There’s a bigger payback to the Ponoka Stampede’s efforts than just the fans in the stands. The legacy of the facilities, the families, and the fortunes invested in encouraging rodeo talent is evident when you look at this year’s qualifiers for the finals of the 74th annual event.
As the six regular days of action wrapped up Saturday afternoon, the lines were drawn, and the top 12 competitors determined for Sunday’s premiere performance. Central Albertans are well represented this year, with the largest contingent of qualifiers ever.
In fact, the Butterfield clan alone has four members who’ve earned the right to compete in the rich Sunday go-round.
Luke Butterfield leads the charge in the saddle bronc riding, after finishing in a tie at the top for the first round with Dustin Flundra, for his 85.75 point performance. His younger brother, Brock, makes the cut in the middle of the pack in steer wrestling after his 14.2 second total on two runs. Cousin Chance Butterfield will also be among the bulldoggers hoping to make the final four going through to the $10,000 Showdown. He was 18.1 seconds, to catch the second last hole.
Chance’s Mom, Dee Butterfield, raced her way to another run Sunday, when she rounded the barrels in 17.64 seconds Saturday, to finish sixth among the ladies.
That’s four from Ponoka, before adding Ponoka’s Shayna Dodds to the barrel racing lineup. She was 17.47, to finish third in the regular round.
Then check the team roping lineup. Kenton Fawcett and Tyrell Gordon, both from Ponoka, are among the qualifiers.
Let’s expand the borders just a bit. Still with team roping, there’s Tyrel Flewelling of Lacombe and his partner Travis Gallais of Olds, who finished third. Klay Whyte of Bashaw was just behind them while Clint Maddox of Eckville is back, as are Jenner Meston of Tees, with his partner Monty Gertner of Stettler. Stettler’s Steven Thiessen is also in the team roping.
Other local qualifiers in the steer wrestling include Curtis Cassidy of Donalda, Scott Wyzykoski of Eckville, JD Hays of Rocky Mountain House and Craig Guthrie of Lacombe.
The bronc riding contingent boasts Jim Berry, from Rocky, and Todd Herzog of Penhold, who squeezed into the last qualifying spot. The top bull rider, Jesse Torkleson, lives about 45 minutes away in Winfield. He had an 88.5 mark. And Mark Neitz of Stettler makes the top twelve in the tie down roping.
It’s an impressive result, because all week, the top hands in the game of pro rodeo have come to Ponoka with hopes of their best being good enough to return for Showdown Sunday. It’s exciting for longtime rodeo supporters to see the depth of the talent that’s located right around the rodeo community of Ponoka. And with efforts like the new Rodeo Academy getting started at the Ponoka Composite High School this fall, the locals want to see future champions as well.
While Ponoka is the richest event on during the July 1st run, there are other well-paying events going on across North America. Bronc rider Dustin Flundra is doing his best to cash in at as many as he can.
The two-time Canadian saddle bronc champion has already earned $4,172 at Ponoka, for tying Luke Butterfield. Flundra rode a newer Franklin horse called Ocean Pearl to 85.75 points.
“He gave me every opportunity to go out and show off,” grinned Flundra. “If a guy could get on one like that every day, he’d have a bank full of money.”
Flundra has made some miles over the last few days, but it could be worth it.
“It’s been shaping up pretty good. I’ve probably gone to the fewest rodeos I’ve gone to on the 4th, but I’m also as tired as I’ve ever been. There’s only been two of us, and we’ve been driving the whole time.
“I was winning Prescott (Arizona) and Cody (Wyoming) when we left and was placing at Greeley (Colorado) and then here today. It’s definitely seems like Christmas.”
Flundra and his travelling partner Sam Kelts headed out Saturday afternoon, to compete that in Airdrie, just a short trip compared to what they had been doing. Flundra is scheduled to ride in Williams Lake, B.C. today, but plans to forego that in favor of being at the Stampede Finals.
Flundra is missing the third driver in their truck, Rod Hay. He’s sitting at home, after badly breaking his leg at his knee at the Innisfail rodeo two weeks ago. He’s undergone surgery, and has nothing but time on his hands.
Reviewing the other event leaders heading into the finals, it was Bobby Mote of Oregon who took first in bareback riding on the opening night and his 86.5 held up. The early 17.29 from Lindsay Sears of Nanton remained fastest in barrel racing. Tuf Cooper of Texas leads the charge in tie down roping with his 16.1 on two head, and both his brothers are also in the finals. Straws Milan of Cochrane topped the steer wrestling with his 12.2 on two. And the fastest team ropers were Riley and Brady Minor of Washington with their time of 10.7.
The novice events wrapped up Saturday, and Gavin Derose of Kamloops, B.C. was the novice bareback champion, while Casey Bertram of Piapot, Sask. took novice saddle bronc riding. Dayton Johnston of Milk River was the boys steer riding winner.
In the chuckwagons, the four finalists for the Tommy Dorchester Dash for Cash have been determined. Kelly Sutherland leads the aggregate at 6:25.95 — thanks to the quickest time Saturday at 1:15.31 — followed by defending champ Obrey Motowylo at 6:26.63, Grant Profit at 6:27.14, and Jerry Bremner at 6:27.18.
Rodeo time today is 1 p.m., with the Showdown to start at 6:30 p.m.
Dianne Finstad is the agriculture/rodeo director for CKGY/Z99.