Zeke Thurston riding saddle bronc!

He’s a two-time Stampede champion, he had to get on two horses Thursday, and he dipped into the jackpot twice.

Zeke Thurston was in fine form in the sunshine, taking a reride horse first thing in the performance. His 84 score there gave him a split of third place cash in Round 6 ($3000). Then he came out an hour later in the Round 7 pen and tapped out a pretty 86 point ride on the Franklin horse Super Sox for $5500 more.

“You couldn’t ask for a better horse,” he said. “Just jumped and kicked and circled there in front of the judges. That’s what you want in a bucking horse.”

“It’s nice to get a victory lap here,” grinned Thurston, from Big Valley. “I was looking for that early on. It’s four head, so you can never count yourself out.”

Although Thurston, who turns 23 on Saturday, doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, the thought of a three-peat hangs in the air.

“The possibility is there. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be able to come to Calgary and ride at a rodeo of this caliber. Everybody looks forward to Calgary all year. It’s a unique rodeo, one of a kind.”

“I’m happy to be here.”

“That’s why I started doing this in the first place, is to have fun. You’ve got to remember that too. It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in all the competition or what you’ve got to do to beat this guy or that guy. You just (need to) go out there, try your best, and have fun, and it will all work out.”

Thurston has jacked his Stampede bank account up to $10,000, but he’s got two consistent stars ahead of him. Cody DeMoss leads the pack with $11,500, followed by Sterling Crawley with $11,000.

Mason Clements rides bareback!

While many of the Stampede competitors have had the advantage of growing up around the sport, Mason Clements isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s a self-described city kid who wanted to ride bucking horses… and he’s doing it well.

The 24-year-old from Santaquin, UT is a relative newcomer to bareback riding.

“I didn’t grow up in a rodeo family. No one in my family rodeos. I always fell in love with horses, the western lifestyle. I started when I was little, doing junior rodeos, and barrels and poles. I started doing some roping – I was a horrible roper! I could barely ride a saddle horse. I’m getting better at it,” he insisted.

Clements participated in steer wrestling and bull riding on the high school and college rodeo scene, and even started going to pro rodeos on bulls.

“I think I was 19-20 when I decided I wanted to put my hand in riggin’, and try it out. It looked fun, and it’s definitely more my style than the bull riding.”

Thrilled when he got the invite call from the Stampede, Clements has been counting the days until he could come.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it ever since. All last week, anybody said ‘Stampede’ or mentioned Canada, it was like instant butterflies, instant excitement. The night before, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t get any rest. First day was a whole roller coaster ride of emotions,” he described.

Despite all that, Clements has been able to string together an impressive trio of rides, with his best on Thursday, an 87.5 on Paradise Moon. That $5,500 cheque puts him on top of Pool B with $11,500 in earnings.

“It was a blast. I didn’t want to stop after the whistle. I was going to go ten or twelve seconds. Then after we rode I started thinking about the bronze. I don’t know if that was a little too soon, and then getting on the victory lap horse, that was probably jumping the gun a little bit, but it all worked out,” he grinned.

“I’m still in la-la land about it all,” admitted Clements. “I’m so excited to be here. I’m having a great time. I’ve got some family up here with me. This is something I’ve dreamed about ever since I started putting my hand in the bareback rigging – is coming to the Calgary Stampede, and riding for $100,000 and riding against world champions and guys that I’ve watched when I started riding.”

The Calgary Stampede is the kind of place where rodeo dreams are fulfilled but can also be born. Clements urges young people to consider the sport, even if they’re not cowboy born and bred.

“Absolutely. Just like the saying goes, it’s what you want and how bad you want it, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice, and how much time you want to put into it.”

Clements is on top in Pool B with $11,500.

Tiany Schuster poses with a fan from Toronto

The crowd was roaring in the barrel racing when Stevi Hillman came out and set a sizzling new fast time for the year, rounding the pattern in 17.07 seconds. But then eight racers later, along came Tiany Schuster to shave off a tenth, and grab the bronze and $5500 cheque, when she crossed the line in 17.06 seconds.

“I didn’t even know the time, but when I heard everybody go ‘wow’ and the crowd go ‘ooh and ah’, you just knew it was going to be exciting,” exclaimed Schuster, who rodeos out of Krum, TX.

“Stevi, she weighs like fifty pounds soaking wet after a cheeseburger with mayo, so I didn’t think there was any way I could outrun Stevi. Her horse is so fast and phenomenal.”

“And I weigh a lot more than Stevi,” she jokingly conceded. “I figured I was running for second place.”

Schuster, who sports a wry and colorful sense of humor, was glad to see the heat return to Stampede Park.

“The first day was mud and the only thing that could’ve made my first run any better was if I would’ve fallen off and then we wouldn’t have known how slow I really was! Because it was really that bad,” she chuckled.

“That’s the first time that horse has ever run in mud in its life.”

“But this run might have been the best run of his life.”

Showmance is the registered name of the seven-year-old horse, but it’s a tag that’s taken on a life of it’s own.

“Like bro-mance or romance, it’s become such a sticker factor because it’s such a recognizable name. He showed up today and it was a romance here at Calgary!”

Speaking of romance, Schuster has a long-time relationship with barrel horse trainer Edwin Cameron, originally of Nova Scotia. He also owns Fitness Depot. The two actually met at Morgan Grant’s home in Ontario at a barrel racing futurity.

“I’ve never been on the western side of Canada before.”

Schuster, who’s way out in front in the world standings, now has $6250 in Pool B. Sherry Cervi placed for her third straight day, and leads the race to Showdown Sunday with $12,500.

Another world standings leader, Texan Caleb Smidt had the fastest run of the day in tie-down roping with 7.3 seconds. He’s the Pool B leader with $11,500, followed by Matt Shiozawa at $10,500.

“I just did the same thing I’ve been doing,” said Smidt. “Going at the barrier, reaching and roping, and going as fast as I can.”

“I actually won the third round last year too, so this is my lucky number!”

One year ago, Wyoming’s Seth Brockman walked up on the grandstand stage and collected the giant cheque for $100,000 in steer wrestling. Thursday he was back there, collecting one of the small bronzes for a third round run of 3.5 seconds and $5500. He’s now got $9000, just behind leader JD Struxness with his tally of $10,500.

It was a high flying eight seconds of motion, with an equally high score, as Brennon Eldred of Oklahoma made an 88.5 point bull ride on Evil Genius.

“I was excited to have him,” said Eldred. “He’s got a lot of drop and he jerks a lot of people down on his head. I knew that that was the main part, just to stay away from those big horns, and it paid off.”

The $5500 bumped the Stampede newcomer to the top of Pool B with $10,500, followed by J.B. Mauney with $9,500.

The Calgary Stampede Rodeo committee

The Calgary Stampede relies on dedicated volunteers, like these members of the Rodeo Committee who gathered for their annual photo, by the banks of the Bow River.