Army Veteran Zach Thomas took up bareback bronc riding to help his reintegration to civilian life, but after a near-fatal wreck at a collegiate rodeo, he had to muster a new kind of bravery to get back to the arena.
"I was 18 when I was deployed to Afghanistan.”
Zach Thomas’ journey to the arena began a world away during his first tour of duty with the US Army. While his unit was responsible for gathering intelligence and interfacing with Afghan locals, Zach was facing down experiences he could only process on the back of a bronc.
Sometimes the only way through a trial is to push yourself even harder.
“I was struggling with my reintegration after military into civilian life,” Zach says. On his return from Afghanistan, he needed to find some way to challenge himself while he dealt with the bigger challenge of making sense of life at home again.
“That looks terrifying. I think I’d like to try that.”
Once he was back home, Zach saw a Facebook video of a bareback rider, and he knew then and there that he couldn’t resist the thrill.
“I’d never sat on a horse, so when I finally got in and sat on him, I was like, ‘whoa....this is crazy’.”
Zach’s first time on a bronc didn’t last longer than a few bucks, but that’s all it took for Zach to know he’d found the sport that would help him find himself again.
“I hit the ground, and I thought ‘that wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.... now I wanna ride one for eight seconds”
His first ride, Zach picked up a few new bruises, but nothing that could keep him out of the saddle for long.
The ride that changes everything can start as just another ride.
On September 28, 2018, at a college rodeo in Riverton, Wyoming, Zach got a few bucks into a ride that felt like any other until he noticed something going wrong.
“The fourth jump she really blew up...I was like ‘something’s not right with this one.’”
After a few bucks in Riverton, Zach’s horse lost its back feet and drove him backward into the fence. He sustained a concussion, a fractured pelvis, a broken back, and a slew of other injuries that would make even the toughest cowboy wonder if he’d ever get back in the saddle again
“Doctor said I wouldn’t ride again for twelve months, and I came back in four. On a buckin’ horse.”
No matter how rough the wreck, there’s always another ride on the horizon.
Determined to heal himself with the same tenacity he’d healed himself coming home from Afghanistan, Zach keeps on riding today, reminding all of us that everything you survive is just one less thing to fear.
Find out about Wrangler’s efforts to raise funds to support American military veterans and their families at wranglernationalpatriot.com.