CODY, Wyo. – The Cody Stampede is one of the highest-paying rodeos over the Cowboy Christmas season, but it’s got nothing on Ponoka, Alberta, and three of the world’s best found out just how generous the Canadians can be.
“It sure helped. It’s kind of been slow until then, so I figured if you have to pick one rodeo, that’s one to dang sure do good at,” said saddle bronc rider Sterling Crawley.
“It’s a long ways out of the way, but if you can make it work, it can make all the difference,” added bareback rider Richmond Champion.
“Those are the really prestigious ones that have been around forever,” said bull rider Joe Frost. “It’s pretty neat to have my name on the list of winning Ponoka.”
Crawley, Champion, and Frost are no strangers to the National Finals Rodeo. The trio has a combined 11 appearances between them, but before the Ponoka Stampede started two weeks ago, all three were in danger of missing this year’s cut.
“I had a slow winter, slow spring, and the summer has even been a little slow,” said Frost.
“I was 17-18 in the world standings beforehand, now I think I got out of there with around $14,000, and I’m back in the top 15,” added Champion, who is 12th in the latest PRCA bareback world standings.
All three won their Ponoka event titles, and walked away with more than $50,000 combined to vault back into contention.
“That’s what this week’s about,” Champion said of the Cowboy Christmas run over the 4th of July. “If you draw some good horses and take advantage of it, you can set yourself up good for the NFR and win a world championship.”
“It kind of takes the foot off your neck a little bit, as far as having won a little bit of money already,” said Crawley, “and it kind of gives you the confidence to take it into the rest of the week.”
And into the big one in December, since they know they can beat a lot of the guys they’ll see in Las Vegas.
“The four-man was Taos Muncy, two-time world champion; Coburn Bradshaw, one of the greatest bronc riders; and Jake Wright, won so many rounds at the NFR,” said Crawley of his final-round competition in Ponoka, “so you’re definitely in good company when you’re there.”
“The group of guys that was up there in final four, it was an NFR,” said Champion, “and the horses were the same that we’d get on there. Take it and put it not in the Thomas & Mack, but put it in Canada, and the nerves were still the same.”
Crawley and Frost both sit ninth in their respective world standings races.