When the curtain fell on the 40th annual Canadian Finals Rodeo on Sunday, a long drive back to Wyoming awaited Big Valley novice saddle-bronc rider Zeke Thurston.
For Thurston, the 14-hour drive back to college in Sheridan, Wy., was worth every bit of effort after his week in Edmonton garnered the 19-year-old his second Canadian championship.
He won the CFR boys’ steer-riding crown in 2008.
Thurston came to this year’s CFR with his hammer cocked.
“I have been rodeo-ing pretty hard this fall, competing at both college and pro rodeos, and my riding was in great shape,” he said.
Surprisingly, Thurston has picked up money at almost every rodeo he’s entered since the first of August. At the CFR, he earned $4,266.
He was sidelined in mid-June when he broke his ankle at the National College Rodeo Finals.
Identical to his 2008 championship, Thurston let his contenders know last week that he meant business by winning the first three go rounds and sharing the victory in the fourth round.
“I really feel at home in Rexall Place,” quipped Thurston. “I have entertained 16,000 people there when I was only 11 and also won the steer riding. I wasn’t nervous, at all, and I feed off the energy in that kind of pressure situation.”
While Thurston might have seemed like “cool-hand Luke,” there were a total of nine qualifiers for the CFR from Stettler county, including Scott Schiffner, who was born and raised in Stettler but now lives in Strathmore.
Cody Cassidy had a shot to add another steer-wrestling crown to his resume, but settled for third overall and brought home $28,000. Likewise, brother Curtis had a respectable week, winning $25,000-plus in the calf roping.
However, Cassidy saw the Canadian high-point slip from his dominant grasp after youngster Morgan Grant had a consistent week in both the steer wrestling and the calf roping to capture the high point.
Area team ropers dominated the standings in the regular season, but it was a tough week for Stettler’s Taylor Brower, who was heeling for Travis Gallais.
Likewise, Dale Skocdopole of Big Valley was frustrated with his heading performance, but farrier and heeler Matt Fawcett came through with the average championship after he and his partner, Clay Ullery, were the only team to qualify on six steers. Besides a gold buckle, Fawcett earned $11,000.
The pressure was on Fawcett to do well after his five-year-old son Caleb won the kids’ dummy roping at Northlands Farm Fair on Friday afternoon. Caleb already had his trophy saddle loaded for the ride home, so Dad had to oblige by adding a shiny buckle.
In bull-riding, two Stettler cowboys picked up a good chunk of change. Devon Mezei of Big Valley competing at his seventh CFR, won the opening round with an 86.75 ride. Mezei placed twice more for $20,500 in earnings.
Stettler native and 2012 cowboy of the year Schiffner narrowly missed his third bull-riding championship after Chad Besplug of Claresholm bettered Schiffner by three points in the average.
Perhaps the most-heartwarming story of the week was Kristy White’s first-ever qualification in women’s barrel racing after having narrowly missed the event on numerous occasions. White, the 2012 cowgirl of the year, made the best of her week by winning the final round of competition Sunday and pocketing almost $24,000.
In other events, Matt Lait claimed his first bareback riding title after a heated battle with Kyle Bowers of Brooks. Going into the final round, a mere 48 cents and one-and-a-half points separated the two cowboys.
Rylan Geiger of Duchess was a first-time champion in saddle bronc, as were cousins Timber Moore in the calf roping and Clayton Moore in the steer wrestling.
Travis Reay was the all-around champion of Canada. Kagen Schmidt won the boys’ steer riding title, while Kody Lamb won the novice bareback championship.
Lisa Lockhart raced her way to her fourth barrel-racing crown and young guns Kolton Schmidt and Tyrell Flewelling walked away with the team-roping title.
More rodeo photos in the eEdition and in this week’s Stettler Independent.