It’s very appropriate that the Ponoka Stampede happens during the celebration of our country’s birthday because the cowboy way of life played a huge role in how western Canada was developed, most old timers will tell you.
Blair Vold and his family have been involved with this show for dozens of years and they are very proud to have seen the stampede roll on for 75 years in the community.
“It’s just a great traditional rodeo to celebrate Alberta’s history I think,” said Vold on the launch of year 76. “It shows us where we come from in our farming community when we first started and how it evolved into such a tradition of our great province.”
Thousands of people cram themselves into the stands each year to watch saddle bronc riders, barrel races, calf ropers, steer wrestlers and the rock stars of the rodeo world, the bull riders. On top of that you can end the night taking in the heart-pounding chuckwagon racing affectionately called the ‘half mile of hell.’
People have their own favourites at each rodeo but one thing is a constant at the Ponoka Stampede – people from all over the region and further away make their way to the Central Alberta town to take in the show.
“We draw a lot of fans from overseas, Europe, they come here from the states and they get treated to something they’ve never seen before.”
Vold said there are close to 1,000 people entered into the stampede through the rodeo events and the chuckwagon races making it one of the largest rodeos in the country.
“Well in Canada I call ourselves the largest seven-day rodeo,” said Vold , adding that in North America the Ponoka Stampede ranks number five overall.
An army of volunteers and stampede board directors get involved and Vold says that is the key to pulling off a smooth show each year which the participants and fans alike appreciate. It also helps to attract the money through sponsorship needed to attract the big name cowboys and cowgirls who compete for a paycheque.
The community and the support they give along with the volunteers and the directors who give of their time in order to put this show on are the strength of the stampede,” he said.
“The sponsors we do get want to be behind it, we don’t have to chase a lot of them,” Vold explained, adding how much the community support of the stampede also has a positive impact on sponsors getting onboard.
Another component to making this stampede such a success are the animals which the cowboys ride and Vold said each year the stock gets better and better which makes for great matchups with the professional cowboys.
Vold said over the years the cowboys and cowgirls have evolved along with the rodeo itself, pointing to the fact many show up in trailers which are light years ahead of how the cowpokes of the past made their way to Ponoka.
In the old days they just rode in the back of pickups with stock racks and they slept underneath the trucks or in tents.
“These guys are high-tech now, you see the stock trailers, the push outs, the horses, the training. Barrel racers with their trainers are here.”
There is also a very up-to-date medical treatment centre for the athletes to work out the kinks and treat the minor injuries which can occur when sitting on top of two tons of angry bull for example.
And make no mistake about it, these men and women are athletes and with so much cash on the line they go to all lengths to make sure they are as fit as possible to compete against the rest of the field.
“It’s gone to another level and you’ve got to be on top of your game, you’ve got to have the best horses, the best equipment just to compete and you’ve got to be in shape.”