Canadians break NFR bank

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The Canadian contingent of bronc riders – from left, Kole Ashbacher, Layton Green, Dawson Hay, Zeke Thurston, Logan Hay and Kolby Wanchuk – combined for a great National Finals Rodeo.

Cinch bronc busters combine for big earnings and a world title

It was a good year to be a Canadian saddle bronc rider competing at the 2022 National Finals Rodeo.

For just the second time in the history of the championship event, six bronc busters from north of the 49th Parallel earned the right to compete at Las Vegas in December. The Maple Leaf flags were waving across the Thomas & Mack Center, and the cowboys’ performances proved the spectacular pride each cowboy held.

“It’s pretty awesome that we had over a third of the bronc riders at the NFR,” said Logan Hay, a first-time qualifier from Wildwood, Alberta. “We had a bunch of fans back home that were texting and calling us every night telling us how cool it was to see us at the NFR. It’s cool that Canada was so well represented at the NFR.”

Zeke Thurston was dominant in winning his third NFR average title and his third world championship, placing nine out of 10 nights.

It was way more than that. All six Canadian cowboys also are Cinch endorsees, so they not only look great but also ride great. It was evident by the time the NFR came to a close. Combined, they pocketed just shy of $685,000. It was a fantastic 10 days in the Nevada desert, and it only got better when Zeke Thurston added his third NFR average title and his third Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.

“I think that says a lot about the bronc riders we’re producing in Canada,” said Thurston of Big Valley, Alberta. “I think the whole country should be proud of that.”

It is. Hay and Thurston were joined in Las Vegas by four other Albertans: Kolby Wanchuk of Sherwood Park, Layton Green of Millarville, Kole Ashbacher of Arrowwood and Logan Hay’s younger brother, Dawson. Of the half-dozen, only Logan Hay and Ashbacher were competing at their first finale. It made for some interesting fun.

Part of that was having Thurston and the elder Hay involved into the chase for the world title. Those two alone accounted for 67 percent of the Canadian bronc riders’ earnings in Sin City.

“That’s what we went there to do,” said Wanchuk, a two-time NFR qualifier who finished the 2022 season eighth in the world standings with more than $210,000, $80,500 of which came in Las Vegas. “To be able to make that happen and virtually everybody having some luck out there was awesome, and then we had Zeke coming home with the world title.

“Dawson made one of the best rides I’ve ever seen. Logan won three rounds, so everybody was a force to be reckoned with. It was a hard bronc riding. It was an absolute battle every night.”

Kolby Wanchuk, competing at just his second NFR, had a solid finale, earning more than $80,000. Even with those earnings, he was the fourth highest earner among Canadians in Vegas.

Yes, it was. Of the 10 rounds, a Canadian won six of them – Wanchuk and Thurston finished in three-way tie for first on the final night. That was a dominating showcase of bronc-riding talent. Thurston won his third gold buckle, and Logan Hay finished third in the world standings with nearly $340,000 – $200,000 of which happened inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

Throw in Dawson Hay, who was the third Canuck to cross the $100,000 mark while competing at the NFR for the third time; he closed out the year with $213,122, $101,405 of which came over 10 December nights.

“Now that I’ve had time to reflect on it and it wasn’t just happening every night, it was pretty wild to go in there and have that much success at my first one,” said Logan Hay, whose father, Rod, was a 20-time NFR qualifier. “I would have never dreamed it would go like that. Lots of guys’ first NFRs can be a shell-shocker, but I really wasn’t nervous, which is pretty shocking to me. I was waiting to get nervous.”

Maybe his experience as a spectator and family member is a reason for that, but there’s no telling what can happen when eight seconds of dynamite explodes out of the yellow bucking chutes.

“Being there and riding there are two different things,” said Logan Hay, who placed seven times. “It helps having been there, but I was honestly most nervous before the grand entry. It got really crazy.

“Representing Canada in Vegas was awesome. Layton and Zeke were a little bit ahead of us, but the other four of us started together. It was pretty cool for us to all be there together like that.”  

Each man has his own pedigree. Thurston and the Hays are sons of NFR qualifiers, while Wanchuk was raised by a rodeo entertainer and a barrel racer. Ashbacher and Green were raised on their family’s ranches, but it all added up to a pretty magical 2022 season. Four of the bronc riders also competed at the Canadian Finals Rodeo, where Thurston made it a clean sweep by winning the average and the Canadian title.

“We all wanted to be the ones winning the world, but Zeke is such a great guy and has done so much for bronc riding,” Wanchuk said. “It’s cool to see him win another, and it’s the first finals I’ve been to where he won it.”

What also was cool was that Logan Hay was also in the middle of the championship race with Thurston and Californian Lefty Holman. It made the first venture behind the yellow bucking chutes that much more memorable.

Competing at his first NFR, Logan Hay fell right into a comfort zone. He won three go-rounds, earned just shy of $200,000 and finished third in the final world standings.

“That was crazy,” Logan Hay said. “That never really sunk in until the end of the ninth round. Just to have a chance was incredible. Roddy (his dad) told me that night that he was only in the world-championship race one time by the ninth round. It was going to be a long shot for Zeke not to win it, but it was so cool to be in the picture.”

In addition to his gold buckles, Thurston also had a level of experience going in. That was his eighth straight trip to the big show; the next closest Canadian in the mix was Green, who was competing at his third. Thurston first won rodeo’s gold in 2016, then followed it up three years later. It took another three years before he wrapped his arms around another wearable trophy.

“I used to say I didn’t really have a favorite world championship,” Thurston said. “The first one was a bit of a surprise to everybody. I had to come from behind, and all the lucky stars had to align, and they did. In 2019, I was out front, and by the ninth round, they couldn’t catch me. They were two completely different titles.

“I think this third one is my favorite, coming from a $115,000 deficit and placing in nine out of 10 rounds while winning two rounds, winning the 10th round, the average, the world title and the Top Gun award. I also won the Canadian title last year, so it all made this world championship that special.”

Whether they were raised to be champions or they found their way to play on the sport’s biggest stage, the Canadian contingent of saddle bronc riders at last year’s NFR proved to the world that they are ready to play the game at an elite level.


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