23 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 7

When the stakes are big, Zeke Thurston seems to have figure out how to make his rides even bigger. The saddle bronc superstar’s uncanny ability to excel under pressure was in fine form Sunday night at the 87th Ponoka Stampede’s Showdown Final. Already seeing an 85.25, an 89.75, and a 90 go up on the scoreboard, some riders would be intimidated. But it only fires up the Big Valley cowboy, and that’s dangerous. He nodded his head and turned out of the chutes on the Calgary Stampede horse Dandy Delight, spurring to a massive 92.75 to the delight of the packed grandstand.

“It’s so awesome,” stated Thurston, moments after drinking in the crowd’s enthusiasm and picking up his latest rodeo treasures. “If you could bottle it up and sell that feeling, it would be worth a lot of money.”

“People in Alberta love bronc riding. We have a lot of support, and I’m just really thankful for all of that, and everybody that had a hand in putting this deal on.”

Thurston has been watching the horse he rode come into its own in the broncs pen.

“It’s a process to build a bucking horse, just like it’s a process to turn yourself into a bronc rider. That horse has been going through the steps the last few years and she’s ready to go on to bigger stages. They’ve got her here, and she did pretty good, I’d say,” grinned Thurston. “This winter that horse got five NFR bronc riders in a row, and went unridden. You get one that bucks hard like that and you just try to keep the aggression at an all time high, and the composure level.”

With a sparkling resume that already includes three Canadian and World championships, the win Sunday gives Thurston a third Ponoka championship too, along with an $18,000 boost in the standings. And the thrill doesn’t get old.

“This is top five rodeos of the year in the entire world, it doesn’t matter where you go. This is one of the best rodeos you’ll ever go to. It’s a cowboy’s rodeo. It’s western, and great bucking horses. It’s darn sure my favorite rodeo.”

The biggest single money winner at Ponoka this year was Nick Tetz, of the nearby central Alberta community of Alsike. The bull rider earned almost $24,000, boosted by being the only one of the Showdown four to make the whistle. He did so in style, tapping out 88.75 points on Calgary’s Armed and Dangerous bull.

“It’s pretty unreal,” marveled the 2022 PBR Canada champion. “It’s the only rodeo I’ve been to so far, and to show up and do this is a little surreal. Everyone comes in planning to do exactly what I went and did.”

These days, Tetz is focused more on the PBR circuit, but his appearance at the Ponoka event the night before didn’t go nearly as well as Sunday. Winning so much money might mean pondering his game plan for the rest of the year, opening doors to the CFR or potentially even the NFR.

“I’m going to let everything soak in. I’m two weeks behind on entries for everything for the pro rodeos. I’ve got to go into my book and look and see what else I can make. I’m on the PBR Team with the Arizona Ridge Riders, and I really want to go back-to-back in the PBR Canada because they’ve never had that happen before. So I’m trying to focus my efforts into that.”

“There’s so many options as a bull rider to stay in Canada, so you definitely have to pick and choose and figure out what’s important to you and set your goals.”

The bareback riding bonus dollars went to Manitoba’s Orin Larsen after he made a sparkling 90.75 point ride on Calgary’s Yippy Kibitz, to collect just under $16,000. It was Larsen’s third time in the Showdown round, making the win even more special.

“I’ve been coming here for over a decade, so I’ve been waiting for this one for a while,” says Larsen. “I’ve thought about that horse and having him here, so it was a dream come true,” says the eight-time NFR qualifier, who won Pendleton and a go-round on the NFR on board the horse previously.

“That was a way nicer trip than I’ve ever had her. She’s really come into her own these last couple years and she’s got a set pattern now, and she’s one for the (year-end) halter.”

It was a nail biter in the tie-down roping, when Stettler’s Beau Cooper and Montans’s Haven Meged both tied a calf in 9.1 seconds. Canadian Champion Ty Harris came out and managed to better them by a mere tenth of a second, to win the Showdown and $18,155 for a nine second time.

“Oh man, I love it up here,” says the Texan. “The calves and the people and the rodeos are so awesome, I’m just thankful to be here.”

As in so many sports, inches or fractions of time can make a huge difference.

