He’s a natural.
People are drawn to passions they seem to have an inborn inclination towards. With a little drive and determination, they can take an ability that comes easily and turn it into something special.
Fellow auctioneers talk about Ryan Konynenbelt that way.
The talented talker uses his skills on a daily basis at the Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange, selling cattle at the auction market in Fort Macleod. But every summer for the last four years, he’s tested his mettle by competing in the International Livestock Auctioneer competition during the Calgary Stampede.
When he first took to the microphone there in 2015, the Nobleford resident was just 18 years old. He was named Rookie of the Year, and placed third overall in the competition, an impressive feat.
This year, Konynenbelt chanted himself all the way to the No. 1 position, being judged the best of 36 contenders, some from as far away as Australia and South Africa. The victory came complete with a championship silver buckle and $10,000.
The international title has eluded some top auctioneers their whole career, so it’s no small accomplishment for Konynenbelt to capture it at the age of 21. But then, he did get an early start on the trade.
“As a kid growing up in the (family) feedlot business, we went to auction sales all the time. I’d go to cattle sales, and farm sales with my dad and grandpa and oppa and everybody,” recalled Konynenbelt. “I just always enjoyed the atmosphere, and the auctioneer. Listening to it as a kid, that was always something I looked up to, and something I always wanted to pursue.”
Learning on his own by listening and practising, Konynenbelt did his first sale at 16, at a church fundraiser auction. The nearby Picture Butte auction market soon got wind of his talents and had him selling chickens and rabbits on Saturday mornings. It wasn’t long until he was on the regular sales roster.
After graduation, Konynenbelt headed to Lakeland College at Vermilion for studies in animal science. He’s the first to admit he learned more from the side job he scored, selling cattle at Vermilion and at Lloydminster, than at class. By Christmas, the Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange had already approached him about work. So he finished off the college year and began his full-time career in Fort Macleod, supplemented by training at the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana, which enabled him to get licensed and learn about the business side and legalities of running an auction sale.
Konynenbelt sees professional competitions as a way to learn from his experienced peers. His success at them does not surprise Dan Skeels, who’s the only Canadian to have won the World Livestock Auctioneer championships (back in 2004). The Rimbey auctioneer first spotted Konynenbelt when he was selling in Vermilion.
“I saw this young kid and thought, ‘He’s pretty good,’” recalled Skeels, who hosts the International Competition and serves on the committee at the Calgary Stampede. “I said right then I’d hire him in a heartbeat. I was blown away with how capable he was.”
He’s closely watched Konynenbelt’s progress since, and even though he called this one of the toughest years of competition at Calgary, Skeels knew the young prodigy was a good bet in the Top 10 finals.
“The kid’s a rock star. He’s got the skills, sounds good, and acts like an old seasoned veteran,” said Skeels. “You can tell he has the desire, and the willingness to learn.”
Konynenbelt doesn’t like to dwell much on his strengths and abilities, but there are plenty of them.
“The chant is a big part of it, but there are lots of guys in there with outstanding chants and abilities. For me, I tend to not get as stressed as most. I’m more calm, cool and collected than some people will be. That’s what I try to work on in those sorts of situations.”
While Konynenbelt was happy with his go selling cattle and some chuckwagon tickets in the finals of the Calgary competition, he was still surprised when his name was called as the champion.
“My main feeling was, ‘I guess there’s always next year.’ I really wasn’t expecting it.”
But he was thrilled to be at the top of the competition, which is an annual highlight of the agriculture program during the Calgary Stampede.
“It’s a chance to showcase our industry and our skills, especially with the Stampede being in more the public eye than other competitions,” he said. “Some people have never even seen an auctioneer or know what he does, so it’s a great chance to show what we do for a living.”
Another perk for the winner is a direct buy into the World Livestock Auctioneer Championships, which go next June in Visalia, California. Konynenbelt plans to use some of his Stampede bonus cheque so he and wife Willena, married just over a year, can enjoy their first trip to California.
In the meantime, he’ll focus on bringing his A game to the auction market at Fort Macleod, where he also manages the yards and looks after the sheep division, along with his selling duties.
“I just really enjoy the atmosphere, being the middle man between the producer and the buyer. Considering they only get one or two paycheques a year, you’re working for them, trying to make them the most money you can.”