BY AMELIA NAISMITH
The Ponoka Stampede, drawing champions from around the world, kicked off June 25. Events are slated to run through to July 1.
While much of the Ponoka Stampede is spent with cowboys in the dirt — or the air — cowgirls whipping around barrels and audience members hanging off their seats, the Ponoka Stampede Board Association still spends an afternoon inside, at the Wolf Creek Golf Resort, celebrating the hard work of the sponsors, volunteers and the competitors.
Dr. Lynn Phillips of Enid, Okla. travels from the United States each year to announce at the Stampede. “This is my favourite rodeo to do.”
The Ponoka Stampede is among the five largest rodeos in the world for payouts and the Jace Harty Memorial PBR event is the largest single bull event in the world, attracting competitors from across Canada, the United States and Australia.
Along with having the memorial kickoff Stampede this year, there are number of other additions and special events to make one of the top rodeos bigger and better.
Over one year ago Ponoka-based artist Inge Sybrandi was contracted to create a huge mural, consisting of several panels depicting the history of the Stampede.
The entirety of the project was unveiled June 25 in a private reception at the Calnash Ag Event Centre Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
The art show and auction has also been expanded this year with the help of talented artist Ash Cooper.
It was Cooper who created a watercolor of retired saddle bronc rider Rod Hay; the original piece is up for auction.
Replicas of the painting are also being sold.
“So those are some things to look forward to,” said announcer Les McIntyre.
In addition to celebrating the people of the Stampede, this year also focused on the animals.
Nine contractors, some veteran and some who are new, are bringing their top stock to the Ponoka Stampede.
While the winning cowboys and girls are bathed in glory, payouts and buckles, the best animals also receive prizes.
The top saddle bronc and bareback horses receive beautiful bridles and the rankest bull — a statue.
Stock contractor Wayne Vold also took to the podium June 24 to talk about the weight the Ponoka Stampede holds in the rodeo world at large and also about the pride it brings to the community.
For one thing, last December the Ponoka Stampede became the first Canadian rodeo to receive the prestigious PRCA Remuda Award at the National Finals Rodeo.
“The best part is it’s voted on by the cowboys,” said Vold.
Attending the event to add their support and congratulations were Ponoka County Reeve Gordon Svenningsen and Mayor Larry Henkelman.
Both welcomed the contestants once again to Ponoka and wished them luck for the week. Henkelman also touched upon this year’s special theme; Big Brothers Big Sisters centennial year.
“As they do make a difference in every child’s life they touch.”
A number of competitors and rodeo royalty also attended the event, including Miss Rodeo Canada Gillian Shields, Miss Ponoka Stampede Shelby Simmonds, chuckwagon driver Jason Glass, top professional bull rider in the world, Cody Lostroh; and one of Ponoka’s newest home-based competitors Zane Lambert.
Lambert has been competing at the Ponoka Stampede for five or six years but moved to the community only last year.
This year he’ll compete at the Stampede as well as the Jace Harty Memorial, which he was looking forward to.
“It’s just the highest paying (single) event of the year,” he said. “When you add that much money you get tons of contestants,” he pointed out.
Lambert also said the Ponoka Stampede Association added $40,000 to the Memorial.
While nerves almost always present themselves, Lambert said that he isn’t afraid.
“I think it’s more competing nerves, not necessarily nerves for fear,” he explained.
Aside from doing well, Lambert also sets his own goals for competing; each year he tries to put forth the best rides of his career. “There’s also goals against the bulls.”
Lambert likes to draw the bulls that have bested him in the past for another go round to see who comes out on top.