When Zeke Thurston won the saddle bronc riding world title, he was the first native Canadian to accomplish that feat in over three decades, and he accomplished what so many have tried to in just his second qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR).
Glen O’Neil was born and raised in Australia before coming to North America, settling in Canada and earning the world title in 2001. Prior to that it was Mel Hyland from British Columbia that took championships north in 1972 and then tied for the world with Monty Henson in 1976.
Zeke’s journey as a cowboy has come naturally. He grew up in a rodeo and ranching family. His father Skeeter qualified for the NFR six times. His mother Lynda has a journalism degree and was involved in many facets of rodeo including broadcasting. Zeke has an older brother Wyatt, a younger brother Sam and younger sister Tess. When the boys were growing up, they were busy on the family ranch during the week and performed at rodeos across the country trick riding and roping as the Thurston gang.
Zeke is a rodeo fan and has competed in many of the events. He started riding bulls and saddle bronc horses, but after a bull stepped on his leg and broke his femur, he decided to concentrate on riding bucking horses. That broken leg may have helped set the path of his destiny.
There have been a lot of really great bronc riders from Canada compete at the NFR. At just 23 years of age, Zeke is already among those and his name has been added to the rodeo history books. He became the first contestant in the history of the Calgary Stampede to win three consecutive titles last July.
Last October, Zeke married Jayne Lauweryssen, who he had known since third grade. Jayne’s family ranches and farms in the Big Valley area and she also competes in barrel racing and ropes. The couple are technically still newlyweds looking forward to their first anniversary, but their friendship has already stood the test of time.
Favorite movie: Lonesome Dove – I think it is the greatest movie ever made. It’s a no brainer for me. It’s tough to beat anything that has Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in it.
Favorite current TV show: We’ve been watching Hell on Wheels in the rig a lot. I really like True Detective too.
Dogs or cats: Dogs – I have a female that we got from Butch Small (NFR saddle bronc rider). He gave her to me after I won the world. Stopped at his house in DuBoise, Idaho, on the way home. He had a batch of pups and gave me one. She is a heeler collie cross that we named Vegas. I have a dog that I got in high school from Kelly Armstrong (NFR bull rider). He’s a Catahoula cross and a really good dog. He stays at mom and dads with his pack of buddies.
Favorite card or board game: Cribbage. My grandma on my dad’s side plays a lot of cribbage. My grandad on my mom’s side plays too. My grandma and I get in some pretty heated games when I’m visiting them in Nebraska.
Favorite sport, other than rodeo: Hockey – being from Canada we watch a lot of hockey and played a lot growing up.
If you weren’t in rodeo, what would you be doing: Run some cows and try to be the best rancher I could be.
Best gift you ever received: It’s pretty tough to beat my family and Jayne (Zeke’s wife of nearly a year).
Best childhood memory: When my sister was born. We were 13, 10 and 9 and it was pretty cool to get a sister. (Zeke was 10, Wyatt was 13 and Sam was 9).
Favorite thing you like about Las Vegas:Definitely the NFR. My dad made it when I was pretty little, so I don’t have childhood memories of the NFR. I made the permit finals the year before my first qualification. We went to a performance and it was so exciting to see. The whole rodeo made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and gave me chills. The first year I was there it was pretty overwhelming.
What do you do in your spare time: That would be rope. When I’m home in the fall, I help my dad, and neighbors doing fall cattle work. We go to team roping jackpots and I entered the tie-down roping at a few rodeos. I’d like to get really good at it so I could compete more.
Best travel partner: I’ve got three pretty good ones right now – Taos Muncy, Isaac Diaz and Tyrel Larsen. They are all really positive and fun guys. You need to be with a group of guys like that if your going to be gone 230 days out of the year doing this.
Famous figure you’d like to meet: I would really have liked to meet Will Rogers. I think he was an interesting guy. I’ve read some of his books and with his philosophies, he was a cool dude. There are several people like that that it would be cool to sit down and have lunch with.
Music: I like a pretty big variety of music. We listen to the radio a lot so we hear it all. Really like upbeat music and classic country – Willy, Waylon and Merle.
Best thing about riding bucking horses: There are a lot of good things or we wouldn’t do it. I really like the competition part of it. I’m pretty competitive and when you ride a big bad bronc and get a lot of points and win the rodeo, that’s a cool feeling.
What is your dream horse to get on: I’d really would have liked to have gotten on Cool Alley of Keslers. She has won the halter I think it would have been fun to get on her. She was a big girl that bucked really hard.
If you could live anywhere where would it be: Probably Big Valley … home is always home. I was raised there and have lots of friends and family in the area. It’s a good community. Everything there is on one street. It’s a small town and you know everybody.
Best thing about being married: It’s nice to have somebody to share everything with. I’ve known Jayne since third grade. We grew up together and have been close for a long time. She, my mom and my grandma definitely are fans and cheer the loudest. You know where they are in the stands if they are all at the same rodeo and I’m riding.
My role model is: I have lots of role models growing up. Obviously, my dad is my first and biggest influence in my life. It’s lucky that he rode broncs and has been a good teacher for me. John Rothwell has been a big influence too. He is a great guy and has a great attitude. They are winners and it doesn’t matter what event you are doing – they preach winning. He has helped me a lot with my roping (Rothwell is a many time NFR tie-down roping qualifier from Hyannis, Neb.)
Facebook or Twitter – Instagram is my favorite. I like to see what my buddies are up to – get to see pictures of what they are doing and watch videos of other people’s rides.