From blue blood champions to excited newcomers, the just crowned set of winners won’t soon forget their time at the 2018 Ponoka Stampede.
Add another buckle to the truckload Trevor Brazile already has at home in Texas, including 23 of the gold ones that say World Champion. The most decorated cowboy in the world was just as thrilled as ever, though, claiming his second Ponoka title in the tie-down roping. Finishing second in the average after the Finals round in the afternoon to Jake Hannum, Brazile came out with a smooth 7.3 second run to best the field of four in the Showdown Round.
“Man, this jacket is better than the buckle today,” laughed Brazile, who was enjoying the warm award in the chilly wind that persisted on Monday.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said, about his Showdown experience. “That’s the thing when you come here and you’ve got three guys to beat and you know every one of them are capable, you’ve got to get it on. It’s just a fun sudden death mentality.”
After being in the pro game for more than twenty years, Brazile still craves and thrives on the adrenaline adventure that is Cowboy Christmas.
“I look forward to this. Everything changes. I’ve got a role now as a Dad, not just a cowboy. So we’ve stayed home and watched a lot of baseball and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But right now we’ve got to get busy. That means not only busy winning but busy going to rodeos. We’ve got to have a lot under our belt pretty quick. I think we’ll get to as many or more than anybody on the fourth of July.”
Brazile was dashing off to catch a flight in Edmonton to a rodeo in Mobridge, South Dakota. He’d just come in from Belle Fourche, where he was placing fourth, and Greeley, CO where he won the first round. The $13,040 he pocketed from Ponoka will be good seed money to help boost him from his current spot outside the top 20 in the world.
Brazile very nearly qualified for the Ponoka Showdown in the team roping event as well. But that event was dominated by a pair of young guns who’ve been tearing up the Canadian rodeo scene the last few weeks. Tristin Woolsey and Denver Johnson have roped in Ponoka before, but this is the first time they’ve competed together at the Stampede. It’s proving to be a profitable combination. The two won the average with a total of 18.9 seconds on three runs, and then came back in the Showdown with another snappy run, gathering up a fistful of dollars in 5.3 seconds, $8485 each, to be exact.
“I wanted to be off the barrier a little bit,” explained header Johnson, from Strathmore. “So I tried to see a good start, and as soon as I got across the line, he checked up pretty good and came left a bit. I just wanted to make sure I got him caught and got him turned. Tristin did a heckuva job heeling him.”
“We drew a pretty good steer that was pretty friendly for the round, so we just tried to do what we could with what we got.”
“I definitely was nervous before I got in the box, and then as soon as I got in, you’ve just got to remember what your job is and try to go do the best you can do.”
“When you’ve got a good header like Denver, he’s got a bit of range and can reach a little bit, and that helps a guy out,” adds Woolsey, from Nanton.
Scott Guenthner was determined to change his previous poor track record from the Ponoka Stampede, and he did so in spades, riding away with his first steer wrestling championship. 2016 champ Stephen Culling of Fort St. John, B.C. wrapped up the average title in the afternoon with 15.1 seconds on three runs. But in the sudden death competition of the Showdown, Guenthner was three-tenths of a second faster, to collect the bonus and push his Ponoka earnings to $16,513.
“I just tried to be more consistent this year and stay behind the barrier, and make good runs on the ground,” grinned Guenthner, who calls Provost home.
“As a kid, I always came here and watched and was ‘oh, I’d love to be at this rodeo, or win this rodeo’. So to do it, it’s pretty heart felt, that’s for sure.”
It’s a truckload of bareback riding talent. Traveling together this summer is the trio of Jake Vold, Richmond Champion and Caleb Bennett. All three made the Showdown round in their event and treated the full grandstand of fans to some stellar rides, along with Orin Larsen. But when the spurs stopped spinning, it was Richmond Champion who emerged with his first Ponoka Stampede jacket and buckle, for a ride that garnered 91.25 point from the judges on the world bareback horse of 2017, C5’s Virgil.
“Last year was my first year to make the final four, and my first time up here actually,” said Champion. “I kind of fell in love with this format. It’s exciting, and it kind of puts you in a different zone than most rodeos would.”
The Ponoka Stampede bareback title has been won the last three years on board that stellar grey horse.