“Especially when you’re rope against ropers of this calibre, it can go either way at all times,” agrees Harris. “I actually get to ride with the two guys that won second and third back down to the States. I would’ve been so happy for them if they won it, but that’s rodeo. They’re going to have a lot of great wins.”

Harris also picked up cheques at Williams Lake, BC and Greeley, CO over the weekend, and estimates he could pick up nearly $30,000 from the three rodeos.

Dalton Massey, the world season leader for steer wrestling, added to his cushion by winning Ponoka’s Showdown in 4.6 seconds for $18,062, in his second trip to Ponoka.

“It’s a world class rodeo,” says the Oregon cowboy.

Massey was matched up with the same steer he’d run in the afternoon.

“He wasn’t my favorite steer, but I wanted another chance at him and it worked out. I knew I could do a better job.”

Oklahoma’s Emily Beisel and her grey horse Chongo came through with the fastest barrel time of the Ponoka showdown, to claim the Stampede championship and $16,835 in 17.28 seconds.

“I won the long round, the short go and the average in 2019,” recalled Beisel. “But then I hit a barrel in the Finals. That one was a heartbreaker. This is a huge rodeo win for us. It’s really going to help us in the world standings. I’m so proud of him. This is a fun rodeo and the crowd is amazing.”

Team ropers were thrilled to be competing for equal money this year, and that brought up some of the big names from the U.S. Taking home the lion’s share of the cash were Paul Eaves and Erick Rogers after they roped their Showdown steer in 6.9 seconds, to score $20,327 apiece.

“This feels great,” says Rogers, who’s from Arizona. “I’ve been here several times. I wanted this buckle and I’ve got it now.”

“The steer was a little stronger that we ran, but I did my job and whenever the steer turns, Paul does his job every time and gets two feet.”

The All Around honors at Ponoka this year went to Jacob Gardner, who rode bulls and wrestled steers, while Jesse Popescul was the High Point champion. The bareback horse of the Ponoka Stampede was C5’s Virgil, with Volds winning the saddle bronc honors with One More Reason, and the bull of the Stampede with Uncle Kranky.


23 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 6

Team Roping is a family affair when it comes to the Bonnett clan of Ponoka. All three brothers came to their hometown Stampede on Canada Day with hopes of making a pair of runs that could get them into Sunday’s rich Finals at the 87thannual event. It’s even more lucrative this year as both headers and heelers get an equal paycheque instead of having to split the purse down the middle.

Youngest brother Kash Bonnett, roping with his header Trent Tunke of Seven Persons, spun their steer in the fastest time of the performance with a 5.7, which netted them $3113. But in their morning slack run, a slipped heel and the resulting five second penalty bumped them too far back in the aggregate standings to make the cut for Sunday.

The two older siblings, Keely and Logan, rope together and they followed up on a 6.4 from the morning run with a 6.9 in the afternoon. The resulting 13.3 total finished sixth overall, and means they’ll get another steer on Sunday.

“The morning steer was tracking right and left a bit, so we just wanted to be safe and get him caught,” explained Keely.

“We had a good steer for our next one,” added Logan, who handles the heading duties.

Both brothers paid tribute to longtime team roping supporter Lyle Kurtz, of CVS Controls, for helping team ropers get to equal money at Ponoka.

“It means doing well at Ponoka can help you get a long way towards the NFR now,” says Keely, who confirms a run for Las Vegas could be in the works for them if things go well on Sunday.

“We’re pretty busy at home, but we’d have to take a look at it.”

The Bonnett’s still need to be among the four fastest in the Finals, in order to make it to the Showdown Round, where there’s an additional $5000 up for grabs.

“We’ve only made it to the four round once and that was a while back,” says Keely Bonnett.

There’s a lot of sharing within the family, and with their close friends the Graham brothers, who lead going into Sunday at 11.9 seconds on two head. Keely Bonnettsold his three-time heeling horse of the year, Cruz, to Dillon Graham, which was not an easy decision.

Well, my fiancé and I are building a new house, so it helped with that,” he smiles.

Fortunately, Keely was able to look to younger brother Kash’s horse pen and pluck one to use, and he’s been having good success with it. So the family connections proved valuable again!

Only one bareback rider managed to crack the top twelve, and it was no small accomplishment for Strawbs Jones, an Australian who so loved rodeoing in Canada that he became a Canadian citizen.

