PONOKA STAMPEDE WINS REMUDA AWARD
First ever Canadian rodeo to win prestigious PRCA award at NFR
They call it Ponoka Pride. And the little Alberta town with the famous Stampede is bursting with it, after receiving a prestigious rodeo award in December.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association presented the Ponoka Stampede with its 2012 Remuda award in December, just before the National Finals Rodeo kicked off.
It’s the first time a Canadian rodeo has been recognized with the honour, which goes to the rodeo committee which provided the best, most consistent pen of bucking horses, creating the best opportunities for contestants to score well.
“Best of all, it’s voted on by the pro cowboys themselves,” beamed Gary Harbin, the Ponoka Stampede Association director responsible for stock contracting.
The Stampede, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011, is the largest pro rodeo in Canada, and ranks inside the top ten paying rodeos in the world. With its unique Finals and Showdown format, Ponoka is also the richest stop on the busiest rodeo weekend of the season, over the July 1st and 4th holidays. It boasts seven days of action, which attracted a record of almost 73,000 fans last summer.
In order to keep the calibre of rodeo top notch for each and every performance, the Stampede brings in seven Canadian roughstock contractors, and three with timed event cattle. That means any day of the rodeo is basically as packed with bucking talent as a Canadian or National Finals Rodeo go-round.
Along with bringing his stock, Ponoka-raised Wayne Vold serves as arena director, continuing a 60 year association between Vold Rodeo and the Ponoka Stampede.
“We run by the Code of the West,” explained Harbin. “That means if we put up our best, in terms of prize money and the show, we expect you (the contractors) to bring us your best.”
“That code has worked, and the cowboys recognize that. The world champions come, and we put them on the best horses and bulls we can find.”
“To win the Remuda award is a real feather in the cap to the Ponoka Stampede, but the point I always make is that it takes everybody to make it all happen.”
The award itself is a beautiful bronze featuring five horses, and was presented during the pre-rodeo awards banquet in Las Vegas at the National Finals Rodeo.
The only glitch in the whole deal was that Harbin himself wasn’t able to attend and accept the bronze on the Stampede’s behalf.
“Who told you about that?” he protested. “Those guys get a kick out of telling everybody!”
Eventually, Harbin relents, and relates the tale himself.
“(Incoming PSA President) Joe Dodds and I got our plane tickets and were all set to go to Vegas. The night before we left, I looked in the drawer and pulled out my passport. I just happened to flip through it.”
That’s when, to Harbin’s shock and dismay, he discovered his passport had expired at the end of August, and that meant he wouldn’t be getting on any plane to the U.S. the next day!
“Fortunately, I knew (current PSA President) Rick Wierzba and his wife had gone down early to watch Shania Twain’s show. So I called him up, and said ‘Prez, you’ve got a job to do!’
“So instead of seeing Shania, he went to get our award instead!
“It was quite an honour to be there,” grinned Wierzba, who had no regrets about his choice. “San Antonio won the award for best large indoor rodeo, while Cheyenne won it for the outdoor one, and they were all there and congratulating me, so it was really good.
“Gary’s been the one who’s worked very hard on the stock end for our rodeo for many years, so it means a lot.”
There is a happy ending for Gary Harbin too.
“The next day I drove to the passport office in Edmonton with my filled-out application, and got the new one a week later,” he declared. “So I got down to Vegas and caught the last three days of the rodeo!”
If you want to be part of the 2013 Ponoka Stampede, mark your calendar for June 25-July 1, and get your tickets from www.ponokastampede.com.