Thurston wins Wrangler National Finals Rodeo title

Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston won his fourth WNFR title in Las Vegas. ECA Review/submitted
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Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston won his fourth WNFR title in Las Vegas. ECA Review/submitted

Four is the number as Canadian bronc riding superstar, Zeke Thurston gathered up his fourth gold buckle with a stand-out world title performance.

The Big Valley, Alta. legend, was 86.5 for a sixth place split in round 10 on the Calgary Stampede bronc Dandy Delight.

Thurston won the aggregate, a record 863 points for his 10 rides, winning $234,437 in WNFR earnings and $456,356 in his remarkable season.

“I had a great week; it was awesome,” Thurston smiled.

“It’s been a dream to do this ever since I was Hardy, his son’s age. Every step I’ve taken in my life was for the betterment of this dream.”

Fellow Canadian Dawson Hay picked up a fifth-place cheque with an 87 point final round ride while Ben Anderson and Layton Green were out of the money in the final round.

Bareback
The bareback riding has been the domain of rookie Keenan Hayes since early in the season. And tonight the Hayden, Colorado cowboy put the exclamation point on the win with a sensational 90 point ride on J Bar J’s Straight Ringer. On a night when his challengers encountered uncharacteristic problems, Hayes was flawless as he was so many times in his magical season.

Hayes won $168,154 over the 10 day run and $434.050 for the year.

Canadian Orin Larsen was out of the money in round 10 to finish an NFR that was a struggle for the 2019 Canadian champion.

Steer wrestling
The steer wrestling went down to the last run of the NFR before the drama ended and Tyler Waguespack emerged as the 2023 World Champion steer wrestler for the fifth time in an amazing career.

He split first in the final round with a 3.8-second run and when season leader Dalton Massey broke the barrier, it was official. Waguespack garnered $156,928 at the finals and $303,576 in total 2023 earnings.

The lone Canadian in the bulldogging field, Stephen Culling was out of the money in the final round but had a terrific first WNFR as he placed in six of 10 rounds and was 4th in the aggregate and 9th overall.

The B.C. cowboy won $93,699 at the finals and $197,725 for the season.

Teamroping
Similar drama was the order of the day in the team roping as the last pair to ropers–Wesley Thorp and Tyler Wade–did what they had to do to protect the lead they had coming in.

The Texans were 5.4 seconds and did not place in the round but Wade finished up with $308,057 while his partner Thorp on the heeling side was $325,284 for the world titles.

The Canadian representative in the team roping, 2016 World Champion and two-time Canadian titleist Jeremy Buhler and his Utah partner Rhen Richard broke out in the final round but still collected $90,232 at WNFR 65 and $213,716 on the season.

Tie-down roping
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the 2024 World Tie-Down Roping Champion. Riley Webb held off the hard charging Haven Meged for his first world title with $452,851 in season earnings. The tie-down roping was probably more dramatic than anyone thought it would be thanks to the superhuman effort of Meged, the reigning Canadian Champion.

Meged, who set two records during the 10 rounds, the first his 6.4 second run for an arena record in round six and then his 77.4 seconds for a 10 round aggregate total. But maybe the happiest guy of all 15 finalists was the Canadian, Beau Cooper, who cashed for the first time at his inaugural appearance at the Thomas and Mack Arena.

The Stettler Alta. cowboy posted a rapid 7.4 second time for a third place $18,325 cheque.

Bullriding
Canada was two for two in the bull riding as Jared Parsonage was a brilliant 88.5 points on Powder River Rodeo’s Flapjack to finish third in the round. The two-time Canadian champ finished fourth in the aggregate for $37,144 to bring his WNFR earnings to $109,713.

Parsonage capped off a tremendous season that saw him win $249,264 overall.

Travelling partner Jordan Hansen, the 2016 Canadian Champion, was fifth in the final round with an 85.5 point ride on another Powder River bull, Manaba.

Hansen topped out at $54,573 at the Finals and wrapped up a huge year with $198,796.  Although Ky Hamilton was unable to compete on his bull in the final round, the Australian won the aggregate and was crowned World Champion with a huge $595,414 for season earnings.

Barrel racing
Records fell in the barrel race as Texas cowgirl Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi won her third world title.

She and her four-legged partner, Benny amassed a whopping $496,498 for their championship season. A knocked-down barrel in the final round was the only set back in a spectacular finals and equally outstanding season for the Texas cowgirl.

Also impressive was four-time Canadian champion Lisa Lockhart, who won the aggregate and established an all time career earnings record of $3,510,066 to pass legendary Sherry Cervi.

Unofficially, Canadian athletes won $773,818 at NFR 2023, including the $10,000 base that WNFR event qualifiers are awarded for qualifying.

Breakaway roping
Other winners included Shelby Boisjoli-Meged who earned her first Breakaway Roping World title during the two-day competition, held at South Point in Vegas, that preceded the 10 days at the Thomas and Mack.

Boisjoli-Meged amassed $197,706 for the season, including a record-setting $33,157 haul at the Vegas Finals on her two time and reigning Nutrena World Breakaway Horse of the Year, No Wimpy Turns (Onna).

Fellow Canadian Kendal Pearson finished the year in eleventh with $93,963.

All-round winner
The 2023 All Around winner was Utah’s Stetson Wright who finished up the year with $479,620 enroute to his fifth title.

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