“I’ve got a floating rib up the top on my left side,” explained Jones, who got the injury last week at Wainwright. However, he got enough Ponoka air to spur well for eight seconds on Legend’s Flashy Secret, collect 84 points, and finish eleventh spot to make the Finals.

This was the third horse he’s been on since getting hurt, and in true cowboy fashion, Jones is reluctant to dwell on the pain. He will note he’s appreciated the efforts of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team.

“They’ve been doing a world of wonder for me. They’ve been icing it and strapping some stuff together. They’re really good and we can’t thank them enough.”  

There’s not much healing time available over the next few busy rodeo weeks, but Jones has no plans to slow down.

“The best thing about bareback riding is it’s a man’s sport, and you find out if you’re a man every day you run your hand in (the rigging).”

The 89.25 from Kade Sonnier from opening day was untouched at the top of the bareback qualifiers. It was an 89.25 which held on to first in the saddle bronc riding, and it was owned by Montana’s Chase Brooks. South Dakota’s Cash Wilson was the only cowboy Saturday to make the Sunday roster in the event. His 85 on Disco Lemonade put him in a three-way tie for eighth.

A pair of steer wrestlers advanced from Saturday’s action, although they still left Ponoka’s own Craig Weisgerber in the number one spot with his 8.4 tally on two head. Oregon’s Dalton Massey checked into third spots with 8.9 seconds on his runs Saturday, while JD Struxness of Texas used a snappy 4.3 Saturday afternoon to snag fifth in the aggregate with 10.1.

“I made the final four last year,” recalls Struxness. “It was my first time to Ponoka so that was pretty cool. Hopefully we continue on this year. To come out with a Ponoka win would be pretty sweet.”

Tuf Cooper stood firmly planted in the frontrunner position in tie-down roping with his 16.1 seconds. None of Saturday’s ropers were able to capture a top 12 spot, as the cutoff was a rapid 19 seconds flat. There was a shakeup in the barrel racing leaderboard, as four of the top six finishers came from Saturday’s performance. Oklahoma’s Dona Kay Rule raced into second position in 17.39 seconds, just behind the 17.20 from Carlee Rae Otero.

There will be nine bull riders in the Sunday finals, after two more made the all-important whistle Saturday. Montana’s Cole Hould made his first trip to the Ponoka Stampede count, as he marked 85.5 on the Legend bull Flick the Switch, for fourth overall. The highest score was the 86.75 from Jordan Hansen.

Several other awards were handed out after their events were finished. Jordan Cust claimed the novice saddle bronc championship with a 78 at Ponoka, with the novice bareback title going to Chase Siemens for a 77. Joseph Vansandt took the junior steer riding honors with a 77.5. The Canadian Women’s Ranch Bronc Championship went to Pearl Kersey of Millarville.

Sunday’s finals featuring the top twelve in each of the major events start at 1:00 pm. From there, the field is sorted to the four top finishers, who advance to the Sunday evening Showdown round.


23 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 5

Dawson Hay has some unfinished business in Ponoka. Last year the saddle bronc rider from Wildwood rolled into the rodeo town nursing a painful torn quad muscle. After treatment from the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team and knowing the horse he had, the second-generation rodeo cowboy took a chance, made his ride, and spurred out a sparkling 89.25 to finish first after the six performances of the Ponoka Stampede. But the injury proved too painful, and he wasn’t able to take advantage of his earned spot in the Finals.

Fast forward to 2023, and the three-time Canadian Finalist, who’s also been to the National Finals Rodeo three times, is feeling much better and it shows.

He showed that Hay spurring style en route to 88.75 points Friday afternoon, to claim a spot for this year’s Ponoka Stampede finals.

“I had a younger horse today, but if you’ve got a young one you hope it’s a little Calgary horse, because they’ve got huge hearts and they give you the opportunity,” says Hay, about his match Equal Money from the Calgary Stampede stock pen. “I’d seen his first trip this year out at Lea Park, and they were 86 on him and he pretty well did the same thing here. I’m expecting that horse to have a long career doing that.”

For all his arena success in his relatively young career, Hay has never made it all the way to the Showdown Round Sunday evening, where the bonus cheques are big ones.

