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Rodeo events at the heart of Ponoka Stampede

Over 600 of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the world compete over seven days for over $325,000 in prize money

There’s a lot of added attractions, entertainment and events that together draw over 80,000 fans to the Ponoka Stampede, but at the heart of everything is a love for rodeo and the Western way of life. 

Over 600 of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the world compete over seven days for over $325,000 in prize money. In fact, the rodeo this year is richer than ever, with the Ponoka Stampede Association deciding to bump each major rodeo event’s purse up to $60,000, including both headers and heelers in team roping. 

Afternoon performances feature bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and ladies barrel racing professional rodeo events. 

The top four contestants from each event advance to the finals to compete for $105,000 bonus prize money. 

There’s also women’s ranch bronc riding and amateur bareback riding, saddle bronc and boys steer riding. 

Bareback riding 

The Pro Rodeo Canada Association says bareback riders “endure more abuse, suffer more injuries and carry away more long-term damage than all other rodeo cowboys,” adding it’s akin to riding a jackhammer with one hand. 

Instead of a saddle, the rider uses a thick leather pad called a rigging. No stirrups or reins are used. 

A winning score is more than just hanging on for eight seconds; riders are scored on his spurring technique as well as how he carries himself during the ride. 

Saddle bronc riding
It’s all about keeping a good rhythm in time with the bucking bronco as the rider holds on tight to keep his seat for the eight-second ride. The rider spurs the horse from the neck. If he touches any part of the animal of the equipment, or loses a stirrup or is bucked off, he will be disqualified. 

Ladies ranch bronc riding
In Ranch bronc riding, contestants are allowed to hold onto the reigns with both hands. Riders also use regular saddles and aren’t required to keep their spurs against the horse’s shoulders like in professional bronc riding. 

In 2016, the Women’s Ranch Bronc Riding Championships was created. In addition to receiving a buckle at the Ponoka Stampede, the winner in Ponoka goes on to the championship in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ladies ranch bronc riding will be part of the afternoon rodeo performances on June 28, 29 and 30. 

Bull riding
Bull riders’ only lifeline is a braided manila rope that they hold to while attempting to stay on top a bucking Brahma/cross bull. They aren’t required to spur, but just staying seated on these powerful animals for a full eight seconds is incredibly challenging. 

A rider can’t touch the bull with his free hand or he will be disqualified. 

The Wild West PBR performance is on Saturday night, June 29, starting at 6:30 p.m. 

Steer wrestling
Arguably one of rodeo’s most challenging events, steer wrestling (also called bulldogging) requires an insane amount of strength, skill and speed. 

The objective of the game is to wrestle a steer to the ground as quickly as possible. 

According to the PRCA, the world record for steer wrestling is 2.4 seconds, making it the fastest event in rodeo. 

Teamwork is also key to a qualifying run, as a second rider, called the ‘hazer,’ keeps the steer running in a straight line. 

A steer is considered down once it’s lying flat on its side on its back with all four feet and head facing the same direction. 

Team roping
In this event, two cowboys work together to rope a steer as fast as possible. The header follows the steer out of the box, throwing his rope to catch the steer in one of three legal head catches. The heeler’s job is to rope both of the hind legs.

Tie-down roping
In a race against the clock, the cowboy ropes his calf, runs down the rope and throws the animal to the ground, before tying any three legs. The tie must hold for six seconds to qualify. 

Ladies barrel racing
Ladies and their horse run a clover-leaf pattern around three barrels hoping for the fastest time in the only women’s professional rodeo event. A five-second penalty is added for any barrel that’s knocked over. 

Chuckwagon racing
The prestige and tradition of chuckwagon racing in Ponoka continues as 36 of the best chuckwagon drivers in the world test their skills on Ponoka’s Half Mile of Hell during the Ponoka Stampede. 

For six straight nights there will be two chuckwagon performances. The action begins at 6:30 p.m. with the All Pro Canadian Chuckwagons followed by the “Top Wagon Drivers in the World” of the World Professional Chuckwagon Association. 

The four teams of four horses hitched to a chuckwagon race around the 5/8 mile track, each hoping to have a clean run and have the fastest time of the night. 

The driver with the best aggregate time over the first four nights wins the title of Ponoka Stampede Aggregate Champion. 

Ponoka News is your source for all things Ponoka Stampede leading up to and during Stampede Week June 25 to July 1. Find more Ponoka Stampede stories here.