By Dianne Finstad
When the stakes are big, Zeke Thurston seems to have figured out how to make his rides even bigger.
The saddle bronc superstar’s uncanny ability to excel under pressure was in fine form Sunday night at the 87th Ponoka Stampede’s Showdown Final. Already seeing an 85.25, an 89.75, and a 90 go up on the scoreboard, some riders would be intimidated. But it only fires up the Big Valley cowboy, and that’s dangerous. He nodded his head and turned out of the chutes on the Calgary Stampede horse Dandy Delight, spurring to a massive 92.75 to the delight of the packed grandstand.
“It’s so awesome,” stated Thurston, moments after drinking in the crowd’s enthusiasm and picking up his latest rodeo treasures. “If you could bottle it up and sell that feeling, it would be worth a lot of money.
“People in Alberta love bronc riding. We have a lot of support, and I’m just really thankful for all of that, and everybody that had a hand in putting this deal on.”
Thurston has been watching the horse he rode come into its own in the broncs pen.
“It’s a process to build a bucking horse, just like it’s a process to turn yourself into a bronc rider. That horse has been going through the steps the last few years and she’s ready to go on to bigger stages. They’ve got her here, and she did pretty good, I’d say,” grinned Thurston. “This winter that horse got five NFR bronc riders in a row, and went unridden. You get one that bucks hard like that and you just try to keep the aggression at an all-time high, and the composure level.”
With a sparkling resume that already includes three Canadian and World championships, the win Sunday gives Thurston a third Ponoka championship too, along with an $18,000 boost in the standings. And the thrill doesn’t get old.
“This is top five rodeos of the year in the entire world, it doesn’t matter where you go. This is one of the best rodeos you’ll ever go to. It’s a cowboy’s rodeo. It’s western, and great bucking horses. It’s darn sure my favorite rodeo.”