“I’ve watched my brother (Logan) ride there a couple times, but I’ve only been here to watch.”

This year, it’s older brother Logan who’s on the injury shelf, recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow. So Dawson hopes to keep up the family tradition started by his father Rod and uncle Denny Hay, of being regulars at the Ponoka saddle bronc winner’s circle.

Most of all, he’s happy to be healthy.

“Yea, everything’s holding up great. I’m blessed to feel so good this time of year. It’s really important. It’s the crunch time for everyone. To be healthy, and to be  going down the road – we’re entered in a lot of rodeos. So I couldn’t be happier.”

There’s a quick trip to St. Paul Oregon to get on another horse before Sunday’s Ponoka Finals for Hay. Meanwhile, one of his traveling partners, three-time World Champion Zeke Thurston of Big Valley was hot on his heels at Ponoka, marking an 87 on Zastron Acres. Hay and Thurston are second and fourth in the standings, with the 89.25 from Chase Brooks still the high mark.

Another cowboy relieved to be off the injured reserve list is Orin Larsen. The Manitoba-raised bareback rider had to withdraw from the NFR last December before the end, due to a broken thumb. But the 2019 Canadian Champion is back with a vengeance this season, winning two rodeos in Canada last weekend, as well as a go-round at the rich Reno rodeo. And he kept up his streak Friday in Ponoka with an 88.5 on Calgary’s Zig Zag Cherry, to move into second place behind the 89.25 from Kade Sonnier on opening day.

“I was happy to have that one,” says Larsen. “It’s one of the stronger ones in the group. I’ve been on him a couple times and had good luck with him. That horse never has the same trip twice. It’s got ‘Cherry’ in its bloodline, so you never know what they’re going to do.”

After being away from the arena for a while, you could say Larsen is refreshed and hungry.

“I’ve never had so much fun before. I’ve got a whole new outlook on rodeo and how I approach things. The time off was kind of a big struggle for me, mentally and physically, but I’ve got a good family to back me up on that. I had to see if I still have it, am competitive with everybody else. I’m slowly proving to myself I still can, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Saskatchewan’s Jesse Popescul earned his way into the Finals contention in the tie-down roping with a pair of runs totaling 17.6 seconds, for sixth spot behind the leading 16.1 seconds from Tuf Cooper. Baillie Milan made the same kind of move in steer wrestling, securing seventh spot with a total on two runs of 11.0 seconds. The best team roping result of the day was from Roland McFadden of Vulcan and Tyrel Flewelling of Lacombe with 16.4 seconds on two runs, but they’re hold in eleventh spot is precarious with one more round of potential qualifiers to go. None of Friday’s barrel racers were able to crack the Sunday lineup. But there were two more bull rides to add to the qualifying roster, with Nick Tetz of Calgary claiming fourth spot with an 84.25 on the bull Night Walker.

A delegation of more than 50 agricultural journalists from around the world attended the Ponoka Stampede Friday, as one of the tours offered through the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists World Congress, being held in Olds Alberta. Reporters from as far away as Malawi, Kryzechstan, several European and Scandinavian countries, as well as Australia learned about the importance of the Stampede to competitors and the local Ponoka community. They also learned about bucking stock from contractor Jim Lawrence, and interviewed numerous competitors, so they can tell stories in their home countries about the exciting sport of rodeo.

The last chance for competitors to make Sunday’s Finals of the 87th Ponoka Stampede starts Saturday afternoon at 1:00 pm.




23 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 4

It would be tough to find a more excited person in all of Ponoka Thursday afternoon than Craig Weisgerber. The pro cowboy got the fans stomping their feet for the ‘thunder rolls’ at the 87th annual Ponoka Stampede when their hometown cowboy slid over his steer in 4.1 seconds, to take over top spot in his event, with 8.4 seconds on two runs.

“The thunder’s the best. I love it when these people get fired up. This is the place to rise to the occasion,” confirms the good-natured 34-year-old. “It’s the Ponoka Stampede. It’s the wildest in the west. There’s no better feeling than doing good at this one, especially being the hometown.”

“All these people cheering for me, my hands hurt from the high 5’s, this is just great, I’m having a blast,” bubbles Weisgerber, moments after the big run.

