SAN ANGELO, Texas – Zeke Thurston is just 24 years old, but he’s already become one of the bet saddle bronc riders in rodeo.
He burst onto the scene in 2015 and qualified for the National Finals Rodeo as a rookie. He followed it a year later with the most coveted prize in the game, a world champion’s gold buckle. Now he’s a four-time NFR qualifier.
On Wednesday night, Thurston rode Rafter H Rodeo’s Aces Wild for 88.5 points to take the saddle bronc riding lead at the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo inside Foster Communications Coliseum.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about that horse,” said Thurston of Big Valley, Alberta. “I looked it up on stock stats to see what they’d been on her, and I asked a couple guys about her. She ended up being everything they said she was.
“She just turned out of there, and when she hit, she was jumping and kicking. She was flashy and electric. I got a good spur out, and it rolled on from there.”
In both bareback riding and bronc riding, cowboys start their rides with the heels of their boots over the front of the horse’s shoulders. It’s the key to getting into a good rhythm with the bucking animal. It’s also necessary; failure to secure the proper mark-out results in a no score.
Thurston finished the 2018 season strong. He pocketed just shy of $150,000 at the NFR in December and finished the campaign with $262,041 – third in the world standings. He knows every check he can collect any time of year can be the key to winning another gold buckle. Getting off to a good start to the new season is always beneficial.
“It’s not as much as being important; it’s that it gives you confidence and relief knowing that you’ve got money won,” said Thurston, whose father, Skeeter, was a six-time NFR qualifier in bronc riding. “There’s a lot of money to be won all year.
“To start the year off and get the ball rolling is the main thing that helps. When you’re riding good and feeling good, it tends to go a lot better, and you can have a lot of fun.”
He’s definitely having fun, and the fans in San Angelo helped.
“It’s a west Texas town with a lot of agriculture around here, and it has a lot of rodeo fans because of the area,” said Thurston, who is seventh in the world standings. “It’s a Wednesday night, and that’s a pretty good-sized building that was packed. The people around here like their rodeo. The crowd really gets into it; it’s a really good rodeo.”
While Thurston knew nothing about Aces Wild, fellow Canadian Kody Lamb knew a little more about his horse; he just didn’t like what he knew. After his original horse was injured, Lamb was matched with Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Pink Cadillac, a powerful red roan mare that has a notorious reputation for being hard on cowboys.
“When I found out my horse was crippled, they told me that I had one of three horses,” said Lamb of Sherwood Park, Alberta. “I knew about all of them, and the one I liked least was the one I got.”
He did everything he could to give the strong horse her best chance, and it paid off for 86.5 points, moving Lamb into second place with one preliminary round remaining in San Angelo. When Thursday’s final performance is complete, the top 12 contestants in each event advance to Friday’s championship round. The champions will be crowned that night, and he has earned his spot in that field.
“She was really good,” Lamb said of Pink Cadillac. “She took a scoot right out of the chute, then bucked really good.”
He’ll have a day to rest, then he returns to fight for his shot at the San Angelo title.
“I was in the short round here a couple years ago, and the horses are always really good,” he said. “It’s huge to the start of the season. I made the short round in Denver but didn’t win much money there ($217 for placing in the opening round). I’m in a little better position here. It’s good to be able to make it back here Friday. I’m excited.”
He should be.
San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo
Feb. 1-3, Feb. 8-10, Feb. 13-15
Bareback riding leaders: 1. Bill Tutor, 88 points on Lancaster and Jones’ Highway Man; 2. Kody Lamb, 85; 3. Caleb Bennett, 85.5; 4. Austin Foss, 85; 5. (tie) Taylor Broussard and Jake Vold, 84; 7. (tie) Hunter Brasfield and David Peebles, 83; 9. Tanner Aus, 82.5; 10. Zach Hibler, 82; 11. Jesse Pope, 81; 12. (tie) Tony Barrington and Cody Cabeen, 79.
Steer wrestling: First round leaders: 1. Tucker Allen, 3.6 seconds, $3,636; 2. (tie) Don Payne and Josh Clark, 3.7, $2,925 each; 4. (tie) Scott Guenthner and Sam Shelton, 3.8, $1,976 each; 6. Denell Henderson, 3.9, $1,265; 7. Jacob Talley, 4.0, $791; 8. Dru Melvin, 4.2, $316. Second round: 1. Richard Coats, 3.2 seconds; 2. Dirk Tavenner, 3.8; 3. Tom Lewis, 3.9; 4. (tie) Tanner Brunner and Gary Gilbert, 4.0; 6. (tie) Sam Powers, Ross Mosher and Josh Garner, 4.1. Average: 1. Scott Guenthner, 8.2 seconds on two runs; 2. Tucker Allen, 8.2; 3. Denell Henderson, 8.3; 4. Dru Melvin, 8.4; 5. Josh Clark, 8.7; 6. (tie) Jacob Edler and Blake Knowles, 9.2; 8. Tyler Pearson, 9.5; 9. Payden McIntyre, 9.6; 10. (tie) Stephen Culling and Cody Devers, 9.7; 12. Mike McGinn, 9.8.
