It’s been a year since Zeke Thurston won the $100,000 cheque at the Calgary Stampede, but he kept right in step with his winning ways on his first horse of 2016.
The second half of the world’s richest tournament rodeo got underway Tuesday, with the first action for Pool B contestants. The kid from Big Valley managed to meet up with an old friend named Spring Planting, and score 84.5 points, the best mark of the day.
“I had that horse in the Final Four here last year, and was 90.5 on her,” recalled Thurston. “You can’t ask for a better horse. She just turns out of there and bucks, and does the job and is honest about it. That’s what you want as a bronc rider. Luckily, I stayed on.”
“Me, being a young guy matching up with an old veteran mare like that, it’s kind of cool.”
The horse has a few moves in her arsenal, including a sky-high jump out of the chutes when the gate cracks.
“She’s kind of known for raring out, and will hit you on the (chute) post. So you just try and do some tricks to work around it, and keep her from hitting you. When she does that rare up, and if you can get her spurred out, it sure looks cool to the judges,” he smiled.
The ‘tricks’ included silent-latching the gate, so the horse didn’t hear when it opened, and Thurston also got in the saddle in the chute early to keep her relaxed.
“Just some horsemanship plays into it. You try to make it as comfortable for them too. When you change it up like that, she doesn’t expect it, and you can get around it pretty good. It’s stuff you learn from guys like my Dad, and guys that have been around and done it for a long time. All the old boys have the tricks!” he chuckled.
Zeke’s Dad Skeeter, who also rode broncs at the Calgary Stampede, was behind the chutes to help him with the ride, which netted Thurston $5500 and the lead in the Pool B Standings. The top four riders in each Pool get a bye into Showdown Sunday.
Thurston admits it was exhilarating to return to Stampede Park, knowing he was the defending champion.
“We got in here about eleven last night to the campground, after driving all day from Boise (ID). I just got butterflies pulling in and seeing the city and the lights. You get excited. There’s something wrong if you don’t, because it’s awesome.”
But once he gets the saddle on, it’s all business, and the business at hand for Thurston is three more days with big Stampede money to ride for, and the thought of another $100,000 bonus at the end of the rainbow.
Although he picked up $9000 in cash, the Calgary Stampede came to an early end for Ponoka-raised bareback rider Jake Vold. Rib injuries he suffered at the Finals of the Ponoka Stampede took their toll, and after the third round, when he actually won first place, Vold decided to pull the plug.
“I’ve got separated ribs, some cartilage damage, and now they think I maybe did some muscle damage in my abdomen,” outlined the Canadian Champion.
“I didn’t want to miss Calgary. I had four days (after Ponoka) and I got better and better. I knew with the (Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine) Team here, they’d be able to take care of a guy, but it’s just kind of getting to the point where there ain’t nothing they can do for it anymore, so I don’t want to keep hurting it.”
Injury also kept saddle bronc rider Clay Elliott from competing at his first Calgary Stampede, but that was good news for Ponoka’s Luke Butterfield who got the last-minute call to replace him in Pool B.
He didn’t place on his first horse Tuesday. In Pool A, Rocky’s Jim Berry made $4000 but will be back for Wildcard Saturday to try and get a spot in Showdown Sunday. That’s the same boat Rimbey tie-down roper Dean Edge is in, after being shut out in Pool A. Steer wrestler Curtis Cassidy was $250 shy of earning a berth to Sunday, with his $6250 won in Pool A, so he’s hoping to be among the two fastest on Wildcard Saturday.
Brother Cody Cassidy is in Pool B, but didn’t win any money for his 6.2 second run on Tuesday.
Dianne Finstad is a local freelance writer and covers rodeo for the Advocate.