Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston sets CFR record in championship-winning performance
Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston puts his hands up after a record run of 93.25 during the saddle bronc competition at the Canadian Finals Rodeo Championship Sunday at the Peavey Mart Centrium. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/Lawyer Staff)
As Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston climbed the award-winning horse OLS Tubs Get Smart ahead of Thurston’s final run in the saddle bronc competition at the 2022 Canadian Rodeo Finals (CFR) Championship on Sunday, he almost felt like a little emotional.
Not because he was nervous but because of what the animal did for his career. Despite that, Thurston rode the legendary bucking horse to a record saddle bronc score of 93.25 en route to his second CFR championship in two years.
“It was quite special for me. This little horse has done my career well. I don’t know how much money I made on him, but it’s a lot,” he said. was almost half moved when I saddled him… This horse has always been amazing.”
It came just days after Thurston ran a record 91.75 on Friday but knew he needed to step up his game to win back-to-back championships. On Sunday, Kole Ashbacher and Logan Hay preceded Thurston and posted the best scores that put them in good shape to win the championship. However, Thurston had other plans and rode the best race in CFR history in the saddle in front of his home fans.
Thurston has ridden Get Smart a dozen times and in 2017 he won the Calgary Stampede, Ponoka Stampede and K Days in Edmonton, all on this horse.
Thurston is now a three-time CFR champion and two-time National Finals Rodeo (NFR) champion.
“I just try to be the best bronc rider I can be and be a good person. I have a lot of good fans and I appreciate all the love,” he added.
After all, rodeo competition is in his blood. For many years Skeeter Thurston, Zeke’s father, rode pro rodeos and qualified six times for the NFR and five times for the CFR.
“I don’t remember wanting to be a rodeo athlete, it’s just what I’ve been doing since before I could even remember or remember,” Thurston said. “I watch my little boy and he is one and a half years old. All he wants to do is roll and roll. I’m sure I was the same… The Rodeo family on both sides and they all supported us in whatever we wanted to do and obviously I had a good riding instructor at home.
Thurston will now travel to the NFR from December 1-10 in Las Vegas where he will attempt to win his third world title. He plans to return home and rest and prepare physically to build on his momentum leading up to the event.
“I recently had a coach. I’m just trying to keep my body physically in a position where I can put it through the abuse that we do. It’s no different than any other sport you have to work on,” he said.
On the women’s side, Taylor Manning of Yellowhead County won her first CFR championship title at just 18 years old with a final time of 14.06 on Sunday. She was also the overall leader and her best time of the event came on day one after a lightning-fast run of 13.70.
Despite her age, Manning is a CFR veteran after qualifying for her fifth CFR appearance this year. The youngster made her CFR debut aged just 13 and has been improving ever since.
“It doesn’t really feel real to me yet, but I’ll try to let it sink in a bit,” she explained.
The night before Manning won her first CFR title, she called barrel racing champion Rayel Little, who was a great role model for Manning, for advice because she was feeling nervous.
“When I raced I just tried to keep up the pace,” she said, adding that she knew that was all she had to do to win.
Manning rode her five-year-old horse Bling at the event she has ridden for the past two years.
“He’s probably the most special horse I’ve ever had,” she said. “Just because of the try she has…I was able to get her to run the five laps. I love him so much.
On his final run of the CFR on a last-barrel turn, Bling visibly slipped but recovered quickly to record another fast time. Manning said she was worried because she thought they slipped in the barrel and even when a horse slips it can be quite scary.
Manning had a consistent week placing in the top three four times over six runs. She was also only one of two contestants in the event to never knock over a single barrel.
“To be honest, I didn’t really expect it to start, but she ran well from the very first to the last run…To be honest, I’m still hitting [over barrels] so it’s great not to.
The rest of the results are as follows:
Women’s Barrels: 1) Stacey Ruzicka 13.82 2) Bayleigh Choate 13.83 3) Kylie Whiteside 13.93 CFR Champion and Combined Champion: Taylor Manning 83.23
Saddle Bronc: 1) Zeke Thurston 93.25 2) Logan Hay 90.75 3) Layton Green 89.50 CFR Champion and Combined Champion: Zeke Thurston 527.50
Steer Wrestling: 1) Curtis Cassidy 3.6 2) Scott Guenther 3.8 3) James Struxness 3.9 Aggregate Champion: Tanner Milan 24.4 CFR Champion: Scott Guenther
Tie-Down: 1) Shane Smith 7.6 2) Ty Harris 8.1 3) Wyatt Hayes 8.2 Aggregate Champion: Riley Warren CFR Champion: Ty Harris
Women’s breakaway: 1) Jade Kenney 1.8 T2) Kylie Whiteside and Kendal Pierson 2.0 Aggregate and CFR champion: Kendal Pierson
Team roping: 1) Logan Bonnett 4.5 T2) Levi Simpson and Brett Buss 4.9 Combined Champion: Clint Buhler CFR Champion: Dawson Graham
Bull Riding: 1) Jacob Gardner 89.00 2) Coy Robbins 86.50 Cumulative Champion: Coy Robbins CFR Champion: Jared Parsonage