Although the Alberta High School Rodeo provincials have been held in Ponoka since 2004 this year’s was one of many firsts.
The June 8 rodeo performance ended between 4 and 4:30 p.m., the earliest in the memory of Dee-Ann Bonnett, Alberta High School Rodeo Association’s chairperson.
It rained most of June 7 but only sprinkled June 8 and 9. Bonnett says the weather was a huge factor in how early the rodeo ended. “It’s going real smooth. So far it’s just going seamlessly. It seems every year it gets bigger and better,” said Bonnett, Saturday evening.
“It’s great, it brings a lot of business to our town,” she added.
This year Ponoka had only four competitors representing the town and a few from Rimbey and Bluffton.
Bonnett says last year’s graduating class was larger than normal, which could contribute to the slightly lower than average number of competitors, this year 160 cowboys and girls competed for buckles and the chance to make it to nationals in Rock Springs, Wyo.
This year 86 competitors are graduating and Bonnett says that is more what they’re used to.
“They’re ready for the next level. They’re looking forward to the next venture,” said Bonnett.
Cowboy prom was held June 8 and included a hypnotist this year. However, any member of the association could attend, not only those graduating.
The prom included a banquet, grand march and awards. “There’s lots of kids in rodeo that do alternative schooling. For some kids it’s the only grad they have,” said Bonnett.
Although there were fewer riders and ropers the quantity didn’t affect the quality this year. “The fierce competition has definitely been some of the highlights. The province has some pretty tough competition,” said Bonnett.
This year also saw many more great rides between the bareback and saddle bronc events and more hang-ups in bull riding. The stock this year, especially the bulls, were ranker than what’s usually ridden at the high school level.
Each year there are two competitions held during the same rodeo; points gathered by the competitors over the course of the weekend stand alone, and from that the average points champions — the buckle winners — are determined.
Those points are also added to the ones accumulated over the course of the year and the top four continue to nationals.
This year’s rodeo was also tinged with sadness. Thursday evening, before the finals officially started Friday morning, a horse colicked and died of a twisted intestine.
“It was very sad, it was a big loss for everybody,” said Bonnett. She says even injuries are uncommon at high school rodeos.
Although Bonnett didn’t know the family well she knows the cowboy had been working with his horse for the past two years and the entire rodeo community grieves a loss like that. “They definitely lost a member of their family.”