The ropes were as hot as the temperature during the third performance of the Ponoka Stampede. Both the tie-down and team roping events speeded up Wednesday afternoon.
Local fans were excited to see the lead in the team roping snagged by Ponoka’s own Levi Simpson and his heeling partner Jeremy Buhler, from Arrowwood. In their morning run, they caught a steer in 5.5 seconds. Then in the heat of the afternoon, they did even better, by finishing up in five seconds flat. Their total time of 10.5 seconds puts them on the top of the Ponoka team roping standings, with a cushion.
“We’re just trying to knock them all down and see what happens,” said Simpson. “Luckily, the guy on the back end heels fast, and it worked out.”
Buhler was equally happy with his partner’s efforts.
“Same deal (this morning). Levi nailed the barrier, did a really good job and made it easy. It’s fun when you can just jackpot on the backside, and you’re fast enough to do good.”
Just as in the steer wrestling and tie-down events, the team ropers have to contend with the famous Ponoka long score, with the extended alley run before they all enter the arena, at great speed.
“It’s a little bit different,” acknowledged Buhler. “Actually, I kind of like it better. Seems like most of the time rodeoing you don’t have a whole lot of time, as a heeler, to really set things up. But here it’s kind of nice because you have the whole alley to make sure you’re in the right spot.”
“The scoring is definitely a different view,” added Simpson. “Here, and in Pendleton (OR) are probably the only two that are like this. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate with my horse. He’s very user friendly in this set up. I’ve had good luck, so I’m just trying to stay with what I know for it.”
Buhler and Simpson seem to be off to a good start to one of the richest weeks on the rodeo calendar. They snapped up a steer in 4.1 seconds in Airdrie the night before, to sit in second place at that rodeo. But for Simpson, there’s nothing quite like hearing the roar of the Ponoka grandstand for a job well done.
“I love the hometown rodeo. This is one of the best rodeos there is, so to be from here and support this rodeo is great. The committee and the sponsors are incredible, to have this kind of prize money. It’s one of a kind in Canada, and dang sure in the top five in the world for me. I’ve had the privilege of winning it twice. Hopefully Jeremy and I can add another notch in the belt.”
The two have been busy chasing their rodeo dream of being the first all-Canadian team to make the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“I think we’re going to nine rodeos, so if a guy can have a good week, and win big, you can sure catapult you up in the standings,” smiled Simpson.
There were a lot of fast runs in tie-down roping, but when the dust settled, it was Jake Hannum on top of the leader board with a time of 17 seconds flat on two runs.
“I look forward to this,” said the cowboy from Plain City, UT. “This horse I rode up here Clint Cooper made the short round on him last year. I made the short round on him the year before. It’s good to have a horse that’s good up here, and I think that’s the difference. Drawing good helps always, but a good horse here is really good!”
A pair of Louisiana ropers are just half a second behind Hannum. Randall Carlisle and Shane Hanchey both clocked 17.5 seconds on their two runs. Hanchey was 7.1 seconds to set the pace at Airdrie the night before.
“Must be the weather and the good calves,” grinned the 2013 World Champion. “You know how it is up here for me. I’ve always had good luck for some reason. I’m just excited to be up here in the dry ground.”
“I’ve got Reata back out with me this summer. It’s just something about the horse and the style of calves up here, we just kind of click.”
Ponoka’s own Kirsten Gjerde did get moved out of first spot in the barrel racing, but only by one cowgirl, and she’s from central Alberta too. Kirsty White of Big Valley took her little speed steed named Racey around the pattern in 17.922 seconds to become the new front runner.
“She’s so small, and I watched it yesterday,” said White. “I was actually fairly anxious about it, because the ground is heavy and she’s so little. But I did my homework. We came and rode yesterday, and then I came and rode this morning, and tried to get her in the right frame of mind.”
“She’s ten years old but she has a huge, huge motor, so she’s always way, way better ‘edge off, rode down’. I thought, for a change, I’d come to Ponoka prepared, rather than feeling like I ‘should-a, would-a, could-a’.”
Steer wrestler Harley Cole of Calgary is now the man to beat in his event, as he posted a time of 13.2 seconds on a pair of runs. There’s also a new leader in the bull riding, as Rorey Maier of South Dakota tamed Heavens Basement to the tune of 85.75 points. He was also the only rider to make the whistle, making it now just four qualified bull rides after three days. In the saddle bronc riding, Nanton’s Clay Elliott remains first with his 85.75, but Layton Green of Meeting Creek can likely book himself a return trip to Ponoka for the Finals after marking an 84 on Awesome in the best ride of the afternoon.
The bareback riding was like an NFR pen of horses and cowboys. Local favorite Jake Vold, now out of Airdrie, got the crowd cheering with an 85 point ride on Wildwood Flower.
“That’s a nice little horse,” stated Vold. “I knew that’s what he was, and it’s kind of up to a guy to show off on him, or try to. He’s really little, and I’m pretty long-legged, so there’s not much to get a hold of. Maybe sometimes it looks better than it feels, but I’m happy it worked out, and I’ll be coming back. That’s what I set out to do today.”
Meantime his buddy Caleb Bennett of Utah drew the horse Vold is pictured riding on the 2016 Ponoka Stampede poster, Mucho Dinero. He could hardly believe his good fortune, and couldn’t resist rubbing it in with Vold.
“I was as excited as could be,” beamed Bennett, after making an 87.75 point ride to take over first in bareback riding. “That’s a great horse of Wayne Vold’s and I’d always wanted to get on him. I’d never been on him, and what a better place to have him than Ponoka!”
There were no changes to the novice events, with the leaders still Colton Ouellette in novice bareback; Dawson Dahm in novice saddle bronc; and Luke Ferber in the steer riding.
Racetrack conditions were excellent, and some thrilling races were watched by the Ponoka chuckwagon fans. When the night wrapped up, it was former Ponoka Stampede Champion Mike Vigen who posted the fast time of the race meet so far with a 1:14.75.
Coming off barrel number 1 in the 5th heat, Vigen – driving the Pugh Farms outfit – placed first on the night by 15 one-hundredths of a second over John Walters. Evan Salmond and Rick Fraser followed in third and fourth place respectively, with Vern Nolin rounding out the top five on the night.
There’s more Ponoka Stampede action today with the 1:00 pm rodeo performance and the 6:30 pm wagon racing.