Defending Saddle Bronc Riding World Champion Zeke Thurston Enters NFR With Fourth Gold Buckle in Reach
Meet the NFR Athletes is presented by Montana Silversmiths
BY BRETT NIERENGARTEN @PRORODEOBRETT
Zeke Thurston added a third World Title and second NFR Average Title to his resume in 2022 and in 2023, you could argue he was even better.
He increased his Average Score from 83.24 points to 85.32 and reached 50 rides of 85+ Point Rides for the first time after notching a career-high of 34 in 2022.
Thurston enters his ninth consecutive NFR as the No. 4 saddle bronc rider in the world and is less than $30,000 behind World No. 1 Stetson Wright. To win the World Title, Thurston will likely need to clear the $399,916 he earned a season ago.
San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, $15,500
Thurston’s first four rides were all marked between 83.5 and 88 points before he matched up with The Calgary Stampede’s Xplosive Skies for 90.5 points to take second in the Finals, which came with $7,500 payday. Thurston was bested by Stetson Wright by two points for the title.
Xtreme Broncs Finals (South Dakota), $14,249
Thurston took advantage of the highest paying standalone bronc riding in the PRCA’s history in Rapid City by finishing fourth in the Long Round and third in the Average and Short Round with rides of 88 and 89 points respectively. The Average payout made up about half of his money earned there.
World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale (Montana), $12,852
Thurston banked more than $9,000 in the Finals alone when he rode The Calgary Stampede’s Arctic Plumb for 91 points and the event title.
HIGHEST MARKED RIDES
Ponoka Stampede (Alberta), 92.75 Points
The eventual Canadian National Champion, Thurston thrilled in Ponoka in July with three rides of 87 points or more. In the Showdown, he was 2.75 points better than fellow NFR qualifier Chase Brooks.
Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo, 92.5 Points
With rodeo’s only Gold Medal on the line, Thurston rode Business Girl to victory in Salt Lake City with a rider score of 47.5 points. He beat out Sterling Crawley and Stetson Wright, who were both marked 91, to win the $10,000 first-place prize.
La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros Rodeo (Arizona), 176.5 Points on Two
At the February PRCA Playoff Series Rodeo in Tucson, Thurston swept the competition, winning both rounds and the Average. It was a lucrative weekend for him as La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros concluded a day after San Antonio.
Casey Tibbs Match of Champions (South Dakota), 89 Points in Finals
In June, Thurston had a strong showing against some of the best bronc riders in the world by taking second in Round 1 and first in the Finals. He split the win with Ryder Sanford while Cole Elshere, Kade Bruno and Layton Green rounded out the Top 5.
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