Harden to get some hard earned recognition

There’s still a mountain to climb, but a handful of local pro rodeo competitors have scaled some pretty big hills already. This is Canadian Finals Rodeo week, with the season’s rich playoff time set to get underway on Wednesday at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Only those who are among the top 12 money earners in each of the rodeo events get a shot at the $1.589 million up for grabs. So to get to the CFR is always job one.

There’s still a mountain to climb, but a handful of local pro rodeo competitors have scaled some pretty big hills already.

This is Canadian Finals Rodeo week, with the season’s rich playoff time set to get underway on Wednesday at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Only those who are among the top 12 money earners in each of the rodeo events get a shot at the $1.589 million up for grabs. So to get to the CFR is always job one.

Tonight, the contestants who did that by excelling at rodeos in Alberta are being honored in Red Deer. One of the happiest will undoubtedly be Big Valley’s Josh Harden.

The hard-working family man rides saddle broncs and does steer wrestling. As the season’s end approached he was at various times poised to be in Edmonton in both … or heartbreakingly outside the qualifiers in either. It came right down to the very last event of the year – the Cinch Pro Rodeo Series Finals in Calgary. The 33-year-old cowboy managed to win enough there to clinch a spot for Edmonton in the bronc riding, finishing the season in 11th spot, with $13,209. Along the way, he won the Alberta circuit All Around honors, and will receive a bronze for that during tonight’s festivities at Billy Bob’s. He also goes into Edmonton as the leader in the race to the national All Around title, with $24,668, compared to the $19,030 posted by defending Champion Ky Marshall of Bowden.

All year long, Harden kept his nose to the grindstone, focused on the next horse or steer he had to deal with, not looking at his standings or what he needed to win. It was a strategy that seemed to pay off, or at least kept Harden’s nerves intact.

“All I knew was I’ve got to keep winning, keep plucking away, and it will take care of itself at the end,” said Harden.

That’s what played out, giving Harden his first trip to Edmonton as a full-fledged pro.

“This is my best season ever in both events. I won over $10,000 in each of them. It was a fun year.”

And there’s more fun to come! In his event, Harden will be riding alongside the Alberta circuit saddle bronc winner, Cody DeMoss. The Louisiana cowboy has posted a phenomenal season, sitting first in both the Canadian and World standings. He cashed in big in Alberta at places like Ponoka, Airdrie and Wainwright. It will be the debut for the veteran at the CFR.

But right behind him in the Canadian race is perennial favorite Jim Berry. The cowboy from Rocky Mountain House will be accepting the buckle tonight for winning the Duane Daines Saddle Bronc Series for a fourth time in his career, which he calls a special honor.

“I’ve always been close to the Daines family. To be able to win that (award) means you’ve been consistent, and have ridden most of the horses you’ve got on,” noted Berry.

This season, he collected $26,000 on his way to an eighth CFR. He travelled to 40 rodeos, and picked up a cheque at well over half of them.

“At the beginning of the year, you make some checklists,” revealed the 33-year-old. “First of all, you want to make Edmonton, and then be as high as you can going in there. So it was mission accomplished. I think there were only about two weekends when I was shut out. I drew really good most of the year.”

Another cowboy with strong local roots winning an Alberta bronze tonight is Jake Vold. The Ponoka-raised bareback rider scooped up an astonishing $48,994 as he topped the Canadian season for a second year in a row. The near record earnings came despite a slow start to the season.

“Last year was the dream year for me that I’d been waiting for, and it finally came. I wanted to repeat it more than once. I’d worked hard at it over the winter,” recalled Vold, who’s making his 6th trip to the CFR.

But the winter was ‘cold’ and as expenses outpaced winnings, Vold’s business-like approach to his sport dictated some time off at home in Airdrie to re-focus.

“It’s hard to keep a positive outlook. But it always turns around. You’ve just got to be able to fight through it and be excited to get in the truck.”

Vold credits travelling partners Kevin Langevin and Colin Adams for making the rest of the year a positive, even though he didn’t quite make it back to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. But he’s got a big $22,000 edge over the rest of the field heading into Edmonton, and has every intention of winning back to back titles.

Other Alberta circuit winners picking up bronzes tonight include Saskatchewan’s Dakota Buttar in the bull riding; steer wrestler Scott Guenthner of Consort; Utah’s Rhen Richard in the tie-down roping; Taber’s Nancy Csabay in the barrel racing; and brothers Justin and Brett McCarroll of Camrose in the team roping. For the novice events, the Alberta honors go to Wyatt Gleeson of Sundre in the bareback riding; Lane Cust of Bluffton in the saddle bronc; and Owen Berreth of Airdrie in steer riding.

The festivities of the CFR kick off Wednesday evening in Edmonton, and there are plenty of central Alberta competitors to keep your eyes on.

Rookie sensation Zeke Thurston of Big Valley is bound to turn in some spectacular bronc rides, while Ponoka’s Zane Lambert is always a good bet in bull riding. Rimbey’s Dean Edge posted one of his best seasons ever in roping, and his great horse Sid received the nod as tie-down roping horse of the year for a record seventh time.

Both Cody and Curtis Cassidy are always a force to be reckoned with in steer wrestling, while Big Valley’s Kirsty White knows the winning feeling at Rexall Place in the barrel racing. Brett Buss of Ponoka, with his partner Klay Whyte of Airdrie lead the way in the team roping race heading into the week.

The first of the six CFR performances in Edmonton goes Wednesday at 7:30 pm. Tonight’s Alberta awards presentation runs from 6-8 pm at Billy Bob’s in Red Deer.

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