Rodeo season hitting its stride in Central Alberta

Central Alberta is on a rodeo roll these days. There’s an opportunity to watch pro cowboys in action almost daily.

Central Alberta is on a rodeo roll these days. There’s an opportunity to watch pro cowboys in action almost daily.

Just days after the Daines Ranch Pro Rodeo wrapped up, it was the ninth annual Jace Harty Memorial Bull Riding in Ponoka. Taking top honors this year was Tanner Byrne of Prince Albert, Sask. He was the only one of the entrants able to cover his second bull, marking 88.5 on the Vold bull In the Club in the final round. He collected close to $4,000 for the victory.

The Sundre Pro Rodeo begins today, with the morning slack featuring more than a 100 barrel racers, plus over 40 tie-down ropers and almost 70 steer wrestlers. The first of four performances goes at 6:30 p.m. tonight, with performances Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and again Sunday at 12:30 p.m. On at the same time as rodeos in High River and Wainwright, it’s attracted the big names in rodeo from both sides of the border.

There’s no need for rodeo fans to unpack the trailer. They can just stock up the fridge and move on up to Ponoka, because the Stampede gets rolling there on Monday. This year is an extra special show for organizers, since it is the 75th anniversary of the event.

Blair Vold and Gary Harbin have been heading up the celebration plans.

“We wanted to make it memorable because it’s the Diamond Jubilee,” noted Vold. “Ponoka is a small town, but this event has been built into one of the premier rodeos in North America. We wanted to stay in tradition, and celebrate the heritage of the original rodeo.”

The rodeo kicks off in style with a Monday evening performance, to be followed by a Wild West show paying tribute to the history and heritage of the Stampede. The colourful show is being produced by Rimbey rancher Timothy Edge, brother of tie-down roper Dean Edge. Edge worked for more than a decade at the Euro Disney Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and has called over from France some of his former colleagues to help out.

“I’m bringing over some independent trick riders from Europe,” said Edge. “They’re stunt men, actors, musicians. But we’re also working with lots of local volunteers. I’ve got some horses from the Dodds family we’re training specially for the performance. It’s going to be a once in a lifetime event.

“The script will be honouring families in the community of Ponoka who’ve been very important to the Stampede. There will be tons of horses in the arena.”

The occasion will also be a significant gathering of rodeo greats from past and present, invited to take part in a Parade of Champions. Long-time Ponoka rodeo secretary Janet Vold took on the big job of tracking down all the past Stampede champions or family representatives, who will enter the arena.

Vold started her journey visiting Bill Jamieson at a Stettler seniors home. He was at the very first Stampede.

“I went to him to find out where to start,” said Vold. “He’s in his 90’s, but his memory is as clear as a bell. I sat and visited with him about some of the early winners we didn’t have records on.

“Bud Butterfield also had some good stories about the way they used to rodeo. It’s tough financially for the guys now, but it was amazing how they rodeoed in those days. He remembers as a young boy riding steers going to a rodeo in the back of a two-ton truck, riding with the horses!

“It was so interesting to find out all the connections, and the descendants, and to see how enthused they all were. Everyone is excited and really looking forward to that evening. It will be a real reunion. I can’t imagine all the stories to be told.”

One of the larger-than-life characters with deep roots at the Ponoka Stampede plans to ride in the parade, with his entire family. Harry Vold is now a legendary pro rodeo stock contractor, based in Colorado.

“Uncle Harry was at the first Ponoka Stampede when he was 13,” said Blair Vold. “His folks wouldn’t take him, so he rode three hours in to get there, and three hours home. This year, he’s flying up in a Lear jet to be the parade marshal. That’s quite a change.”

Another big change over the years has been the prize money, which this year the Ponoka Stampede committee has bumped up to $45,000 per event.

Organizers are encouraging everyone coming to Ponoka for the opening performance to wear 1930’s style western wear, and the committee has been busy planning it’s own member’s wardrobe for months.

After the opening evening rodeo, the Stampede moves back to daily 1 p.m. rodeo performances, followed by the 6:30 p.m. chuckwagon races. The Showdown championships for the Ponoka Stampede go Sunday, July 3rd.

Dianne Finstad is a regular contributor of the Red Deer Advocate and is the agriculture/rodeo director for Newcap Radio/CKGY/CIZZ FM in Red Deer