Team roping: First round leaders: 1. Clay Smith/Jake Long, 3.6 seconds, $3,763; 2. Nelson Wyatt/Rich Skelton, 3.7, $3,272; 3. Levi Simpson/Cole Davison, 3.8, $2,782; 4. Ty Blasingame/Brandon Bates, 3.9, $2,291; 5. (tie) Coleman Proctor/Ryan Motes, Manny Equsquiza Jr./Dustin Searcy and Tyler Waters/Brady Norman, 4.0, $1,309 each; 8. Anthony Lucia/Wesley Moss, 4.1, $327w2er. Second round leaders: 1. Clay Smith/Jake Long, 3.5 seconds; 2. (tie) Luke Brown/Paul Eaves and Caleb Smidt/Will Woodfin, 3.6; 4. Brandon Webb/Kollin VonAhn, 3.7; 5. (tie) Aaron Tsinigine/Kyle Lockett, Lathen Bryant/Morgan McVay and Shane Phillip/John Phillip, 3.8; 8. Marcus Theriot/Coleby Payne, 3.9. Average leaders: 1. Clay Smith/Jake Long, 7.1 seconds on two runs; 2. Aaron Tsinigine/Kyle Lockett, 8.1; 3. Ty Blasingame/Brandon Bates, 9.5; 4. Garett Chick/Ross Ashford, 9.7; 5. Marcus Theriot/Coleby Payne, 9.8; 6. Levi Simpson/Cole Davison, 10.0; 7. Manny Egusquiza Jr./Dustin Searcy, 10.1; 8. Bart Brunson/Trace Porter, 11.5; 9. Lane Santos Karney/Dillon Wingereid, 11.9; 10. (tie) Coleman Proctor/Ryan Motes and Ryan Reed/Monty Joe Petska, 13.4; 12. Cory Clark/Lane Mitchell, 13.7.
Saddle bronc riding leaders: 1. Zeke Thurston, 88.5 points on Rafter H Rodeo’s Aces Wild; 2. Rusty Wright, 87.5; 3. (tie) Cody DeMoss and Colt Gordon, 87; 5. Ryder Wright, 84; 6. (tie) Preston Burr, Wade Sundell and Chase Brooks, 83; 9. Kolby Wanchuk, 82.5; 10. (tie) Aaron Lide and Wyatt Casper, 82; 12. Brody Cress, 81.5.
Tie-down roping: First round leaders: 1. Jake Pratt, 7.0 seconds, $4,792; 2. Michael Otero, 7.1, $4,167; 3. Kyle Lucas, 7.4, $3,542; 4. (tie) Trevor Brazile and Blair Smith, 7.5, $2,604 each; 6. Tuf Cooper, 7.6, $1,667; 7. (tie) Blane Cox, John Douch and Bryson Sechrist, 7.7, $486 each. Second round leaders: 1. Adam Gray, 7.1 seconds; 2. (tie) Justin Smith and Bradley Bynum, 7.2; 4. (tie) Tyler Milligan and Cory Solomon, 7.3; 6. (tie) Cimarron Boardman and Jesse Clark, 7.6; 8. Trevor Brazile, 7.7. Average leaders: 1. (tie) Trevor Brazile and Michael Otero, 15.2 seconds on two runs; 3. Jesse Clark, 15.5; 4. Jake Pratt, 15.9; 5. Tuf Cooper, 16.1; 6. Haven Meged, 16.5; 7. Hunter Herrin, 16.6; 8. Blake Ash, 16.7; 9. Bradley Bynum, 17.1; 10. Matt Shiozawa, 17.2; 11. Cory Solomon, 17.3; 12. Tyler Milligan, 17.5; 10. Trenton Smith, 17.8; 11. Cody Huber, 18.0; 12. Ryle Smith, 18.8.
Barrel racing: Second round leaders: 1. Nicole Love, 14.08 seconds; 2. Alex Lang, 14.19; 3. (tie) Teri Bangart and Sherry Cervi, 14.29; 5. Stevi Hillman, 14.32; 6. (tie) Halyn Lide and Kappy Allen, 14.34; 8. Mindy Goemmer, 14.35; 9. Dona Kay Rule, 14.38; 10. Lois Ferguson, 14.40. Average leaders: 1. Nicole Love, 30.20 seconds on two runs; 2. Alex Lang, 30.47; 3. Teri Bangart, 30.59; 4. Carolyn Uhler, 30.61; 5. (tie) Stevi Hillman, Cheyenne Wimberley and Lacinda Rose, 30.62; 78. Ryann Pedone, 30.64; 9. Brittney Barnett, 30.67; 10. (tie) Dona Kay Rule and Ilyssa Glass, 30.69; 12. Ivy Conrado, 30.72.
Bull riding leaders: 1. (tie) Aaron Williams, on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Tequila Worm, and Stetson Wright, on United Pro Rodeo’s Happy Days, 89 points; 3. Brady Portenier, 87; 4. Jordan Wacey Spears, 86.5; 5. Rorey Maier, 85; 6. (tie) Cole Meloncon and Riker Carter, 84; 8. Aaron Pass, 83.5; 9. (tie) Dave Mason, Wyatt Edwards, Daylon Swearingen and Chase Dougherty, 83.