En route to a Triple Crown victory, Wyatt Thurston persevered like a true cowboy last weekend.
The Big Valley saddlebronc rider capped his championship hat trick Saturday in Brandon, winning the Manitoba Rodeo Cowboys Association finals just two weeks after taking the Foothills Cowboys Association finals and eight weeks after earning the Wildrose Rodeo Association crown.
Sitting pretty all weekend at the Keystone Centre in Brandon, Thurston’s toughest ride might have come even before he crossed the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border.
He was headed to Brandon last Wednesday night, or early Thursday morning, with fellow Big Valley cowboys Colter and Jeremy Harden when Thurston’s vehicle — a 2010 Dodge Caravan — collided with a deer near Davidson, Sask.
“We had a hell of a time getting out there,” he said. “I hit a deer and wrote my van off. We smoked a deer about 2:30 in the morning. We were just clipping along, it was dark, and he came out of nowhere.”
Stranded roadside in the dark of the night, Thurston contacted an Australian cowboy buddy who resides in Regina.
“We got him out of bed and he came and got us,” Thurston said. “We sat on the side of the road and just about froze to death for two hours, and then he got us and we headed out.”
Fortunately, the rest of the weekend was a much smoother ride for the 22-year-old Thurston, the oldest of three boys in a prominent cowboy family.
“It was a good finals,” he said. “I managed to get it together and I pieced together three really good rides through the weekend.
“That’s a really fun finals, and it’s a really good rodeo. It’s just a really good town — a lot of fun.”
Thurston set up himself well, winning the opening two rounds last Thursday and Friday, and finishing second in the final round Saturday.
“The broncs were really, really good, and I ended up being the only guy in the first round to get a score,” he said. “So that made my shot in the average quite a bit bigger than everyone else’s, because I ended up being the only guy that got a score in all three rounds.”
It’s been that kind of a fall season for Thurston, who has had the golden touch at the most opportune time. He has collected more than $8,000 from his three straight rodeo championship performances.
“I’ve been really good in the fall,” he said. “I’ve kind of knuckled down under pressure and seem to keep getting the job done, so it keeps going good.
“My summer didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped it would, but I got by and I got through some problems that I was having with my ridin’. And for the last two months, it’s been really good. It’s just kept getting better and better. I’ve really strived to fix the little things in my riding and just to try to make a better ride every time I get on, and it’s really paid off at these finals.”
Just a year removed from a U.S. college stint, Thurston’s youthful exuberance matches the spirit of each finals weekend, with big crowds in the stands and extra cash on the line.
“I really like it,” he said. “If the crowd is always into it, you want to bring your game up a notch. At a finals, you want to get better, because you know that everybody else there is going to be trying to do their utmost best.
“I live for it. I’ve always liked the finals and the finals setting.”
Along with almost $9,000, Thurston has taken home a saddle and two buckles from his championship haul.
He earned $3,233 as the saddle-bronc champion at the FCA finals, the Cowboy Classic, in Red Deer on Thanksgiving weekend. He added to the pot last weekend, but he’s not necessarily earmarking those winnings toward a down payment on a new vehicle.
“I’m hoping the insurance makes the down payment on the next van,” he quipped.
His Aussie friend — whom Thurston had planned to pick up in Regina on the way to Brandon — played the rescue role last week.
“This stuff always happens in the rodeo world,” he said. “The cowboys all do their best to take care of each other, and you know that 90 per cent of them would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.”
Not deterred, Thurston is back on the road this week for a Canadian Cowboys Association rodeo in Yorkton, Sask., on Friday night, before flying out of Regina the next morning bound for a Toronto rodeo running in concert with the Royal Canadian Winter Fair.
“A guy can definitely make some money out there, if he does good,” said Thurston, who was invited to participate.
The following week, he plans to head to Edmonton to watch his brother Zeke, 19, compete in novice saddle bronc in the storied Canadian Finals Rodeo.
Zeke, a college rodeo competitor who attends school in Wyoming, earned $4,600 a couple of weekends ago in a World Class Bucking Horse Association Futurity in Montana.
Zeke is the saddle-bronc points leader in the Mountain States Region in college rodeo.
“He’s been having a hell of a fall, too,” Wyatt said of Zeke. “We both kind of turned it on at the same time.”
It’s been a busy summer and fall for Wyatt Thurston, who continues to work full-time in the oilfield industry while on the rodeo circuit.