Ponoka Stampede: 80 years and counting

Back in 1936, when organizers of the original Ponoka Stampede put on their event, they probably hoped it would be enough of a success to go again the next year. Little could they imagine that 80 years later it would be the biggest rodeo on the Canadian pro scene, and a key stop on the World Pro Chuckwagon Tour. Nor would they have been able to envision how the town mushrooms Stampede week with an RV village full of fans from across the country. Those folks come for the same kind of wild and western sports and entertainment offered right from the start. The Ponoka Stampede will pay tribute to its heritage with the 80th edition of the rodeo beginning tonight, encouraging participants, whether in the grandstand or behind the chutes, to dress like they did back in 1936.

Back in 1936, when organizers of the original Ponoka Stampede put on their event, they probably hoped it would be enough of a success to go again the next year. Little could they imagine that 80 years later it would be the biggest rodeo on the Canadian pro scene, and a key stop on the World Pro Chuckwagon Tour. Nor would they have been able to envision how the town mushrooms Stampede week with an RV village full of fans from across the country. Those folks come for the same kind of wild and western sports and entertainment offered right from the start.

The Ponoka Stampede will pay tribute to its heritage with the 80th edition of the rodeo beginning tonight, encouraging participants, whether in the grandstand or behind the chutes, to dress like they did back in 1936.

“We’re having a special kickoff dinner tonight, saluting eighty years of Ponoka Stampede legends,” explained Mike Stretch, President of the Ponoka Stampede Association.

As well, there will be a special opening to the rodeo, featuring eighty riders with flags, Roman riders, and a buffalo act, reminiscent of the kind of entertainment featured in the early days of the event.

Keeping the town’s famous Ponoka Pride tradition alive and well in the arena is the next generation of some of the same families who were involved originally. Sprinkled throughout the program you’ll find a Vold and several Butterfields.

They all look forward to their town’s big event, but know the expectation is high to excel at their craft in front of friends and family. Handling such pressure is one of the regular tests of a sport which requires participants to channel their energies with pinpoint accuracy into performances that only last a few seconds.

Luke Butterfield knows well such pressure, but he has been taking a more relaxed approach to the mental game of rodeo this season. The 2012 Canadian saddle bronc champion has always set high standards for himself, and worked diligently to be the best at his game. But last year, things didn’t go quite according to plan, and the 31-year-old missed the Canadian Finals for the first time in eight years. It was a disappointment, and a winter of work was an ideal time to re-evaluate.

“I’m trying to stay positive and have fun at rodeoing. I can’t do it the rest of my life, so take it serious, but enjoy it,” describes Butterfield of his attitude to saddle bronc riding this year.

“It was weird not making the Canadian Finals last year. I thought I rode good, it was just one of those years. But you’ve got to just ride, and enjoy it. If you’re not having fun, you might as well not be doing it, because there’s other things to be doing in life.”

“I used to put so much into rodeo, to make a living. I poured my whole life into it, and it was hard not quite making your goals. I’m not the first guy that’s happened to. But it’s hard emotionally and I told myself now, let the chips falls where they are, and just try your hardest.”

“Rodeo has treated me good. I have to look at the positives, and not dwell on negatives like just missing the NFR. I have to look at what I’ve done and enjoy it.”

Butterfield’s ‘take it as it comes’ approach seems to be working, as he’s placed steadily as the season heats up, and is back among Canada’s top ten bronc riders in the standings. He added to that with paycheques from this weekend, including a big one from Sundre.

“Bronc riding is such a mental game when we get to this stage, so just get on and have fun. Don’t second guess yourself.”

Butterfield will ride at his hometown Ponoka Stampede tomorrow afternoon, when he nods his head for Kesler’s horse Country Trail.

Canadian bareback champion Jake Vold gets his chance at another Ponoka title with a ride Wednesday afternoon. He’s also the subject of the original oil painting which will be auctioned off July 1st at the Western Art Auction at the Stampede. The painting has been reprinted as this year’s Ponoka Stampede poster.

The Ponoka Stampede also hosted a big PBR Canada event Saturday night, attracting Canada’s best bull riders. Jordan Hansen of Okotoks emerged the big winner there, when he became the only rider to cover both his bulls. In the Finals, he rode a bull called Red Mile from Outlaw Buckers to 89.5 points. His take-home pay from the Ride, Rock & Roll PBR was worth $11,543, plus he took home an additional $2100 in ground money for being the only one to stay on in the Finals.

Tonight’s rodeo performance at Ponoka starts at 6:30 pm. Tomorrow, and right through Sunday, July 3rd, rodeo begins daily at 1:00 pm, with the WPCA chuckwagon racing beginning nightly at 6:30 pm. The $105,000 Stampede Showdown and the $50,000 Tommy Dorchester Dash for Cash Finals take place at 6:30 pm July 3rd.

Dianne Finstad is a local freelance writer and covers rodeo for the Advocate.

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