always fun to run in the mud.”

“We like Ponoka. We love coming to this rodeo, and the people here.”

Ponoka Stampede Day 2

There are only a handful of rodeos in North America that use the ‘long score’ set up for timed event contestants, and the Ponoka Stampede is one of the most famous. Basically, it means both the competitors and the animal they’re matched up with hit the arena at a flat run, coming down a long alleyway instead of from a short burst start. Timing is magnified, so if you’re a tad too late, it’s giddy-up-go or if you get going too quickly, it’s big-time whoa. Add that to the already complex task of roping a calf and safely securing it with a rope in under ten seconds, and timed events at Ponoka are not for the faint of heart.

Jake Pratt managed to put together a pair of runs that should ensure he has to make a return trip to the central Alberta town. The cowboy from Ellensburg, WA has plenty of experience with the long score and is now the frontrunner in tie-down roping with a tally of 18.3 seconds on two runs.

“I love this rodeo,” said Pratt. “I love Pendleton, I love my hometown Ellensburg. But right here when the thundering herd goes around, if you don’t get revved up from that, you shouldn’t be rodeoing!”

“One year I made the shoot-out round. It was a while back but, man, it’d sure be nice to get back there again this year,” said Pratt.

“I don’t love my time on two, but I’m hoping it gets another one for the short round.”

Like all timed event competitors, Pratt made his first run in the morning slack, and that was his best, at 8.2 seconds.
“This morning was picture perfect, just how I thought it up. Got a good start, had a good calf and made a good run. This afternoon, I might have backed off a little bit, and when I roped and went to get off, I hooked my horse with a spur, and so he jumped forward, and I (just) about fell down and ate a little dirt here! But I made it through,” he smiled.
Near-disaster averted, Pratt managed to get his job done in 10.1 seconds, seventh best of the round. Then on one of the busiest rodeo weekends of the year, he was dashing off to fly to Reno, while his horses were being taken down to Oregon.
“We’ll figure the rest out when it comes time, if we get another one in the short round.”

On the program, Jake Finlay is listed as hailing from Goodwell, OK. A quick visit will soon give away his real Australian roots. But it’s his college rodeo time in Oklahoma he credits for success he’s currently having in bronc riding. Finlay showed his prowess in Ponoka by marking an 85.5 on Kesler’s Navajo Sun.

“I’m pretty sure that horse is older than me,” he joked. “I got on it six years ago in Austin, TX when I’d been in the States about three weeks, and she manhandled me pretty good. I’ve been waiting for her for a long time. So it was good to get my revenge on her, especially here. There’s no better place to do it than Ponoka. She felt really good.”

Finlay won the national college title in 2018 and finished up his education in animal science and nutrition this spring. So far, it’s the rodeo schooling that’s really paid off.

“They teach you how to ride broncs, teach how to win money, they give you a mindset down there – to be positive and to keep going.”

Finlay’s best Ponoka score ever sits second behind leader Chase Brooks with his 86.5.

There’s a new leader in the bareback riding after Spur Lacasse tapped out 88.25 points on a young Kesler stud horse called Sundance Kid, bumping back leader Jake Vold by a quarter point.

“He felt actually really good,” says the second-generation bareback rider, who was born in Quebec. “The second jump he kind of hit me in the back there and I knew he was bucking hard, so I tipped over a little bit to let him roll and it worked out.”

“He’s really electric – he really feels like a cat under you.”

Lacasse has battled the injury bug but hopes that’s behind him as he drives to do a full season without having to take time off to heal.

“This year I’ve been working out every day and grinding every day, trying to do everything I think is right, and it’s been working.”

There’s a new dynamic duo at the front of the team roping pack after Erich Rogers of AZ and Paden Bray of TX put together a tidy pair of runs in 11.5 seconds. Another Texan, Hunter Cure, hung on to the steer wrestling lead with 13.0 seconds on two runs, but Ty Miller of Wainwright took over third place Wednesday with his 14.4 second total.

Only one of the bull riders managed to get a score Wednesday, but he came a long way to do so. Italo Aguilar of Brazil marked 82.75 points, to sit third behind leader Michael Ostashek and his 84.5. The fastest barrel racing time of the day belonged to Jennifer Sharp of Texas at 17.839, to sit third behind fellow Texan Hailey Kinsel, who leads with a 17.511.

Ponoka Stampede Day 1

There’s nothing like a little hometown magic to make a cowboy’s day. Especially when you were raised in a community where rodeo rules.

Jake Vold is a bareback rider you can bank on to be in the Showdown Finals and he’s always pumped to roll into the familiar territory. Especially when he has a Kesler horse like Imperial Beach by his name.

“That horse has been phenomenal for years now,” says Vold. “It’s the first time I’ve been on her but I’ve seen her a bunch so I knew what I was up against. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The three-time Canadian champion maximized his opportunity, and the 88 points for eight seconds of effort sits on top of the leaderboard after the first performance of the 83rd annual Ponoka Stampede.

Vold had taken a little time off for a wrist injury but returned to his rigging a week ago.

“I’m fresh, I’ll tell you that,” he grinned. “I’m ready to go. It’s a good time of the year to be healthy. There’s a lot of money up and a lot of good guys. These kids ride good and they just keep pushing me. When you want to come back and play with the wolves, you’d better be on your game.”

Nipping at Vold’s heels opening night were a few of those ‘wolves’, with Caleb Bennett sitting second at 87.75, and 2018 Ponoka winner Richmond Champion sitting third with his 86.25 mark.

Ponoka fans had plenty to cheer about in the team roping as well, when local favorite Brett Buss and Klay White made their loops sing and got one snagged in 5.9 seconds, for fastest of the round. They’re also leading in the total time on two runs with 20.0 seconds.

