Thurston rides his way to big payday at Calgary Stampede

A dream rookie season for a Big Valley cowboy just keeps getting better. Zeke Thurston made waves when he won the $50,000 purse in saddle bronc riding at the rich RodeoHouston in March. But he’s hoping he can go double down, to collect twice that much at his first Calgary Stampede. The 20-year-old got a step closer to that with an outstanding ride Wednesday afternoon.

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A dream rookie season for a Big Valley cowboy just keeps getting better.

Zeke Thurston made waves when he won the $50,000 purse in saddle bronc riding at the rich RodeoHouston in March. But he’s hoping he can go double down, to collect twice that much at his first Calgary Stampede. The 20-year-old got a step closer to that with an outstanding ride Wednesday afternoon.

Thurston received an invitation to be part of the Stampede shortly after his Houston win in March. He started his work Tuesday, as part of Pool B contestants in the ten day tournament format of the Stampede. While Thurston was disappointed to finish out of the money on his first horse with a 70.5 mark, he made up for that on Wednesday.

Awesome was the name of the horse, and it aptly described the performance the two turned in, which the judges rewarded with a big 89 points. The striking paint horse, owned by Wayne Vold, is a reputation bronc and one every cowboy wants to get on.

“I hadn’t seen him this year,” said Thurston. “They won the short round in Wainwright on him and they said he’s been bucking. He bucked Bradley Harter off in Ponoka in the short round. So, I was pretty excited.”

“Man, he bucked today, ol’ Awesome, and he felt good,” grinned Thurston, who rode out the storm with style. “A couple jumps into it, he was kind of wanting to raise me up (out of the saddle), hitting me in the back when he was kicking, and I was ‘oh man, just keep your chin down and keep lifting, and going at ‘em’. Luckily it worked out.”

The win earned Thurston $5500 and a beautiful Stampede bronze. He’s tied for second place in the Pool B standings, where the top four finishers after four rounds get an automatic bye into Sunday’s Showdown round.

Zeke’s Dad, Skeeter, was a successful bronc rider, and brothers Wyatt and Sam also ride broncs. Skeeter was there to help his middle son Tuesday, but had to head to Montana with the rodeo scoreboard he runs. So Sam filled in behind the chutes.

“He’s pretty in awe hanging around all these guys he looks up to. He’s just starting out riding broncs and was in the novice Monday. He’s having a heyday back there.”

Zeke, of course, has long outgrown that phase.

“It’s still pretty cool to be around those guys. But now they’re your competition, and you like to see yourself more as a peer to them and a good friend.”

Thurston is proving to be stiff competition for the veterans. He had a good Cowboy Christmas run, winning a rodeo in Oakley City, UT with an 88 mark; and then taking first at the rodeo in Prescott, AZ with an 85; plus he placed in Livingstone, and Red Lodge MT, as well as St. Paul OR to pick up over $14,000 and move up to 12th in the world rankings.

“Hopefully, I can just keep the ball rolling. I’m just having a blast.”

Thurston still hasn’t touched much of his Houston winnings (like Calgary, the cash doesn’t count for world standings). In fact, really the only thing he’s dipped into that pot for was work-related.

“I bought a pair of shin pads to wear under my pants when I ride broncs, so the buckles on my stirrups don’t bang up my shins. That was my first purchase, so I could ride more broncs,” he chuckled.

Even though it’s his first Stampede appearance in the open bronc riding, Thurston is no stranger to the Calgary stage.

“I actually performed for Prince William and Kate here with my trick ropes one year, and I rode steers here a couple times, and novice broncs. I never had much luck in the steer riding, and I think ended up second or third in the novice. This would be a great year to win first.”

Other Canadians who are doing well at the Calgary Stampede include bareback riders Clint Laye of Cadogan, Kyle Bowers of Drayton Valley, Ty Taypotat of Regina and Luke Creasy of Brownfield. All four advanced from Pool A to Sunday’s Showdown. Manitoba’s Orin Larsen leads Pool B in the bareback riding.

Saskatchewan bull riders Tanner Byrne, Aaron Roy and Dakota Buttar all advanced from Pool A in their event. Cochrane cowboy Tanner Milan dominated the steer wrestling in Pool A, winning three of the four rounds, and collecting $19,000.

Any contestants not making it out of their Pools have another chance to advance through Wild Card Saturday, and they hand out the big $100,000 cheques on Sunday.

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