People come from all over to take in the Ponoka Stampede. But very few of them drove as far as Taos Muncy to get there. But then very few folks have the chance to leave with as much cash as he will either.
Muncy’s name is at the top of the leaderboard in the saddle bronc riding after the opening night of the 78th edition of the Stampede, and he’s also the number one man in the world standings.
“I started my trip yesterday at 7:00 am. It’s 28 hours from my house here. But the reason why I came was that horse right there,” praised Muncy, moments after stepping off the Kesler stud Spanish Pair.
“It seemed like the trip went real fast because of that. I told my wife that I’d really like to draw that horse, and got him drawn, so I was real happy. That’s a real nice horse, and I was just real fortunate to have him drawn.”
“I’ve had him a couple times, and he just bucks. I had him a few years ago and had heck on him, so I wanted to dang sure try my best today. I got him back, I guess,” he grinned, after judges awarded their performance 86 points.
After the marathon drive from his home in Corona, New Mexico, Muncy actually has a rare day off, while he waits for his travelling partner, Tyrel Larson of Manitoba to ride, and then be on board to help drive.
“Then we go to Dickenson, North Dakota, back to Williams Lake, BC, then to Airdrie, and hopefully back here (for the Finals).”
Muncy is a two-time World Champion, and he was in good company in the first performance since there were a lot of other rodeo stars in the line-up.
Bobby Mote has four gold buckles in his collection, but the 38-year-old bareback rider was as excited as a kid to come to Ponoka for a chance to strap his rigging on the Kesler horse Starburst. They teamed up for an 85.75 mark, just a quarter point more than Cadogan’s Clint Laye on the equally famous Alley Trail.
“I mean anyone of us would be pumped to have Starburst,” pointed out Mote. “That’s a good horse and to have it at this big rodeo is really cool.”
“She has a pretty pattern, just jumps and kicks good, and might circle to the right, and that’s what she did today. I felt like I made a good ride, and she had a good day.”
Mote is on a roll in Canada, having just cashed in for $5060 for sweeping everything up at Wainwright on the weekend, as he tries to become just the third cowboy in history to win five world bareback titles. A big payday out of Ponoka could help him make up some ground in the world standings race.
“This is the best rodeo of the fourth of July week. They put up the most money. The horses are good, and it’s a cowboy’s type rodeo. Anybody that likes competing against the best guys on the best stock for a lot of money is here.”
A two-time World Champion steer wrestler showed he still has what it takes. Calgary’s Lee Graves handled a steer in 4.2 seconds in the performance, to go with his 7.7 second run earlier in the slack, and his 11.9 total is best on two.
Graves is limiting his rodeo travels these days to Canada, to try and keep his aging body healthy. And he admits the Ponoka long score is more intimidating at 43.
“I used to crave this rodeo,” said Graves. “I haven’t slept good for two days coming here. When you hit the ground at my age anymore, it hurts.”
“But it’s fun when it all comes together like that, and then you rebound and remember you can do it. Luck shows up once in a while in this game too. It’s all part of it.”
Another cowboy who may not have a gold buckle, but certainly has the ‘Ironman’ reputation, did well at Ponoka. Oklahoma’s Mike Johnson has qualified for an astounding 23 NFR’s, and the 50-year-old is sitting fifth in the Canadian standings. He put himself in decent shape to return for the July first Finals by roping his two calves in 20.2 seconds.
“That long score, and fast little longhorns, it’s a cowboy roping here,” he grinned. “It feels like you’re out in the pasture chasing one from the mama. It suits everybody and it’s pretty fun to do it. It’s a real, true, cowboy atmosphere and roping here, and I wish more rodeos would do it.”
“I competed for years and years and years, and now all my old buddies, here are their kids, and I’m competing with them. I gave them a 25 year head start and they’ve caught up now,” joked Johnson. “I’m really having more fun than I ever did. It really is enjoyable to compete against them, like Larry Robinson’s and Roy Cooper’s kids.”
Another World titlist, Mary Walker of Ennis, Texas has set the pace in the barrel racing with a leading time of 17.487 seconds.
The team of Rhen Richard of Utah and Jeremy Buhler of Arrowwood made two clean, solid runs in 13.7 seconds to sit first in that event. The bulls were the winners on the opening night, with none of the nine bull riders able to make the whistle.
Today’s rodeo performance is at 1:00 pm, with the pony chuckwagons and WPCA races beginning at 6:30 pm.