Showdown Sunday held true to the uncharacteristically wet year at the Calgary Stampede. But nothing could cloud the radiant grins from the latest crop of $100,000 Rodeo Champions.
The maple leafs were flying when Zeke Thurston made it two years in a row to win the saddle bronc riding. It was familiar ground for the cowboy from Big Valley, with the only difference being this year’s rainy weather.
“I was like ‘this is kind of deja-vu’ because I had Awesome last year and was 89 on him, and today I was 87 on him,” said the cowboy who turned 22 this week. “Then going to go to the four round and to have Spring Planting, I was like ‘man, I’ve seen this before’. It was kind of crazy.”
“My traveling partner, Taos Muncy, says he’s been on her six times. She’s one of the buckingest horse going, and one that you want everywhere. He was bragging about how many times he’d been on her, and done good on her. But I’m slowly catching up to him. That’s my third time on her, and it’s all been at Calgary. She’s awesome.”
Thurston put on a spurring clinic on the veteran mare, chalking up 89.5 points in the championship round, just 1.5 points better than the flashy ride Cody DeMoss put on Calgary Stampede’s Timely Delivery, which was named best saddle bronc of the Stampede.
“I know what she’s going to do, especially with the mud,” added Thurston. “It’s not going to phase her. She’s going to buck really hard. That old girl is just going to do her thing, so it was exciting.”
“I was spurring but she was bucking so hard, it felt like I didn’t even know if I was going to get bucked off. I was just lucky to weather the storm.”
Thurston invested his first $100,000 wisely, purchasing some cattle, renting some pasture, and getting started on a house to be built this summer. His approach won’t likely change with this next $112,000 cash injection.
“I’ve been very blessed to have had some success, especially at the biggest rodeo in the world.”
Earlier in the week, Thurston confessed winning his first Stampede championship had helped prove his Houston win was no fluke. So this second one?
“Shoot, this was all for fun. I love doing it, and riding bucking horses. I was just thankful for the opportunity.”
DeMoss takes home $25,000 for second, followed by Rusty Wright with $15,000 for third, and Wade Sundell getting $10,000 from their efforts in the Final Four.
Mary Burger and her horse Mo rode the tide of being the fan sensation all Stampede long, and it carried right through to Showdown Sunday. The unassuming grandmother finished second to Lisa Lockhart in the afternoon, and then raced back and took all the marbles in the Final Four with a 17.99 second run.
“I’d only run him in the mud a couple of times, and basically, I did it because I was coming here, and I just knew it would rain,” smiled the 67-year-old from Pauls Valley, OK. “He really did handle it pretty good. I think the second time we ran, he was a little more on his toes.”
“When I looked up there at that clock and saw that he’d turned in 17, I thought ‘oh my gosh’, he did OK, he did OK.”
Burger started her amazing run earlier this year by winning Houston, but at $100,000 this is twice the size of that cheque. And it’s a significant win for her.
“It’s prestigious. Everybody would love to win this, and I’ve done it. It’s just amazing. I’m so happy.”
When asked by Stampede stage host Ron MacLean about her plans for the money, the crowd roared when she said “Talk to my husband. He’s always got plans for that kind of money. He’ll think of something!”
For Burger, one of the greatest treasures of her time in Calgary will be the memories of her interactions with all her new fans, and their support for her.
“When I came up through that alley way and they started cheering, it’s just like ‘here we go again!’. I hope this turns out as good as the other runs. It was amazing.”
Mary Walker, who was fastest in the afternoon, found herself heartbreakingly close to a Stampede title again, finishing second, but still taking home $25,000, followed by Jackie Ganter ($15,000) and Lisa Lockhart, who tipped a barrel ($10,000).
If ever you want a story of triumph over adversity, just spend a few minutes with bareback rider Steven Peebles. The Oregon cowboy, who has suffered far too many injuries in his career, worked on recovery from a back injury so he could ride at the Calgary Stampede. But not only did he ride, he won. Peebles was best in the afternoon with an 89 point ride, but then followed that up in the Final Four with an 87.5 on Shadow Warrior, but that was the exact same score Caleb Bennett posted on Virgil. So they reloaded the chutes for a ride-off, and this time Peebles was 83 to Bennett’s 78, giving him the triumphant trip to the stage and the $100,000 cheque.
