Scott Mansch, email@example.com
When Zeke Thurston was offered a reride Tuesday night, he had to think twice about it.
The horse was Ike Sankey’s “Roller Coaster Catastrophe.”
“He’s kinda scary and treacherous, but I figured I’d try him,” Thurston said. “He bucks every time. You just never know what he’s gonna do.”
Thurston, though, knew exactly what to do. The Canadian cowboy and second generation saddle bronc star registered an 84-point ride to provide one of the highlights as the PRCA Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup got underway before a jammed grandstand at Montana ExpoPark.
“You know why I like this rodeo?” microphoned-up clown Donnie Landis asked near the end of the show. “It’s the best crowd.”
Soon thereafter, bull rider Garrett Smith or Rexburg, Idaho, earned 82 points aboard a Sankey-Robinson bull to send a charge through the crowd.
“You know why I like this rodeo?” veteran announcer Will Rasmussen of Choteau said in response to Landis. “It’s home.”
Indeed, several Treasure State cowboys and barrel racers were up Tuesday night as the five-performance event got underway. Among the familiar faces performing well was the duo of Jade Stoddard-Ike Folsom in the team roping. The reigning Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit champions turned in a solid run of 6.2 seconds to take the lead.
The rodeo, which is a two-header in the roping events and steer wrestling, features a total purse of $150,000-plus and continues Wednesday night at State Fair.
The Stoddard-Folsom team is no stranger to the winner’s circle. The duo finished second at last year’s Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Florida and showed the big crowd how it’s done on Tuesday.
Stoddard, the header, is riding Matrix, a 7-year-old sorrel gelding.
“Only the fifth rodeo I’ve had him at. I haven’t hauled him anywhere until last week,” Stoddard said.
Safe to say things are working out.
“Might be the best horse I’ve ever had,” Stoddard said.
In the bareback riding, Austin Foss, 23, of Oregon took the lead with an excellent ride, earning 76 points on Sankey’s “Tommy.”
“That was a younger horse. A lot of fun,” he said.
Foss is a former PRCA rookie bareback rider of the year and is chasing his third trip to the National Finals.
Thurston, meanwhile, just turned 21. He showed no fear of course on the reride.
“It turned out OK,” he said.
Thurston, whose father Skeeter is a small-town Nebraska man who once rode saddle broncs at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas with Treasure State stars like Ryan Mapston, Dan Mortensen and Jess Martin, has a smooth riding style.
“I see some of his dad in Zeke, the way he rides,” said Mapston, who was watching the action behind the bucking chutes. “His dad rode great and his son is really doing a good job. That was a great ride. His dad rodeo solid. He won the horses he was supposed to win on. We were friends. And we’ve remained friends.”
Now Skeeter’s boy Zeke is chasing the National Finals. He began the week ranked among the top 15 the world.
“I’ve been really blessed,” Zeke said. “I just have to keep the ball rolling.”
It was suggested he might be a bit young for Vegas.
“No sir,” the 21-year-old grinned. “Just the perfect age for that.”
Smith, meanwhile, had just about a perfect trip in the bull riding. He was one of just two bull riders to make it to the whistle.
Others in the lead following Tuesday’s performance included Blane Cox (tie-down roping) and Vickie Carter (barrel racing).