Ponoka Stampede’s Gary “Doc” Harbin has been inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame for his work as a builder.
The announcement was made Feb. 22 on the hall of fame website.
It’s clear in speaking with the hall of fame that Doc’s involvement with the Ponoka Stampede helped put the association where it is today. Hall of Fame director Brenda Vold said that Doc started up in 1974 with the association and he also sat on the CPRA board from 1985 to 1991.
Upon hearing of the award, Doc says he is honoured.
“I guess it’s something you never expect. You never look for,” said Doc.
The respected veterinarian also knows what it takes to bring contestants to a rodeo and that comes with the best stock. Early on in his work with the Stampede, Doc knew they had to do something to keep cowboys from turning out. At the time the Stampede had only one contractor.
“What I found out was that the stock is just as important as the contestant. You’ve gotta put the cowboy on a good bucking horse,” explained Doc.
“Those people that fill that grandstand. They want to see something that’s real.”
And with good stock comes real cowboys and a real rodeo experience.
Doc’s son Bruce, currently Ponoka Stampede president, remembers growing up on the grounds during the summer months. “There was a time when Ponoka Stampede was a three or four day rodeo,” said Bruce.
With some serious legwork and negotiation, the Stampede was able to create an opportunity where stock from multiple contractors were hired. A mentor of Doc was Tom Butterfield who had a great focus: “Tom Butterfield’s rule for Ponoka Stampede is it has to be fair for the cowboys,” explained Bruce.
“So Tom and Doc got that figured out.”
For Doc, it’s also about recognizing the hard work of the volunteers. It still humbles him to see residents taking their vacation during the summer months to help out.
“I guess it’s important that you look back that there’s people that have been there since Day 1,” said Doc, pointing out that there are about 700 to 800 volunteers now involved.
Bruce added that the association was recognized in 2013 with the famed Remuda Award, which celebrates the best horse stock at rodeos. Ponoka Stampede is the only Canadian rodeo to receive such acclaim, much of that is due to Doc’s dedication.
“They started putting on a rank show that people wanted to see,” said Bruce.
Doc’s hard work also saw the development of the south east tunnel to the grounds as well as the main grandstands and the 5/8 mile chuckwagon race track. For Bruce growing up it was incredible to see the support Doc generated when preparing the grounds for the grandstand. “He got the whole community all rallied together to do that.”
Long time director Frank Mickey said Doc started with the Stampede from the bottom and never hesitated in what was asked of him. “He’s a great inspiration and a hell of a member,” said Frank.
He added that Doc really understood the stock and was able to look for the best rough-stock animals for the cowboys. When it came to improvements, Doc always had a hand in it.
Former president Joe Dodds echoed Frank suggests Doc should have received the award sooner not just for his work with animals, but also for his dedication to the volunteers. “Gary didn’t talk to you a week before the rodeo, he talks to you year-round,” said Joe.
He added that Doc has the ability to speak with anyone and everyone regardless of stature socially or politically.
One thing people may not know about Doc is that in 2017 he was also a finalist in the Zoetis PRCA Veterinarian of the Year in the United States.
For Doc, it’s always been about putting on a great show and recognizing those who helped build up the Stampede. “It’s very humbling to be part of it.”