“First run this morning, I knew I had a good steer. I just knew I had to be safe and make it work. Sure as shoot, it did.” Stopping the clock at 4.3 seconds set him up well for the afternoon, where Weisgerber drew the same steer he’d won some money on at Innisfail just a few weeks before.

“I was just trying to stay behind the barrier. When you’re good on your first one like that, you kind of want to safety up. I still don’t know where I was on the barrier, but it had to have been tight. I kind of had a good game plan, but whenyou’re coming down the alley, there is no game plan. You’re just going, and reacting. It all worked out.

Naturally, Weisgerber pays tribute to the Bo Anderson horse named Reggie that he loves to run, and his hazer, two-time Canadian champion Scott Guenthner.

Making his fourth appearance in the Finals, Weisgerber can hardly wait for Sunday.

“This is going to be mine. I’m going for it. This would mean everything to me. If I could walk out of here with the Ponoka buckle, this is happy as I could probably be at rodeo.”

“As excited as I get in the arena, that’s as excited as this crowd should be because this is the coolest rodeo in the world,” Weisgerber proudly states.

The bull riding roster from Sunday is slowly filling up, after there were three more qualified rides. The highest mark among them was an 86.75 from Jordan Hansen, who acknowledged Vold’s Uncle Kranky might not have been his choice in the pen.

“He wouldn’t have been my first pick,” says Hansen. “I knew he’s a good bull. He bucks, but is kind of tricky. I knew I’d have a good chance if I stayed on and did my job.”

“It was a little unorthodox trip for him. He usually actually starts spinning to the right for a couple rounds, and then jumps out of it. But not today. He wanted to go left, which worked out good for me since I’m left-handed. It went into my wheelhouse.”

“I’ve made the 12 round here (at Ponoka) a few times, but never moved on into the four round. So I figure this would be as good a year as any to change things up,” smiles the Amisk cowboy. “This is a bucket list one, so we’re off to a good start.”

Trenton Montero put his name on the Sunday list so far in the bareback riding, after marking at 85.5 on Vold’s Snap Chat, to tie for fourth.

“I knew he was going to be all there, I knew he was going to throw some moves at me, I knew he was going to be pretty droppy,” says the Idaho competitor. “I knew I had a match here that I’d better really cock my hammer for. It’s a really good horse that gave me an opportunity to come back again on Sunday.

The 89.25 from Kade Sonnier on the opening day is still on top, while it’s an 89.25 also leading the saddle bronc riding from Chase Brooks. Veteran Cort Scheer got his name in the running in that event Thursday when he matched moves with Vold’s Pedro for an 84.50, for sixth place.

“Yea, two old guys going at it,” jokes Scheer, who’s back in action after getting his neck fused and his shoulder fixed last year. “But I’m pretty sure I’ve got more grey hairs than he does! I was stoked to draw him. Nowadays, I don’t really know a lot of the horses. I knew I had a shot on him. That’s a good horse. I won Grande Prairie on him one year. Me and him, we have a pretty good history.”

Idaho’s Bo Pickett put himself in the hunt for Sunday’s tie-down roping finals with a total time of 18.4 seconds Thursday, behind the 16.1 from leader Tuf Cooper. There was no touching the barrel racing time of 17.20 from Carlee Rae Otero, but Bryanna Haluptzok of Minnesota is hanging inside the top 12 yet after her 17.78 second run. The fast team roping time of the performance was 4.9 seconds from Trey Gallais and Tristen Woolsey, but it was their only qualified run. Kash Koch and Colten Fletcher moved into second overall, with their total of 12.1 seconds on two head.

There’s another chance for competitors to win cash and qualify for the Finals Friday afternoon at 1:00 pm.


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.

23 Ponoka Stampede Wrap 2

As the Canadian tie down roping Champion, Ty Harris certainly knows how to win at Canadian rodeos. But the talented Texan had never advanced to the finals at the Ponoka Stampede.

Harris took care of that dilemma on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, as he ran down the long score setup to still rope and tie his calf in a sizzling 7.6 seconds. Combined with his solid 8.9 second time from the morning slack, his 16.5 second total means Harris can make his hectic travel plans now include a Sunday return engagement in Ponoka.

