Zeke Thurston with his sister Tessa and mother Lynda at the Calgary Stampede.

Thurston, Laye earn big wins at Stampede

It was a big day for small towns during Showdown Sunday at the Calgary Stampede.

It was a big day for small towns during Showdown Sunday at the Calgary Stampede. The 2015 Stampede slate of rodeo champions came from places like Strong City, OK, (population 47), a place bull rider Sage Kimzey has already made famous. Or there’s Oelrichs, S.D. (population 126) – where barrel racing winner Lisa Lockhart calls home. Check out Mt. Vernon, OR, (population 513), home address for the four-time steer wrestling champion, Trevor Knowles. Tie-down roping titlist Timber Moore hails from a much bigger place, Aubrey, TX, (population 2595).

But the two towns most familiar to central Albertans are Cadogan (pop. 112) and Big Valley (pop. 364). Those are the rural communities that serve as home base for two young cowboys doing their best to put their addresses on the rodeo radar.

Bareback rider Clint Laye and saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston could almost be considered ‘neighbors’ , in a country kind of way. Their parents worked together to help get the youngsters up and down the road when they were steer riding. And they were there together Sunday afternoon to share in the big spotlight moment as the two celebrated a huge career milestone — winning the Calgary Stampede.

Thurston, from Big Valley, had to do it the hard way, by riding an extra horse when three of the four finalists in the showdown round had matching marks of 90.5. In a day to remember, the 20-year-old rode a horse called Rubels to 88.5, to advance from the Finals round of 10. Then he was 90.5 on a U.S. raised horse called Spring Planting. And in the ‘bonus’ round, he was 88.5 on a Vold horse called Easy to Love.

“You’re pretty blessed to get one of those horses a few times a year, but having three of them like that, it’s crazy. It gets your blood running for sure,” declared Thurston.

Drawing the reputation horses is one thing, but riding them, and riding them well can be another. Thurston had no trouble with that, even though it was his first Stampede in the open saddle bronc riding.

To win $100,000 is an amazing accomplishment for any cowboy, but consider the fact this comes less than four months after he won pro rodeo’s second biggest bonus, a $50,000 payoff at RodeoHouston. It’s already been a nearly unimaginable rookie year, and it’s not over yet.

“When you’re a rookie, you hope to do good, and maybe win rookie of the year. To have this much success this soon, it’s been crazy. Words can’t even describe how I feel right now.”

“Houston was pretty exciting, but it’s so far from home,” pointed out Thurston. “To win Calgary, it’s like in my backyard, it’s unreal, it’s awesome. I was the only Canadian in the bronc riding today, and then I was only guy in there that’s never been to the NFR, so those guys have been there and done that, and they can really ride. So you’ve just got to give ‘er all you’ve got, and just go for it.”

Thurston’s mother Lynda, and sister Tess, were as pumped about the win as Zeke, not to mention his grandma and girlfriend. Unfortunately, his dad Skeeter was just returning from a Montana rodeo where he provided the scoreboard.

“He got the board down this morning and then hauled butt to get across the border,” related Thurston. “I think he got to a Boston Pizza or somewhere there was a TV, and I think he’s been sitting there watching it. He’s going to be kind of bummed he missed it, but he’ll be excited, I’ll tell you that.”

Just as they’ll be brimming with pride in Big Valley, they’re also cheering in Cadogan, for Clint Laye, who’s just 21 years old. He made an 87.5 point bareback ride on a horse called Raggedy Ann in the long round, to snag a Showdown spot. That’s where he turned his spurs loose on the big grey called Virgil, from C5 Rodeo, for an 88-point performance.

Like Thurston, Laye gained some pressure cooker experience at RodeoHouston in March. He finished in a second place tie there, winning $15,000.

“I was in the four-man (final) for $50,000, and I’m really glad now that I was in that. Down there, I kind of got a little nervous and a little too psyched up. Today, I stayed a little bit more relaxed, and was talking and laughing with my buddies behind the chutes.”

Laye was grateful to have his family with him in Calgary cheering him on, as he became the third Laye to win a Calgary title. Cousin Billy won the Stampede bareback riding in 1991, while another cousin, Mark, took the steer wrestling in 1985, both long before the win paid $100,000.

“That’s what I love about this rodeo. It’s in Alberta, this is where I’m from, and it makes it even that much better. Yea, it puts Cadogan on the map,” he laughed.

“All my hard work this year has really paid off, and it’s making me even want to work harder. Comparing myself to my first Calgary Stampede a couple years ago, I’m definitely a lot stronger, a lot faster, way more confident in my riding, and I’m just hungrier. I want to win more.”

Both Laye and Thurston received special invitations to participate in Calgary this year, since they weren’t among the top five in last year’s Canadian standings. When all the accounting was done from the earlier rounds, Thurston’s final Stampede take was $108,000, while Laye earned $113,500.

Meantime, Donalda’s Curtis Cassidy had a chance at Stampede gold in both his timed events. He made it from Wild Card Saturday all the way through to the Final Four in tie-down roping. With a time of 8.2 seconds there, he was only a tenth behind Timber Moore’s winning 8.1. So Cassidy collected $25,000 for that, as well as another $16,000 from his week’s efforts. His brother Cody was in the ‘crying hole’ to advance to the Final Four in Sunday’s steer wrestling, but still left town with $14,300. Sydney Daines of Innisfail topped the Wild Card Saturday round, but tipped a barrel Sunday to prevent her from advancing in her event, but she still took home $10,800 from her first Stampede. Jim Berry of Rocky Mountain House earned $5,750 in the bronc riding this year, while Jake Vold, despite being 88 points on Wild Card Saturday, didn’t advance to Sunday. However, his Calgary take was still $8,500. Bowden’s Ky Marshall picked up $1,500 in the bareback riding. Dean Edge of Rimbey collected $4,500 in tie-down roping.

Dianne Finstad is a Red Deer rodeo writer

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