Another buckle looks good on the Alberta cowboy.
Red Deer’s Peavey Mart Centrium erupted Sunday when Zeke Thurston, Big Valley’s superstar bronc rider, clinched his record fourth consecutive Canadian Finals Rodeo saddle-bronc riding title.
Despite getting bucked off his first bronc of the five-day finals, Thurston wasted no time righting the ship, as he won the next three go-rounds. And Sunday was vintage Thurston, as the second-generation talent split the win with an 88.25-point ride on the Calgary Stampede’s Tokyo Bubbles. The champion ended the week with $89,186 for a $38,000 margin of victory over second-place cowboy Ben Andersen.
For Thurston, winning the Canadian title never gets old.
“I’m as excited to win this one as I was the first one,” Thurston said. “I think I’m kind of wired that way. I demand excellence in myself, and I want it really bad. I work really hard at it, and I guess I believe I was made to be a champion. I think I’ve got some good years left in me, and I plan to use ‘em up.”
Logan Hay, of Wildwood, Alta., was the aggregate champion with 515.5 points for his six rides.
Five records fell as a result of the brilliant week enjoyed by team ropers Brady Tryan and Calgary Smith. The duo from Huntley, Mont., and Adams, Ore., respectively, went on a remarkable run at CFR 49, winning the last four rounds in succession — for a new record — and placing second in the other two. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, they had accumulated $62,837 each in CFR earnings and $91,493 in season earnings to easily eclipse both previous marks. Their remarkable aggregate time of 24.3 seconds for six runs was also a record — held previously by Travis Gallais and Rocky Dallyn with 31.3 seconds in 2005.
And it appeared that the two ropers enjoyed their outstanding week as much as the appreciative Red Deer crowds did.
“If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what is,” Tryan said.
And in noting that his wife, then-Callahan Crossley, won the Canadian barrel racing championship in 2018, he added that she too had four wins and two second-place finishes en route to her Canadian title.
“We’ll get to put our (championship) saddles next to each other,” Tryan said. “And that’s pretty cool.”
For Smith, the whole CFR experience was somewhat surreal. He had never had a run under four seconds, and he had two here — a 3.5 on Friday night to set a third new CFR record — this one shared with Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler — and a 3.9 in Sunday’s finale.
“I’d never left my own local circuit before this year,” Smith said. “But having a chance to rope with Brady and to travel up here to Canada and then make the finals here, that was great. And then to win it, that’s huge.”
The Smith victory celebrations quickly won over the CFR crowds, even those who hadn’t heard of Calgary Smith before this week. They certainly have heard of the 2023 Canadian team-roping champions now.
Another of the more dramatic moments on Championship Sunday at CFR 49 occurred in the barrel racing. Brooks’ Lynette Brodoway earned her first Canadian title, but it came down to the final run to get it done. A tipped barrel in Round 4 set the season leader back in the aggregate, and despite placing in four of six rounds, Brodoway and her Horse of the Year, SR Boots On Fire or Cowboy, had to bring their A game.
“I just tried to ride Cowboy to the best of my ability and let him do his job,” said the happy cowgirl. “His best run of the whole week was (Sunday).”
The pair clocked a 13.61s from the top of the ground to earn the second-place cheque and move up a notch in the aggregate. With a total of $72.831, the six-time CFR qualifier was declared the champion.
Brodoway looked back on part of the journey that led to Sunday.
“Two years ago, I came into the final day of CFR in the exact same position with Justine Elliott behind me, and I hit a barrel,” Brodoway said. “This is the rewarding part right here. I’m not a spring chicken, and I want to tell those out there that you’re never too old. I have an amazing support team, and Cowboy does, too. It’s a victory for all of us.”
CFR rookie Karli Cowie, of Mankota, Sask., placed well throughout the CFR and won the last round and the aggregate — 82.82s on six runs — finishing in the reserve position with $59,475, just over $600 ahead of defending champion Taylor Manning.
Steer-wrestler Scott Guenthner enjoyed a solid week at CFR, with two round wins, two seconds and a fourth, along with a second-place finish in the aggregate for an impressive $73,326 in earnings en route to his fourth Canadian title. The likeable rancher and family man from Provost, Alta., credited consistency throughout the week and dependable horse power — he was mounted on Curtis Cassidy’s award-winning Tyson — as contributing factors to his success. Season-leader Dalton Massey, of Hermiston, Ore., finished in the reserve position while Wainwright bulldogger Ty Miller won the aggregate title — after 26.0 seconds on six runs.
In 2019, a rookie roper named Haven Meged came to his first CFR. He rode out of Red Deer having finished second to four-time champion Shane Hanchey. Meged then went on to with the world title that same year but admitted that he’d always had a dream of winning that Canadian title that had narrowly eluded his grasp.
That all changed this week as the hand from Miles City, Mont., checked that box, too, with a stellar six-performance effort in Red Deer. Meged placed in every go-round, winning two of them along with the aggregate title — 53.8s over six runs — and emerged with a comfortable overall win, including a $33,000 cushion over runner-up Kyle Lucas.
Bareback rider Clint Laye, of Cadogan, Alta., won his second Canadian title, and the near-30-year-old put together a week that saw him win two rounds and the aggregate — 516.5 points for six rides — and finish no worse than third in a round. Laye amassed $90,894 for a $16,000 margin of victory over second-place finisher Orin Hansen.
Another two-time Canadian champion was crowned when crowd favourite Edgar Durazo claimed the winner’s saddle and buckle to go along with his 2019 title. The popular, Mexican-born Durazo went five for six for the week, winning two rounds including the final round. His five scores for the week were 89, 88, 87.5, 87 and 85.75, easily enabling him to take home the aggregate honour (435.25 points on five rides) and $82,467 on the way to the Canadian win.
Of the 12 women vying for the ladies breakaway roping title, it was Claresholm cowgirl Shaya Biever who was named 2023 champion and aggregate winner — with 7.6s on three runs — after three rounds of competition. The two-time CFR qualifier posted a 2.5, a 2.3 and a 2.8 to earn almost $14,000 at CFR and $32,444 overall. Season leader Aubrey Ross finished in the reserve position, just $2,000 behind Biever.
Logan Spady was named the all-around champion. The tie-down roper/team roping heeler clinched the title with his Sunday performance at CFR — a 4.6s run with partner Kolton Schmidt, which netted the pair second in the round and second in the aggregate.
Kyle Wanchuk captured the coveted Kenny McLean award with his regular-season success in both team roping heeling (with partner Luke Skocdopole) and saddle-bronc riding. This is the second year the award has been presented.
Stock of the Canadian Finals Rodeo:
Bareback: Stevie Knicks — Macza Pro Rodeo
Saddle Bronc: Wild Cherry — Calgary Stampede
Bull: Blue Magic — Outlaw Buckers
Hayden Mulvey was declared the 2023 Canadian junior steer riding champion at the Saturday matinee performance with $7,763 in earnings — $330 more than second-place finisher Joseph Vansandt, who won the aggregate. Janet Cooper, of Vernon, B.C., won the novice saddle bronc championship, while Chase Siemens, of Chetwynd, B.C., earned the novice bareback title.
The prestigious 2023 CPRA Cowboy of the Year award, sponsored by Legend Rodeo, was presented to Tanner Girletz — 2006 Canadian bull-riding champion, youth rodeo coach and CPRA rodeo administrator.
And Miss Ponoka Stampede’s Kaylee Shantz was crowned Miss Rodeo Canada 2024.