“The last cheque I got here was in 2018, so I’m pretty excited,” says Harris. “I think I got just a really, really good start and the calf was right there, and the rest was kind of a blur. It happened quick, and man, I was super blessed.”

Harris is also feeling blessed to be able to rodeo this summer with his younger brother Joel, who also roped at Ponoka.

“He quit roping for two and a half years to go to Bible college when he was 17. I never thought that he was going to rope again, no one did. But God called him back to roping, so it’s been a super huge blessing to be able to do it. It was our dream our whole life, but I’d let go of it because that wasn’t what he was doing. But to get to live our dream now is such a blessing.

Ty helped his brother prepare for the Ponoka long score by taking him to Prineville, OR where there’s a similar alley setup, and they watched the first round at Ponoka too.

“He did really well, so I’m happy for him. Everybody roped their butt off here,” Harris exclaimed. “My brother is 18.9 on two, and winning fifth. Usually 20 or 21 makes it back. I hope he makes it back, but with these great ropers and these great calves, you never know.”

There’s a chance the Harris brothers will both be in Sunday’s Ponoka finals, but there are plenty of miles to travel before then. Ty’s schedule includes a pair of stops at Greeley, CO; Prescott, AZ; St. Paul and Molalla, OR; and Williams Lake, BC.

I got exactly how I wanted it set up. I’m really excited about my schedule. Spend a lot, and hopefully make a lot, he grinned.

Carlee Rae Otero left the Ponoka Stampede in 2012 as the champion barrel racer, and hadn’t been back until this year. A lot has changed since them for the busy Texas cowgirl, but not her love for the Stampede.

“I’ve been wanting to come back every year, but lift happens,” she smiles. “I’ve sold several horses in the last several years that have gone on to make the NFR, so I’ve kept with seasoning young horses.”

But this year she’s on a five-year-old called Sly, that brought her back to the trail.

“He’s extra special, and I was like ‘you know what? I want to take him myself and see if we can make anything happen’. He loves it up here, so we’re going to stick around for a while,” says Otero, of the horse who’s only been to ten rodeo barrel racings, but has placed at eight of them.

The two smoked their Ponoka run in a 17.20 second pace, which surprised even Otero.

“In my mind, I said if I’m below 18 seconds, I’m going to be happy. I had no clue he was that fast. What’s funny is I was looking at my 2012 runs on Dillon, a phenomenal horse, and my last run was a 17.20 and that’s what we won the last round with. So I think it’s just meant to be!”  

The best steer wrestling of the performance were two 5.0 second runs, from Casey Lawes of Provost, and Kalane Anders of Wyoming, who was making his first trip to the Ponoka Stampede. He had a time in the opening slack of 5.4, so Anders is now the overall leader with his 10.4 second total.

“My steer was just loping across the ol’ lane right here, so I was just trying to take it easy, throttling Rooster (the horse) across the line, and then we were catching up quick,” recalls Anders. “I just tried to get a good head catch and slow down. I was just trying to react.”

There’s a tie at the top in the team roping now, after Brody and Logan Groves of Czar scooped up a pair of steers in a total time of 13.0 seconds, to equal the mark set by Paul Eaves and Erich Rogers on the opening day.

Tuesday’s best bareback ride came from North Dakota’s Ty Breuer, who marked 85.5 on Macza’s Sunday Stepper, which puts him in third place, with the 89.25 from Kade Sonnier still on top for the event. Mitch Pollock, of Idaho, climbed aboard Country Girl, to mark an 83.25, enough for a fifth-place tie behind leader Ben Anderson with his 86. The Macza pen of bulls proved untameable, and not a single rider made the whistle Tuesday afternoon. So the bull riding leaderboard still has a lone name on it, the 80 from Lonnie Phillips in the first performance.

The third performance of the Ponoka Stampede begins at 1 pm Wednesday afternoon. The top twelve in each event return for Sunday’s finals, followed by the Showdown round Sunday evening.



23 Ponoka Stampede Rodeo Wrap 1

There is no shortage of stories in Kade Sonnier’s world, so why not add another one, from his first appearance at the Ponoka Stampede? The Louisiana bareback rider drew none other than the legendary C5 grey horse Virgil for his debut at Canada’s biggest seven-day rodeo event. The much-decorated horse lived up to his reputation, and kept Sonnier hustling to stay on board.

