Over a thousand barrel racers are converging on Ponoka this week for the Alberta Barrel Racing Association (ABRA) Finals and tradeshow, being held at the Calnash Ag Event Centre from Aug. 19 to 25.
This year there are 1,110 racers and about 55 vendors registered for the week-long event and approximately $345,000 up for grabs in prizes and cash money again this year.
The lady-dominated sport along with the ABRA Finals are “definitely growing,” said Jill McDougall, ABRA office manager.
Admission is free, both to the tradeshow and to watch the races and the public is welcomed and encouraged to partake of both. There will be fast-paced, high-adrenaline barrel racing to watch every day starting on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Divisions are Open for 16 years and over, Youth, 10 to 16, and Pee Wee, 10 and under.
The highlighted times to come watch will be the youth short go on Friday, Aug. 23 at 4 p.m., and the Pee Wee run on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 4 p.m.
“It’s good watching … they go really fast. It’s electric. It’s fun, fast run after fast run. They go all out,” said McDougall.
You can bet there will be a lot of local barrel racers competing at the finals, according to McDougall.
“Anybody that barrel races in and around Ponoka will be there — It’s just too much money not to be.”
Besides local talent, there will also be lots of CFR competitors, coming from far and wide, including some competitors from B.C. and Saskatchewan.
“They want to come here, run for that money and get qualified for the finals.”
The Calnash hosts several ABRA-sanctioned summer jackpots to help racers get ready for the finals.
Big names Taylor Manning has entered a horse, and Rene LeClerq has six entered.
The top junior competitors in Lakeland, the Wildrose Rodeo Association and the Foothills Cowboy Association will be taking part as well.
“The best thing about the ABRA Finals are they are an equalizer for 1-D competitors to 5-D competitors,” said McDougall.
“It’s an opportunity for all ages, all levels of skill to compete for a large amount of money and prizes.”
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the fastest horse or aren’t the fastest racer, in the ABRA Finals, everyone has a chance to win some prize money, says McDougall.
A new feature this year is a big screen in the corner for displaying advertisers, sponsors and vendors, rather than just listing them in the program.
“That is something we’ve stepped up and done this year.”
The tradeshow will be open Aug. 21 to Aug. 24, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 25.
The tradeshow completely sold out about six weeks ago, although spaces go quickly and about 80 per cent is typically sold out by April each year, according to Michelle Auclair, tradeshow and sponsor coordinator.
A wide variety of vendors, from ladies boutiques to wood furniture, to Tupperware, equine services and more, will pour into the ag event centre, taking up every square foot of available space throughout the whole facility, says Auclair.
As the sport has grown, so has the finals, and the tradeshow with it, adding more vendors as the Calnash has expanded over the years, enabling them to accommodate a few more vendors.
There is a good mix of returning and new vendors to the show this year, ensuring some great shopping for all those who come out.
“When the competitors roll in, they know the tradeshow is part of the event,” she said, adding the show is becoming more well-known and popular to the public as well.
“It’s huge for Ponoka and maybe a little underestimated,” she said, noting that people are often surprised at how massive the whole event actually is.
Next year’s ABRA Finals will be even bigger and better as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.