December 5-14, 2024


Zeke Thurston – A Glass Half Full 

Oct 26, 2023

Zeke Thurston – A Glass Half Full 

Sometimes you work for it, sometimes you are born with it. Most of the time it’s a lot of both. 

Zeke Thurston has a quiet confidence that has helped him win three gold buckles in the saddle bronc riding. It’s always there, surrounding him like dust from the arenas that he has played in since he was a child. 

Zeke Thurston during Round 6 of the 2023 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | Photo by Steve Spatafore

There have been plenty of those arenas. His father, Skeeter Thurston, is a six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier in saddle bronc riding. His mother, Lynda Thurston, has done literally every job behind the scenes that make a rodeo tick. She also is a barrel racer and every member of the family – Skeeter, Lynda, Wyatt, Zeke, Sam, and Tess – takes pride in exemplifying the Western way of life, horsemanship, and being good stewards of land and animals. 

Growing up, the family did everything together. The children spent many hours on the ranch horseback, working cattle. Weekends they went to rodeos where their parents weren’t the only ones working. The three boys were part of the Thurston Gang, trick riding and roping to entertain Canadian rodeo fans. 

To further his skills in the rodeo arena Zeke moved to Wyoming and started competing for Sheridan College. He also joined the PRCA. He competed on his permit in 2013 and earned his card in 2014. The next year he qualified for his first Wrangler NFR and one year later earned a world title. 

Round 9 of the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo before Zeke won his first gold buckle. | PRCA Photo

I first met Zeke at the College National Finals Rodeo. I met his dad, Skeeter, years before when he was in college. Skeeter grew up in the sandhills of Nebraska. Lynda is a native Canadian and that’s where they made their home. I didn’t see much of Skeeter after that and wasn’t privileged to be around the family as the children were growing up. 

There were a lot of surprised people when Zeke won his first world championship in 2016. Buckle number two, in 2019, was confirmation. Last year, he started the NFR in sixth place, won more money than any other competitor and not only did he win the world in saddle bronc riding, he also got the Top Gun Award after earning  $256,078 in the Thomas & Mack Center. 

Zeke amazes me. He’s not the flashiest saddle bronc rider. He is one of the most humble human beings I’ve ever met. His intensity level stays pretty steady, and I can tell you it is rare to see him without a smile on his face, something that he has in common with his father. 

That smile comes with that quiet confidence. And for Zeke, that is a result of being mentally strong and optimistic. 

Always has a smile even behind the chutes at the Thomas & Mack Center. | PRCA Photo

            “My glass is half full,” he said. “I’m always looking for the positive and try to find the silver lining in every situation. I think I’m wired that way and always have been.”

Along with being positive, he is competitive, loves winning and takes time to analyze, enjoy, and learn from the process. He credits that to being in big environments when he was a youngster. Some of them went well, some didn’t. 

            “I try to take away a learning experience from every situation,” he added. “Instead of getting frustrated and throwing my sucker in the dirt, I want to take a positive with me. Tomorrow is a new day. You always have another rodeo to enter and for me another bronc to get on.” 

One of his best friends is J.R. Vezain who was on track to win a gold buckle in the bareback riding when a debilitating accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. J.R’s attitude and fortitude have been inspiring for many, including Zeke. 

            “It’s all perspective,” Zeke said of his own attitude. “I try to always keep a good perspective on me. If I screw up a bronc ride, fall off or don’t draw good, it sucks. But big whoop. I’m going to wake up and walk around on my own two feet the next day. So, in the big picture we are pretty blessed to do what we do. I have a family that loves me, a lot of people behind me and I get to live a pretty cool life.” 

That cool life is shared with his wife, Jayne, and their two children. Baby number three will arrive in November. Along with giving their children positive experiences, Zeke and Jayne are also raising them to know the value of hard work. Like their parents, the youngest generation of Thurstons will be encouraged to do what they want to do, but whatever they choose, they will need to put their best foot forward, do it wholeheartedly and believe in themselves. Those are lessons from his mother that Zeke uses every day. He is all in all of the time. 

            “I probably ride a thousand broncs in my head every day, whether I’m at a rodeo or not,” he said. “I always have it in the back of my mind. It’s important to stick to the basics. If you can execute on the basics every time and do that long enough It’s all going to come together. 

Zeke Thurston posing for his second world title win after the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Phifer

            “The best guys in every discipline or any sport execute the fundamentals better than anyone else,” he added. “But you need to keep it in perspective, take a deep breath, step back and don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in wanting to do too good or try too hard. Sometimes that can take away the joy of it. Go out there and do what you do and have fun with it.

            “I like to keep things lighthearted and enjoy it,” he said. “When you make your living with your body, you have a shelf life. You can’t go out there and be so serious and try so hard that you make it miserable for yourself and it’s not even fun. Go out there, put it all on the line and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, learn from it. You’re pretty darn lucky to do what you do. You might as well enjoy it. Life’s short. Go have some fun.” 

            Ranching also plays into Zeke’s success. When he’s at home he is on a saddle horse nearly every day. The balance and feel of that and being able to read livestock are valuable assets. 

            “The more tools you have in your toolbox the better off you will be,” he explained. “The horses can read you and they feed off your energy. If you walk up there smelling like a Big Mac, wired for 220, that horse knows that and probably isn’t going to stand there for you. If you know and read animals, you can make each situation the best for both of you.” 

            And then there is that quiet confidence that works so well for Zeke. He’s headed to his eighth NFR in fourth place. He’s never led the world standings going in, but three times he has been on top at the end. 

            “I’ve won world titles and I’ve fallen off to win world titles in the tenth round,” he added. “I’ve let it slip through my fingers multiple times, but that’s the way it goes. Babe Ruth struck out more than anybody, but he also hit more home runs. If you are in that position and able to try for something that cool and that great, you’re pretty blessed just to be there.”I’d say his glass is half full.

Zeke Thurston reacting to his ride during the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson