Today, March 5th, 2014, our Rodeo Family lost one of our great stars with the tragic passing of "High Pitch" Ben Samplonius. On a crisp winter's morning, he was heartbreakingly taken from our lives, the result of a workplace tragedy.
His time in our rodeo arenas, around our roping pens, and in competitor camping may have been untimely short in duration, but Ben quickly became a friend of many, a part of the community’s family, and a welcoming face to competitors, fans, sponsors and committee people.
At this sombre time of reflection, it would seem surprising to some to review his list of accomplishments since the first time he walked into our lives just four years ago; however to his Rodeo Family, the duration would be the intriguing part of the equation, not the accolades.
A man that had an appreciation and affection for animals, he decided rodeo was to be his new Sport, and that Bullfighting was something he'd like to try. In April of 2011 he attended a high school rodeo in Ontario, with the permission to "Shadow" the other bullfighters. This quick-on-the-fly tutorial was strong enough to earn him more opportunities that were more sooner than later.
Attending his second professionally produced event, a bullfighter was injured early into the event, and Ben jumped from the back pens into the arena, and made his first "big save" in blue jeans and a flak-protection vest. Two bulls later a jersey was handed to him, and the position of Bullfighter was his for seasons to come.
Often many speak of "The Good Guys" of Rodeo, but Ben was a testament of that. Always one of the first to an event and one of the last to leave, he stood to care for stock and the people of the Sport. Helping fallen bull riders is only a small part of his behind the scenes contributions; from helping late barrel racers get their horses up the alley; to all-night drivers checking in late and met with water by Ben; to working overtime to ensure good footing; pulling gates, throwing hay, lugging panels, moving trailers, running stock, running speaker cable, locking up buildings, fixing wiring, giving tours and even entertaining competitors' kids while their parents compete... this is just a sampling of what Ben could be witnessed doing; though his role and remuneration was simply for saving bull riders, he truly was an ambassador and concierge. Ben was there to help, regardless of what the task was.
His sense of humour was prevalent as well; his quirks and jokes were short and sometimes pretty poignant; but always with his animated smile.
Enthralled with the Rodeo World, Ben began competing as well. While Bareback Bronc Riding was not an event he stuck with for long, Steer Wrestling became one of his opportunities to shine as well. He ultimately qualified for the Ontario Finals Rodeo in this discipline, while also being selected to fight bulls in addition, a rarity in any Association.
Early into the rodeo game, his "get 'er done" style became prevalent, as much behind the scenes as in the foreground. Standing over 6'3", one couldn't miss Ben making a move in his never-ending dance with the 1,800 pound beasts he respected and loved "dancing with". Itching for a moment to take his skills to the next level, when the direction came to "jump one"; the shock on the bull's face was the equivalent of the others as he ran head-on toward it.
His respect and care of animals combined with his passion and talents for fighting bulls lead to him being recognized as Bullfighter of the Year in the Ontario Rodeo Association in 2012, his second year in the Sport.
Even after earning this much recognition and respect early into his bullfighting career, 2013 was his break-out year. It started with attending a Rob Smets and Miles Hare Bullfighting School in Annville, Pennsylvania. There, his talents were recognized by not only his aspiring colleagues, but also by the instructors. With strict accreditation policies, Smets and Hare offered to provide their approval recommendations required to become a Bullfighter in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the highest distinction in the Industry of ProRodeo... an honour akin to Wayne Gretzky writing a recommendation letter saying, "The boy can skate." This next step in his career would be left to mostly administration, and was a goal as quickly obtainable as it was realized.
Next, Ben was the focus of a story featured nationally in the Toronto Star for his accomplishments and talents in the profession. From there, he was paired with another bullfighter of similar stature, becoming the unofficial "tallest bullfighting team" in professional rodeo, and earning kudos from some of the best bull riders in international professional rodeo at the largest rodeo in Ontario, Canada. And lastly to cap off the season, he was selected to the Provincial Finals Rodeo and earned his second consecutive Bullfighter of the Year award.
Exemplifying camaraderie, Ben was an ambassador, and a talent that continued to exponentially gain momentum.
And today, that fantastic story's ending was penned, in a manner that was not ever imagined or intended. A whirlwind that demands a sequel, but we remain knowing that reflection and honouring his spirit is all we may provide as an epilogue.
Ben Samplonius was one of us, a member of our Rodeo Family, a true friend, fellow competitor and fan. He saved many bull riders from harm, and brought great energy to our Industry. Words cannot express how his time with us has inspired us, nor how our own pain and sorrow is being experienced from his passing.
But in reflecting today, we have an opportunity to do something that Ben wouldn't have done... and that is to say all of the great things he had accomplished... whether there was an award attached to it, or a thank you deserved. He wasn't about the recognition, but he earned every buckle, handshake and fallen tear shed today.
We extend our deepest sympathies to his fiancée Sarah, and his Family. The Rodeo Family is large, and we will stand strong for you. We thank you for introducing us to our talented Ben, and sharing his time with us.
He will forever be a part of our Rodeo Family, Internationally. In the words of Rob Smets, "...a young man with a big smile, big heart and an even bigger love of the game. He will be sadly missed..."
Go to 'em, Ben.
** Updated March 6, 2014**
Visitation will be held on Sunday March 9 from 2pm - 4pm and 7pm - 9pm
Funeral Service will be on Monday March 10 at 1:30 pm
Arn Funeral Home
193 Shakelton, Dutton ON
In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Cowboys Crisis Fund or the Arthritis Society