The reputation of the Ponoka Stampede is known far and wide. Even as far away as a little town in the deep south called Heflin, Louisiana; population 234.
It just so happens of those 234 residents, two of them are top notch cowboys.
The oldest of the saddle bronc riding DeMoss brothers, Cody, is the current Canadian champion. The youngest, Heath, decided this year he’d better visit the rodeo famous town of Ponoka. He made it a worthwhile eight second stop, when he spurred to an 85 mark, the best ride in the opening performance of the 80th annual Ponoka Stampede.
“I’d never bought my Canadian card before,” explained DeMoss, of why he’d never ridden in Ponoka previously. “It just always seemed so far from home. But I’m sure glad I did it!”
“Up here in Canada, they’re the best bucking horses in the world. This is one of the most prestigious rodeos in the world, and I’d never been to it, so I figured it was about time.”
The seven-time NFR qualifier who just won $8300 last week at Reno, NV, admits it was his wife who urged him to make the trek north.
“This is one of the biggest rodeos in the world, and I figured before I was done riding, I probably needed to come see what it was about,” he grinned.
Given the reputation of the July first event, DeMoss thought he’d be coming to a bigger place, so he was a bit surprised at Ponoka’s size.
“When I looked for it on the map, I had to zoom in real close to find it,” he chuckled.
DeMoss had already heard a jingle in his jeans when he knew he’d be matched up with a Kesler horse called Nickels and Dimes.
“I had him in Calgary one time, and in Austin, Texas, one time, so I was familiar with him, for sure. My brother was just 90 points on him the other day, so I was sure excited to have him drawn.”
“Today, I think he had a bit more of a rider-friendly trip than he has in the past. He was a nice horse, and had good timing, and just allowed a guy to show off on him.”
DeMoss’ mark topped the performance, but Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston wasn’t far behind, when he got a reride and tapped out 84.5 points on Frostline.
That should earn him a spot back in Sunday’s Finals, but he was off Monday night to Greeley, CO for the first of many horses before then.
“I’ve had a really good couple of weeks. In the last three weeks, I’ve won close to $20,000, so it’s been a good, little month there,” smiled the 21-year-old.
“Hopefully it keeps going.”
Ponoka’s Kirsten Gjerde outraced some fast horses from the U.S. on her home turf, and now leads the pack in the barrel racing, after she was the only one to break the 18 second barrier with her 17.969 second run.
Another local favorite had the grandstand cheering in the steer wrestling.
Brock Butterfield was one of only two bulldoggers to catch his steer in the morning run, and he was fastest with a 7.8. He came back in the evening to follow that up with a 7.9 second run, to be the best on two with 15.7 seconds.
That may not be the fastest when the dust settles on the week, but there’s still a good chance it will get him another steer on Sunday.
While Butterfield is no stranger to the Ponoka long run used in the timed events, it was the first time for his horse, a yellow gelding he calls Hat Brim.
“He’s seven years old and he’s one that I started. He’s kind of been my project. I’m pretty proud of him. He’s been handling everything and he handled this rodeo good,” said Butterfield.
The Texas-raised former barrel horse has already helped Brock’s brother Luke get two steer wrestling cheques on his way to qualifying for the All-Around race.
If Brock could get a big cheque from Ponoka, it would be a major breakthrough for his season.
“There’s lots of rodeo left. I really don’t know where it’s going to be. If I do make it back, I suspect it will be in the later part of the pack. There could be some fast runs. It’s tough to say though, because with this rodeo, so much can happen,” noted Butterfield.
“I’m happy with the way my horse worked, and whatever happens, happens. But I’d be really happy to make the Finals. It’s my favorite rodeo, and I think it’s one of the greatest rodeos out there, but I just haven’t had much luck at this rodeo. That’s the way it can go sometimes.”
The best bareback ride of the first performance at Ponoka came from Oregon’s RC Landingham, who chalked up 84.25 points on Copper Cat.
The bulls shut out the cowboys, so no one sits on the leaderboard yet in that event. In the tie-down roping, a former Ponoka Stampede champion, Timber Moore is in front after turning in two runs in 18.4 seconds. In the team roping, it’s the duo of Lee Rombough of Sexsmith and Chad Kurtz of Fort Saskatchewan who set the pace, with 18.9 seconds on their two runs.
Today’s rodeo action begins at 1:00 pm, with the first run for the pony and WPCA chuckwagons at 6:30 pm.
Dianne Finstad is a local freelance writer and covers rodeo for the Advocate.