Steer wrestler Hunter Cure got one turned over in the nerve-wracking ‘long score’ setup in 4.9 seconds, to take the front spot in the overall race, with 13 seconds on two runs. Layne Delemont was just two ticks faster to lead the round with 4.7 seconds. Cure, a Texan, is happy to be back on his mount Charlie, a 20-year-old horse that helped him win two world titles, but has been off with injury for over a year.

It was his first trip to Ponoka, so they had to show Chase Brooks where to retrieve his saddle after his ride, but he needed no such guidance in the arena when he nodded his head on the Kesler horse Willowbrook in the saddle bronc riding.

“The horse felt awesome,” said the Montana man. “I’d been on her before and when I saw I had her here, I was pretty excited. I knew I had a good chance. Hopefully it holds and I can get some big money out of here.”

“This is the first year I’ve got to come to any of the Canadian rodeos, so this is the first one, and I’m definitely coming back.”

“This rodeo is huge. It pays like crazy. One win here is almost like a real good long fourth (of July) run, and if you can do it all in one spot, it’s even better.”

World Champion Hailey Kinsel and her famous horse Sister made their first trip to Ponoka count as well, rounding the barrel racing pattern in 17.511 seconds.

“It feels cool here. I’ve always wanted to run here. I always thought she would do well here, so I’m glad she did,” said the Texas cowgirl.

There were two bull riders who made the whistle opening night, but Edson’s Micheal Ostashek has a slight edge with his 84.50 point ride on Ivy League, while Texan Jeff Askey was 84.25.

“It would be the biggest accomplishment of my career so far if I could get back to the Finals,” said Ostashek.
A pair of tie-down ropers posted the best times of the performance. Saskatchewan’s Jesse Popescul and Virgil Poffenroth, from Red Deer County, both managed to tie up their calves in 9.5 seconds, but Poffenroth is a tenth of a second faster in the total on two race, at 21.2 seconds.

2019 Ponoka Stampede Preview

While the Ponoka Stampede is fiercely proud of the past and preserving the tradition of cowboys and rodeo, it also has great vision for the future and always moving Canada’s Largest 7-Day Pro Rodeo forward.

Both directions are being celebrated as the 83rd edition of the Ponoka Stampede gets underway.

The first performance is dedicated to long-time Ponoka Stampede member and past-President Dr. Gary Harbin, who passed away in March. His vision, guidance and service is being honored with a special ceremony.

But with his son, Bruce Harbin, at the helm of the organization this year, a big step of growth for the Stampede is being marked with the opening of the impressive new Wild West Suites in the infield, offering sixteen luxury suites, including an impressive rooftop grandstand viewing area.

Allison McWilliam has been working with the Stampede board in the planning process for the past two years, serving as the Director of Suite Operations and Sales now.

“We’ve had the same eight suites for twenty years, and they’ve been the same eight suite-holders,” she explains. “There wasn’t really any opportunity for growth, for new sponsors or even just rodeo families to come in. So it was important to build a facility.”

There were careful efforts to ensure the demand was there, and then to scale plans accordingly. Last June, sales were launched and the whole suite program was revamped, looking at suites and programs in other facilities like Rogers Place or at the CFR, to make it an exclusive experience for guests.

The positive response was immediate and early commitments enabled the $3 million construction project to move forward. For McWilliam, equally important was ensuring the premium look and accompaniments to make suite-holders’ extra investment worthwhile, including a full-scale catering team. Perks even include a new Wild West campground exclusively for suite-holders near the drive-in tunnel.

Another big new feature fans from all angles will appreciate is a gigantic new jumbotron screen, which will bring all the action and replays into full view.

As the Ponoka Stampede begins, all weekly suite rentals, both in the Wild West Suites and in the regular grandstand, were fully booked. The Stampede has one Wild West suite it’s using for special guests, plus making some daily rentals available to give opportunity for others to have the suite experience.

President Bruce Harbin is over the moon about this one-of-a-kind rodeo facility, which keeps the Ponoka Stampede tradition of ‘bigger and better’ in full swing.

“It’s brought huge corporate hosting capacity to Ponoka, which should invite new clientele, which brings new people and expands the fan base. New guests bring new guests, and hopefully they become repeat patrons,” says Harbin, who remembers his Dad’s own enthusiasm for the chute grandstand and suites built at Ponoka twenty years ago. McWilliam agrees about the importance of always attracting new fans.

“We need to keep growing. We need to bring in new people, and this venue gives us the opportunity to do that.”

She is excited about the entire project, but a favorite is the rooftop view of the entire infield and even into town.

“It’s stunning,” she says. “The whole building is amazing but that rooftop really takes it to the next level.”

“For sure this has been a passion project. I have been coming to the Stampede since I was a little kid and I love this event so much. I’m so invested in the town, the people, the sport of rodeo, it’s been amazing to watch this thing come to life.”

Trail Talk

  • Total prize money and sponsorship for the Ponoka Stampede and chuckwagons tops the one-million-dollar mark for 2019, with $363,500 of that dedicated to rodeo.
  • New sponsor The Horse Park has added a $3000 cash prize to the Bucking Stock of the Stampede Awards.
  • For the second time in Ponoka Stampede history an Alberta Premier will serve as Parade Marshall when Jason Kenney participates in the 3-Mile-Long Parade on Friday.
  • Legendary retired WPCA chuckwagon drive Rick Fraser has found a new seat with reins, as he pilots the Ponoka Stampede Stagecoach into the arena during every performance
  • Longtime show announcer Dr. Lynn Phillips of Oklahoma isn’t able to attend the first several performances for medical reasons, so eight-time CPRA Announcer of the Year Brett Gardiner of Sylvan Lake will be at the microphone for the first performances.