By: Ted Harbin
Cowboys crave good horses and the opportunities to cash in when the rides go well.
Now the top saddle bronc riders in North America will converge on this tiny hamlet for the Hard Grass Bronc Match, set for 6 PM on Saturday, July 29.
"We figured it would be fitting to have an event out here where we're in the heart of cattle country," said Tyler Kraft, an event organizer who serves as manager of the Calgary Stampede Ranch near Hanna, Alberta. "We went to different bronc ridings in North Dakota and South Dakota and really thought this would be good for this part of Alberta.
In our area, we have around 1,500 bucking horses. Why would we be driving 1,000 miles when we could put on one here?The event will feature 30 of the best bronc riders in the world, from world champions to regulars at both the National Finals Rodeo and the Canadian Finals Rodeo. With $25,000 included in the committee purse and mixed with entry fees, the winner should walk away from Pollockville with at least $10,000 stuffed in his jeans.
"I love bronc matches," said Zeke Thurston, a second-generation bronc rider and the reigning world champion from Big Valley, Alberta. "They're awesome, and when you can get one that counts for the world standings, then it's even better."
The Hard Grass Bronc Match will be co-approved by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. That means money earned in Pollockville will count toward qualifications for both the CFR and the NFR. That's an important piece of the puzzle for the bronc riders who make their living one bucking horse at a time.
"From a bronc rider's standpoint, anytime you can watch that many horses get bucked in a day is a pretty good day," said Thurston, whose father, Skeeter, was a multiple-time qualifier to both the NFR and CFR. "I like the way it pays out, and whatever you win goes in both standings. They have lots of bull riding events that count for the standings, so it's cool that you can have a lot of bronc ridings like that, too."
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The event will feature many of the top bucking broncs in the game today, horses that have performed at the Calgary Stampede and other large rodeos, including the two finales.
"Speaking on behalf of the Calgary Stampede Ranch, we're going to be bringing the heat," Kraft said. "We'll also have Big Stone Rodeo (of Cessford, Alberta) there helping bring some great horses."
Each of the 30 cowboys will ride in the first round, with the top eight scores advancing to the championship round. When the final-round field is set, the cowboys will then pick the horses out of a list of 12 available that they want to face for the chance to win the short go and the title. The cowboy with highest score will select first, and then the rest will choose according to how they placed.
"Bronc matches are pretty awesome," said Dustin Flundra, a three-time Canadian champion from Pincher Creek, Alberta, who owns three NFR qualifications and the 2014 Calgary Stampede bronze. "Now that they're starting to count for the standings makes them more attractive to the contestants.
We know bull ridings have worked on their own, but there are a lot of people that aren't necessarily bull riding fans but they like watching bucking horses. Now we're going to showcase those high-caliber horses, and the best cowboys in North America are going to come.That combination will make it a spectacular event but so will the setting. Pollockville is home to about 10 people and is a little more than two hours east of Calgary.
"About the only thing in the whole town is a 500-capacity dance hall, and there's a big lean-to off it," Kraft said. "We figured it would be neat to do it in the open prairie."
Stands have been purchased, and organizers will utilize a Priefert arena setup. That will make it homey and fun for fans who want to watch something special happen inside the portable fencing.
"It's pretty exciting that we're going to have more and more of these things and that people can enjoy," Thurston said. "It's an exciting time, especially for the world of rodeo."
Bronc matches are nothing new to rodeo, but what sets the Hard Grass Bronc Match apart from most is that the money counts for both the premier rodeo associations in North America. The event in Sentinel Butte, ND, counts for the PRCA world standings.
"It's a lot like the Wildwood Bronc Busting that Roddy Hay puts on," Flundra said of the early June event in Wildwood, Alberta. "Like Roddy's event, the horses will be amazing. There will be a lot of horses that have been to both the NFR and the Canadian Finals, and a lot have been to one or the other.
"The cowboys will be of the same kind of caliber. That makes for some pretty good watching."