December 5-14, 2024


Zeke Thurston ‘Zoned’ In on 2022 Gold Buckle and Was Nearly Flawless

Jul 17, 2023

Zeke Thurston ‘Zoned’ In on 2022 Gold Buckle and Was Nearly Flawless

By Brian Hurlburt

Zeke Thurston was pretty much what they call a sure thing during the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo® presented by Teton Ridge. He rode nearly flawlessly enroute to the 2022 PRCA Saddle Bronc World Championship and spent most the NFR in the “zone” that athletes in every sport strive to find.

“The NFR started off well and it seemed like I couldn’t do anything wrong for the entire 10 nights and I didn’t mess up,” said Thurston who successfully rode all 10 horses for 876.5 points. “I drew great, and honestly, it was just a crazy, crazy week. Things were clicking. Coming into the NFR, I had just come off a big win at the Canadian finals and had rode very well there. I made some big rides and rode that wave into Vegas. When you hit that zone, you just try to stay in it and keep rolling.”

Zeke Thurston reaction shot after his ride in Round 10 of the 2022 Wrangler NFR. | Photo by Phillip Doyle

The 2022 world standings were tight throughout the NFR, but Thurston pulled away with a final go-round co-championship. He also won the NFR average and the $74,000 bonus that went along with it. He won the world title by about $58,000 over Lefty Holman.

It was the third gold buckle for Thurston and, oddly enough, each of the previous titles came three years apart. He was the last saddle bronc rider standing in 2016, 2019 and 2022. He hopes to put an end to that trend in 2023 by going back-to-back, but a talented stable of riders will push him to the limit.

As of July 10, he was third—there is that number–in the PRCA World Standings, about $30,000 behind Sage Newman and $5,000 behind Stetson Wright. 

Not only did Thurston win the average and the world title in 2022, he collected the NFR RAM Top Gun Award and earned a hefty $399,915.64 for the season.

“I think the third world title tops the other two because of the finals that I had and the year that I had,” Thurston said. “To win more money than any other contestant ever, to win the RAM Top Gun Award, to tie the average record, and to win the last round, the NFR average and the world title, all in the same year, I don’t know if that will ever happen again.”

The zone, indeed.

Finding and staying in it makes the hard work, injuries and sacrifices worth it.

Zeke Thurston on Dreamliner during Round 2 of the 2022 Wrangler NFR. | Photo by Phillip Doyle

“Winning the world titles and being recognized on the NFR stage with the other world champions are the moments that I have worked so hard for,” Thurston said. “Every decision I have ever made in my life has been made to make those moments possible. The early mornings and putting in a lot of work is not easy. Most people don’t realize what goes into it.”

Those early wake up calls have instilled discipline in Thurston. Plus, a mindset and a philosophy.

“I like to keep things pretty simple, and there are three basic things I try to do every time to execute the fundamentals,” Thurston said. “If I am consistent, I know I can win a lot of money and everything will fall into place. Number one is to have a real strong mark out, then lift on my reins, and then I set my feet for every jump.”

Thurston grew up learning some of those fundamentals from his father, Skeeter, a 6-time NFR saddle bronc qualifier, and by watching the legendary Ty Murray.

“I always looked up to Ty when I was younger,” Thurston said. “I watched a lot of the film on him and he was kind of right after my dad and towards the end of my dad’s career. To see somebody that rodeoed with your dad was inspiring because he was one of the all-time best. Ty went at it the right way.”

Thurston looks forward to earning gold buckle number four and will appreciate the journey along the way.

“The atmosphere at the NFR and just being there is something that I don’t take for granted,” Thurston said. “I know how difficult it is to get there, and to have qualified every year of my career is not easy. Because of that, I will enjoy every moment. There is nothing in the world like the NFR.”