Harlan’s Thurman qualifies for bull riding jr. amateurs
HARLAN -- Six-year-old Stetson Thurman is much like any other active kindergartner.
He loves Creighton Bluejays basketball, the Omaha Lancers hockey team, and follows Toronto Bluejays baseball. He plays tee ball with his younger brother, Oakley, and cousin, Easton.
You can find Stetson running around the farm with his siblings or fishing in the pond on any given day.
The Ones That Didn’t Make it Back Home by Justin Moore is just one of his favorite songs.
Yet Stetson, the son of Chris and Lacey Thurman, Harlan, has an exciting pastime most kids his age haven’t dreamed about in western Iowa.
He’s a bull rider….and a good one.
“I like bull riding and bareback because I like seeing my friends, and bulls make me feel strong,” he said this week as he gets ready to head to Fort Worth, TX for the International Miniature Bull Riders Association (IMBRA) junior amateurs.
Stetson is among the top bull and bareback riders in his age group on the rodeo circuit. The junior amateurs this week brings many of the top competitors together for an 11-day event. More than 1,000 cowboys and cowgirls have qualified for the rodeo in 10+ events, with multiple age groups for those 19 years old and younger.
Stetson will be competing against six other qualifiers in his age group. Competitors qualify for the IMBRA event by attending a minimum number of sanctioned events throughout the season as well as where they fall within the standings.
Dad Chris said they planned to hit the road this past Wednesday for the trip down south, and they’re excited for the competition.
“We enjoy watching his self-esteem, determination and friendships grow,” said Chris. “This little cowboy shines when he puts on his chaps and vest and stands so tall when it’s go time.
“It’s inspiring to see him get so excited about something he has such a passion for, and we are excited to see where this passion takes him. To say we’re proud is an understatement.”
Mutton Bustin’ Beginning
So just how did Stetson first become interested in bull riding?
After he watched PBR (pro bull riding) on television. And, he’s a second generation bull rider as Chris rode in the past but has since retired.
“At that point, we started him out with mutton bustin’ in Elkhorn, NE, and the very moment he got off the sheep and back to the stands he asked when he could ride ‘the big boys,’” said Chris.
He then entered into another mutton bustin’ event at the River City Rodeo in Omaha where he took second place, and from there the family started searching for bull riding opportunities.
The family -- Chris, Lacey, Stetson and siblings Irelynnd (11), Wintyr (9), MaKynzie (11) and Oakley (4) -- moved from Council Bluffs to Harlan in February, 2020, looking for more land to allow the kids to experience the country lifestyle and explore options with getting their own livestock for practice. There was little opportunity in the city to pursue a rodeo career, so moving to Harlan made them closer to the Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association (TMRA) based out of Dayton, IA.
Stetson competes regionally on the TMRA, which is the world’s largest miniature rodeo association for kids 19 and under, and his efforts here qualified him for the IMBRA Junior American.
“TMRA is about building confidence, friendships, and lifelong relationships with other riders, all while teaching the basic knowledge and necessity for being a competitive rodeo athlete,” said Chris.
In only his second year of competition, Stetson has an array of honors while competing across the Midwest, from Iowa and Nebraska to Minnesota and Missouri.
He has won several events in both bareback and bulls, and this past year at the TMRA National Finals, he won the third round in bareback and finished fifth overall in the finals. Stetson finished sixth in both bareback and bulls in the final 2020 point standings.
Is it dangerous? It can be, just like any contact sport, but the kids are required to wear all safety equipment that is routinely checked and inspected before each event. The TMRA also has some of the best bull fighters and rodeo clowns around, and they are always in the arena ready to assist when needed, as well as local emergency medical technicians.
To be successful, it takes practice, patience, determination and strength. “Stetson prides himself learning from his mistakes and listening to fellow riders, as well as providing support to all of his friends knowing they are also his competition,” Chris said.
“You would be amazed at how competitive these six-year-olds are, yet they are the first ones to help and encourage each other to not give up and to give it their best.”
Stetson is sponsored by a number of local businesses, including Smitty Bee Honey, Defiance; Buck Snort Restaurant, Harlan; Southwest Iowa Tiling, Griswold; and the Shelby County Sheriff.
Anyone wishing to follow the amateurs this week can head to www.AmericanPatriotEvent.com to check out the participants and results.
Stetson’s journey also can be followed at https://www.facebook.com/BullRiderStetsonThurman
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