ABRA Finals barrel racing action returns to Ponoka

The 1D buckle one lucky winner will go home with at this year’s 2021 ABRA Finals. (Photo submitted)The 1D buckle one lucky winner will go home with at this year’s 2021 ABRA Finals. (Photo submitted)
Carolynn Knapp won first place in the 1D open short go at the ABRA Finals in 2019. (File photo)Carolynn Knapp won first place in the 1D open short go at the ABRA Finals in 2019. (File photo)
(File photo)(File photo)
(File photo)(File photo)

By Kevin J. Sabo

For Ponoka News

Barrel racing action is set to make a big return later this month.

After the restrictions put in place by the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the 2020 barrel racing season was shortened, resulting in the cancellation of the Alberta Barrel Racing Association (ABRA) finals.

While planning for the 2021 event started long before the restrictions ended, with the lifting of most restrictions in Alberta at the beginning of July the event can go ahead as planned with few changes.

“Because of COVID, we weren’t able to hold our finals last year,” said Jill McDougall, ABRA secretary.

“This is technically our 25th anniversary, so we’ve really stepped it up.”

The ABRA finals are slated to begin Aug. 23, 2021, running until Aug. 29. The event, being hosted at Ponoka’s Calnash Ag Event Centre, will see around 800 riders and 1,100 horses competing in the six-day event.

“It is a huge event,” said McDougall. “It is the biggest barrel racing event in Canada by far.”

One notable change to the event for 2021 is to the format.

Instead of having 800-plus competitors on site for the entire six days of the event, organizers have separated the competitors into 400 rider groups who will each compete for two days before heading home, then being replaced by other riders.

“There’s roughly 350 to 400 competitors every two days,” said McDougall. “That’s how we decided to do things to limit numbers. This new format a lot of barrel racers are liking.”

When it comes to prizes for the event, there is no shortage.

According to McDougall, there will be big money and big prizes for the competitors. For the cash, there will be $25,000 worth of cash prizes in the open event, and $10,000 for the youth. In addition, around $70,000 worth of additional prizes have been sponsored or donated to the open event, and $20,000 to the youth event.

“There is over $85,000 in sponsorship right now,” said McDougall.

A full sponsor listing is on their website, www.albertabarrelracing.ca.

Prize money and prizes will be given out daily, with the top 15 riders of each of the five divisions receiving prize money. Top riders in each event will take home around $2,300, while the 15th seed could earn a couple hundred dollars.

Racing will start around 9 a.m. each morning, and run through the day until 4 or 5 p.m.

In addition to the racing, the ever-popular trade show is coming back as well. The trade show will run during each of the six days, starting at 9 a.m., and will feature over 50 separate vendors.

“There’s a few cancellations and a waiting list,” said trade show organizer Michelle Auclair. “It’s a sell-out show. We literally use every square inch of the building.”

In addition to the vendors occupying both floors of the Calnash centre, Auclair also said that there will be several vendors located in trailers located on the north side of the building.

According to Auclair, the trade show associated with the finals has grown, especially over the last five years.

“It’s significantly grown,” said Auclair. “The last five years have been a sell-out. There are always new people. If I had more space, it would be bigger.”

The trade show will feature a mix of vendors, some of which have been coming since the inception of the association. Venders can range from specialty equine-related businesses to giftware and bedding.

In addition to a variety of Alberta-based businesses being represented at the trade show, according to Auclair, there is even one that ventures from as far as Chilliwack, B.C.

McDougall encourages people to come out and support the finals and the trade show.

“We encourage people to support the businesses that support events like these,” she said.

In a normal year, the nearly 2,400-member association hosts around 400 race events throughout the year, which members need to race at to qualify for the finals. Registration for the event is $175 for the open category, and $100 for youth.

Competitors coming to the event are primarily from the five divisions across Alberta, as well as a few from B.C. and Saskatchewan.

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