Zeke Thurston will be back to defend his 2016 title at the 61st Home on the Range Champions Ride Rodeo in Sentinel Butte.
The best saddle bronc riders in the world will flock to the rodeo, which is in its third year of being sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and compete at 1p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5.
Jake Wright, a 28-year-old cowboy from Milford, Utah, will be one of 31 other riders looking to take Thurston's title. Wright, ranked sixth in the world, is hoping to do better than last year when he rode with broken ribs. He said now that HOTR is a bigger rodeo, it can have a heavy influence on standings.
"I'm hoping to win first. That's what I sign up for," Wright said. "I'm hoping everything goes good, draw good, ride good and come out on top."
The top 12 of the 32 will move on to a short round and the rider with the most points on two horses will be the winner.
"We've always had the good riders, but it was never to this point," executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora Rick Thompson said. "Now because it counts for standings they all want to get here. It means a lot to a fan. It probably means more to the fans than anything because now the fans can be assured that when they come out they're going to see the best."
The amount of fans showing up to watch the Champions Ride could be the most ever, as Thompson said attendance levels have increased each year since being sanctioned by the PRCA.
"Every bronc rider wants to go to it," Wright said. "I'm glad to be invited."
The Champions Ride Rodeo brings around the best bronc riders in the sport, so the horses must be the best. Thompson said the rodeo picks the best, most alike horses from five different stock contractors, ensuring an equal opportunity for victory.
"The cowboys love that," Thompson said. "That's another reason that they love to come. It doesn't matter what horse they draw, they all have a chance."
Whoever wins the 2017 Championship Ride Rodeo will have a ride off against last year's winner, Thurston, who is from Big Valley, Alberta, and sits second in the world standings. If Thurston were to win again, he would have a ride-off against second place.
The competition will be stiff. Since becoming a PRCA-sanctioned event, top-ranked riders arrive attempting to boost their world standings.
Jacobs Crawley currently sits at number one. The Texas-born cowboy, along with younger brother Sterling, will attend the Champions Ride Rodeo. Wright will just be one of four from his family riding. His brothers Cody, Spencer and Jesse will also compete on Saturday.
HOTR keeps a rule around that allows local circuit riders such as Dusty Hausauer of Dickinson to compete.
Aside from the high level of competition, Wright said not performing up to his own expectations will be in the back of his mind.
"Everybody thinks about it," he said. "As long as I keep my gear in good shape and trying hard, that's all I can ask for."