As Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston climbed on top of award-winning horse OLS Tubs Get Smart ahead of Thurston’s final run in the saddle bronc competition at the 2022 Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) on championship Sunday he felt himself almost get a bit emotional.
Not because he was nervous but because of what the animal has done for his career. Despite that, Thurston rode the legendary bucking horse to a record-breaking saddle bronc score of 93.25 en route to his second CFR championship in two years.
“That was pretty special for me. That little horse has pretty well made my career. I don’t know how much money I’ve won on him but it’s a lot,” he said. “I almost got half emotional when I was saddling him… That horse has been amazing forever.”
This came just days after Thurston had a record-setting run of 91.75 on Friday but knew he had to step up his game to win back-to-back championships. On Sunday Kole Ashbacher and Logan Hay went before Thurston and put up top scores that put them in good shape to take the championship. However, Thurston had other plans and had the best run in CFR history in saddle bronc in front of his home fans.
Thurston rode Get Smart approximately a dozen times and in 2017 won the Calgary Stampede, Ponoka Stampede and K Days in Edmonton all on that horse.
Thurston is now a three-time CFR champion and a 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, competing in rodeo is in his blood. For many years Skeeter Thurston, Zeke’s father competed in professional rodeo and qualified for the NFR six times and the CFR five times.
“I don’t ever remember wanting to be a rodeo athlete it’s just what I’ve done since before I can even remember or recall,” Thurston said. “I watch my little boy and he’s a year and a half. All he wants to do is buck and ride things. I’m sure I was the same way… Rodeo family on both sides and they’ve supported all of us through everything we’ve wanted to do and obviously I had a good bronc riding teacher at home.”
Thurston will now head to the NFR Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas where he will try to capture his third world title. He plans to go home and rest and get prepared physically to ride his momentum into the event.
“I’ve had a trainer for the last little while. Just trying to keep my body physically in a position where I can put it through the abuse we do. It’s no different than any other sport you got to work at it,” he said.
In the ladies’ barrels, Yellowhead County’s Taylor Manning captured her first CFR championship title at just 18 years old with a final time of 14.06 on Sunday. She was also the aggregate 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 she qualified for her fifth CFR appearance this year. The youngster made her CFR debut at just 13 years old and has continued to make strides ever since.
“It’s doesn’t actually really feel real to me yet but I’ll try and let it sink in a little bit,” she explained.
The night before Manning won her first CFR title she called barrel racing champion Rayel Little, who has been a great role model to Manning, for advice because she was feeling nervous.
“When I ran I just tried to keep the barrels up really,” she said adding she knew that’s all she needed to do to win.
Manning rode her five-year-old horse Bling during the event who she’s ridden for the past two years.
“She’s probably the most special horse I’ve ever had,” she said. “Just because of the try she has… I was able to run her all five rounds. I just love her so much.”
On her final run of the CFR while making a turn on the last barrel Bling visibly slipped but had a quick recovery to still record a fast time. Manning said she was worried because she thought they slipped into the barrel and even when a horse slips at all it can be quite frightening.
Manning had a consistent week placing in the top three four times out of six runs. She was also only one of two competitors in the event who never knocked over a single barrel.
“To be honest I didn’t really expect how it started but she worked good from the very first run to the last run… To be honest I always knock [over barrels] so it’s awesome not to.”
The rest of the results are as follows:
Ladies barrels: 1) Stacey Ruzicka 13.82 2) Bayleigh Choate 13.83 3) Kylie Whiteside 13.93 CFR champion and aggregate champion: Taylor Manning 83.23 (total earnings $73,929.44)
Bareback: Ty Taypotat 90.75 2) Leighton Berry 88.0 3) Orin Larsen 87.75 CFR and aggregate champion: Ty Taypotat 520.00 (total earnings $89,757.86)
Saddle bronc: 1) Zeke Thurston 93.25 2) Logan Hay 90.75 3) Layton Green 89.50 CFR Champion and aggregate champion: Zeke Thurston 527.50 (total earnings $80,249.71)
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 (total earnings $74,198.80)
Tie-down roping: 1) Shane Smith 7.6 2) Ty Harris 8.1 3) Wyatt Hayes 8.2 Aggregate champion: Riley Warren CFR champion: Ty Harris (total earnings $60,591.67)
Ladies breakaway: 1) Jade Kenney 1.8 T2) Kylie Whiteside and Kendal Pierson 2.0 Aggregate and CFR champion: Kendal Pierson (total earnings $33,779.79)
Team roping: 1) Logan Bonnett 4.5 T2) Levi Simpson and Brett Buss 4.9 Aggregate champion: Clint Buhler CFR champion: Dawson and Dillon Graham (total earnings $131,179.67)
Bull riding: 1) Jacob Gardner 89.00 2) Coy Robbins 86.50 Aggregate champion: Coy Robbins CFR champion: Jared Parsonage (total earnings $81.927.24)
All Around Champion - Wyatt Hayes
Kenny McLean Award - Jacob Gardner
Novice Bareback Champion - Blake Link
Novice Saddle Bronc Champion - Colten Powell
Jr Steer Riding Champion - Nash Loewen