“It’s so awesome,” marveled Peebles, who won the World Championship in 2015. “Sitting in a hospital bed a year ago, watching this rodeo, was very hard on me. I’ve always wanted to win this rodeo pretty bad, and I ended up sitting out six months with another injury this year. This is my first rodeo back in 2016, and to be standing up here on top right now, this is an honor.”
Like all the contestants, Peebles was covered in mud from head to toe. But that didn’t bother him in the least.
“I would do it all over again, and get on another one if I had to. This is pretty dang cool to say I’m the $100,000 winner in Calgary.”
But on the practical side, the money will be especially useful after his injury layoff.
“I haven’t had six months’ worth of income, so this cheque was very well needed. I’ve got a lot of bills to pay every month, and hospital bills coming from the last few years of all my wrecks. This is a relief, and will get me through another year.”
Bennett still earns $25,000 for his appearance in the Final Four, with the $15,000 going to RC Landingham, and $10,000 to Tanner Aus.
Roping calves in the mud is no picnic but the world’s best brought their A-game to the arena Sunday afternoon. Shane Hanchey and his great equine partner Reata had been roping smart and solid all Stampede, and they kept that up, making the Final Four. In that set, Hanchey was fastest of the bunch with a 7.9 second run, to give him a first Calgary title, and $100,000.
“It means a lot,” declared Hanchey. “This has been on my bucket list since 2010. To be able to win it, in these conditions, on that horse, it’s unreal.”
“I’m from Louisiana, I’m from the bayou. We’ve roped in mud my whole life. I’ve roped on him at high school rodeos in the mud, and I knew he wasn’t going to fail me now.”
Hanchey was sporting his lucky purple LSU colored shirt, and he even changed between sections to a clean one. But carrying his home state colors meant even more to him on this day.
“Three Baton Rouge police officers were shot and killed this morning. I told my Mom and my Dad I’m wearing purple for Baton Rouge, and for the law enforcement. It’s not supposed to happen in my state, especially that city, or in my country. It’s just a bad deal.”
While Hanchey will save this moment for a lifetime, he’s also got business on his mind.
“It’s pretty easy right now. I’m just roping. It’s been going so good, I’m just ready for the next one. Fortunately/unfortunately that’s in less than 24 hours.”
So celebrating will have to wait, as he hits the road to the next rodeo.
Fred Whitfield came within one second of winning his fourth Calgary Stampede tie-down roping championship, with his 8.9 second run in the Final Four. But he still scoops up $25,000, with Ryan Jarrett taking home the $15,000 and Clint Robinson, the $10,000 bonus cheques.
Wyoming’s Seth Brockman came to his second Calgary Stampede with money on his mind, and he used that motivation to carry him all the way through to his first championship, wrestling a steer in 4.1 second in the afternoon, and then topping the Final Four field with a 4.7 second run, in sloppy, wet conditions.
“In the bulldogging there’s no ‘slow down’ in it. You’ve just got to run at it, and I got a good run at it, and was able to sneak by Waguespack,” said Brockman.
“This is huge. It’s the biggest rodeo we go to all year, so it means a lot.”
Tyler Waguespack finished second with 4.8 seconds, for $25,000. Donalda’s Cody Cassidy came in third for $15,000, and Dakota Eldridge takes home the $10,000 for fourth.
The bull riding bucks went to Texas, when Cody Teel was the only one of the Final Four to make the whistle, scratching out an impressive 91.5 on Liquid Fire. It’s his first $100,000 bonus at his first Calgary Stampede and he was thrilled.
“With the weather conditions and everything, to be here on the final day of the Calgary Stampede, it means a lot. I had two great bulls today that gave me the opportunity for the win, and for it all to work out, means a lot,” said Teel.
“It’s unbelievable all the fans that stayed through all the rain. I’ve never seen anything like it. To have them hollering and screaming when you do make a good ride in this weather, it’s definitely something you may never experience again.”
The other three in the Final Four, Ryan Dirteater, Nathan Schaper, and Fabiano Vierira each collect $16,666.
Barrel racer Lisa Lockhart was wiping away tears when she was presented with the prestigious Guy Weadick award, as the person best representing Stampede values and Spirit.
And that put a muddy, but successful wrap on the 2016 Calgary Stampede.