“When you have Virgil, you know you have something special underneath you, and if you can take care of business, it’s going to work out for you, and it sure did today.”
“It was touch and go for a jump and a half there for me, it felt like. It’s a good fight, and that’s the way it should be.”
Champion’s take from Ponoka totals $12,499, just a bit behind the $14,098 earned by Jake Vold, who was the average champion after a 90 point ride in the afternoon. But Champion collected another $5009 on the weekend from winning Williams Lake and placing at Airdrie. Those are all things they can discuss on the many miles they’ll be together over the next few weeks.
“Traveling with Jake and Caleb, you can’t help but want to win and ride good, especially when you know if you don’t, they’re gonna win.”
Texan Sterling Crawley maximized his saddle bronc winnings at Ponoka, by finishing first in the average and then soaring to an 88.75 mark on Calgary’s Wild Cherry to become high man in the Showdown round, just a half point more than two-time Ponoka winner Taos Muncy.
It was the second time Crawley had a taste of that horse.
“The first time he made me look silly so I was really happy to get a rematch. I had an idea this time what I was dealing with, and I concentrated on a couple of different things,” explained Crawley. “Mostly grabbling a hold of him on the mark out and getting started there. Last time he left me sitting in the bucking chute and then pitched me out there in the arena.”
Crawley collected an impressive $18,028, and can now tell his brother Jacobs, that he, too has a Ponoka Stampede jacket and buckle.
“It’s been something I’ve always wanted. I’ve seen my brother win it, and I’ve seen my friends win it, and I’ve seen what it can do to bolster your standings in the world. So it’s definitely something you strive for.”
Stevi Hillman piloted her big horse Truck around the barrels in the Showdown and broke the speed limit, posting the fastest time of the week with a 17.385 second run. That bonus, coupled with her first-place finish in the average, made Ponoka worth $19,341 to her bank account.
“He’s such a great partner to have,” stated Hillman. “We’re a team. He just fed off the crowd tonight and fired hard. It was fun run.”
This was a first trip for Hillman, who lives in Texas, to Ponoka.
“I’ve had friends tell me for years now to come up here because my horse likes this kind of ground, and these kinds of set-ups, but this is the first year we could make it up here. I’m so thankful – my first year in Ponoka and to win it is just a dream come true. God is good.”
It was a pedigreed pen of bulls and riders in the Showdown round, including current World Champion Sage Kimzey and his runner-up Trey Benton III. But only Joe Frost of Utah was able to make the whistle on his draw, a bull called Night Moves. It was only a 78.5 point mark, since Frost was out of shape and on the side of the bull for almost half the ride, but he kept hanging on for the whistle.
“No, it won’t go in the ‘Joe Frost How to Ride a Bull’ textbook,” he laughed. “But it will go in the ‘Joe Frost How to Get $15,000 the Hard Way’ textbook, I guess!”
“With the caliber of bulls that were out and the caliber of guys, there’s no way I thought that something like that would happen.”
Thinking he was gutting it out for at least a fourth place cheque, Frost watched that materialize instead to a $21,228 total from Ponoka. Benton was the average winner of the Stampede following the afternoon action, so still picked up $10,890.
There are days in bull riding where grit pays off.
“The name of the game is make eight seconds, and the guy that does that the most will win the most.”
Frost is tickled to be able to be counted among the Ponoka Stampede champions now.
“It’s very satisfying. It’ll be neat to have my name on the wall there. I haven’t won very many really big rodeos. Fort Worth, Texas is the only other big one that I’ve won, and so it’s nice to add this to the list.”
The Ponoka Stampede stock awards were presented to Calgary Stampede for the top saddle bronc – Urgent Delivery; Northcott Macza for Spilled Perfume as the best bareback horse of Ponoka; and to Vold Rodeo for the bull Twisted.
In his first Ponoka appearance, Zack Jongbloed of Louisiana made it all the way to the Showdown round in both the steer wrestling and tie-down roping, winning a total of $14,007, as well as the High Point buckle. Bull rider and steer wrestler Luke Gee of Montana earned the All Around Champion award.
Attendance at the Ponoka Stampede for 2108 was 87,749 fans.