Eckville’s Ben Andersen felt at home Monday night at Ponoka Stampede.
Not just because he was competing near his hometown in front of friends and family but also because he was back where he competed in his first high school rodeo.
The now 23-year-old cowboy led the way on opening day posting an impressive 86-point performance in the saddle bronc riding event.
Andersen was ecstatic after a solid ride on C5 Black Jack, a horse he rode for the first time on Monday in front of an electrified crowd.
“It was good. It’s actually an older horse but I didn’t know that… I just went with that had a good sprout and when she hit I rolled and it worked out,” he said.
“An electric little horse. I just put in new stirrups today so I should have taken them up a little bit. They’re a little loose but other than that everything felt pretty good and I’m excited.”
The central Albertan first turned pro back in 2019 and since then has won plenty of rodeos and even qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in 2021.
Ranked 23rd in the world in 2022, Andersen has had a bounce-back season so far ranked ninth in the world in 2023.
“Last year I was battling a new saddle and I just couldn’t figure it out to get consistent. That’s what I told K’s Thompson I battled it all year and wasted a year. Don’t waste a year trying to make this one work when you know that one works,” he said.
“…I don’t know why I got out of that saddle. I got out of it right before the NFR if you can believe that. I just thought it felt weird so I got a new one. I had a terrible NFR and battled all year not I’m back in the same saddle.”
This year is Andersen’s fifth year competing at Ponoka Stampede and has yet to win it. He made the semi-finals in his rookie season but is hoping to make it to the finals this time around.
Despite that, Andersen ranks Ponoka near the top of the best rodeos of the season.
“There’s this rodeo and Calgary in Canada where the first day of it is so exciting,” he explained.
“I’ve been kind of feeling like, not down or nothing but where I’m not jazzed up and this one always gets you fired up… It’s just like a little Calgary.”
Andersen had family watching from the stands including his father Chris Andersen who is a former Canadian professional bronc rider.
His father was a huge influence on getting Ben into the rodeo scene.
“I actually raced motocross and played hockey until I was 14. He rode broncs so I never really got into it much until then. I got on my first steer and away I went from there,” he said.
“He definitely was a huge part and I owe him a lot in my career because he took me everywhere in the novice and in high school. This was actually my first high school rodeo right here.”
In the bareback riding event Carenco, Louisiana’s Kade Sonnier has the lead with an a 89.25-point performance. Alix, Alta.’s Bobbi Henderson has the lead in 17.640 and Elko B.C.’s Lonnie Phillips posted 80 points in bull riding.
In steer wrestling, O’Neill, Nebraska’s Riley Wakefield holds the top spot and in tie-down roping Chance Thiessen from Tuttle, Oklahoma led the way. Kincard Henry leads the tie-down roping, after a first-day run of 9.3 seconds. Bobbi Henderson leads the ladies barrel racing after a 17.74 second run on day 1. Paul Eaves/Erich Rogers went 13.0 seconds on two head and are the team roping leaders to open the event.