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.