“Right out of there, he had a bunch of power,” said Sonnier, still gasping for air moments after the ride. “He took his little scoot and when he broke, he kind of hits you in the back, and lets you know you’re there for a fight.”

“I let him roll and I was way ahead of him, and he felt like a dream. I knew I couldn’t stop spurring because he was going to slam me on the ground if I did.”

Sonnier’s part impressed the judges, and they assessed the eight at 89.25, to set a high bar early in the week-long Stampede proceedings.

“That’s one of the ones you dream about,” marveled Sonnier. “They set the world record on that horse – you remember that one for the rest of your life. That’s a hall of fame horse if I’ve ever seen one.”

The 23-year-old rookie came to Canada with traveling partner Tim O’Connell, a three-time World Bareback Riding Champion.

“He’s a great mentor to have, and I’m just super blessed to be in the rig with him, somebody that’s got that much knowledge and experience, and unselfish. He wants us to win just as much as he does.”

Sonnier didn’t follow the usual path to rodeo pursuits. He played college baseball for three years, but injuries in what many would consider a tamer sport drove him to get on bucking horses at the age of 20, after already having both shoulder and Tommy John surgeries.

God dealt me some injuries and He’s led me here. I live by the motto of God’s plan, and it really is His plan.

“My Dad made the 2018 National Finals Rodeo in the saddle bronc riding at 39 years old, for the first time. I got to go (watch) and that’s kind of what lit the fire in me. I’d never been on a bucking horse. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Hopefully we make it there in December.”

Joey Sonnier has his own dramatic life path through addiction, which had an impact on Kade’s life.

“He went down the wrong road and chose the wrong path. He ended up getting right with the Lord and making the right decisions. God led him back to the Finals and he proved he could do it sober. So we’ve got some pretty cool stories in our family,” stated Sonnier.

Sonnier is well on his way to his own trip to Las Vegas for the year-end playoffs, as he’s sitting sixth in the world standings, with over $68,000 in earnings, including an eight-thousand-dollar boost in the week since he found out he’d be dancing with Virgil at Ponoka. His busy week of rodeo ahead will include a return trip to Ponoka for the finals July 2nd. Kade Sonnier would like nothing better than to add another chapter to his Canadian western adventure.

A cowboy who didn’t have far to travel to Ponoka delighted the local fans to top an impressive round of saddle bronc riding in the opening performance of the 87thPonoka Stampede. Ben Anderson, of Eckville, threw down an 86 on a C5 horse known as Black Jack.

“That’s a nice little horse, actually an older horse, but I didn’t know that. It’s an electric little horse,” said Anderson, who took advice on the rein length from Wyatt Casper, who won Innisfail this month on the same horse.

Anderson did some updates to his saddle, and feels that also helped his performance.

“I just put new stirrup leathers in today. It feels more even now. I’m excited to roll into the fourth,” explains Anderson, who plans to go from Greeley, CO to Williams Lake, BC before returning to Ponoka for another horse.

Another local competitor shone in the barrel racing. Bobbi Henderson of Alix is known more for her breakaway and team roping abilities, but friends asked her to ride their horse and she sped all the way to the lead in the event with a time of 17.640 seconds.

The only bull rider to make the whistle Monday night was an injured one. Lonnie Phillips, of Elko, B.C., badly sprained an ankle Friday at a rodeo in Wainwright. So he borrowed a cowboy boot three sizes bigger than his own and cracked out of the chutes on Later Gator for 80 points, and the lead.

The best time in tie-down roping after opening day is 20.0 seconds, after Chance Thiessen of Oklahoma was 9.9 in the slack and 10.1 seconds in the performance in the two-head competition. The time to beat in the steer wrestling is 11.8 seconds, after Riley Wakefield of Nebraska put together runs of 5.4 and 6.4 seconds. Team ropers Paul Eaves of Texas and Erich Rogers of Arizona had the fast performance time of 5.2 seconds, giving them 13.0 seconds on their pair of runs and the overall lead.

Tuesday’s second performance of the pro rodeo starts at 1:00 pm, with the WPCA Chuckwagons starting at 6:30 pm.