By Covey Moore
AIRDRIE, Alta. – The 2023 PBR Canada season was one for the record books. From historic attendance at many Cup Series events, to a record riding percentage at the season’s National Finals at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, it was all indicative that professional bull riding is alive and well in Canada.
In 2023 I was lucky enough to be at, work with and cover 31 events. From Kelowna, British Columbia, to London, Ontario, I was able to document the narratives of the season.
As we ready for the new calendar year, here are my Top 5 storylines from 2023.
Rise of the Young Guns
In 2023, the young guns lit it up in arenas across the country, earning the first spot on our countdown of top storylines.
Ashton Sahli, Weston Davidson, Stefan Tonita, Tyler Craig, Cody Fraser and Chad Hartman all showed their talents last season, each collecting one if not multiple event wins.
Sahli, who broke through in 2022, was a near constant presence in the Top 20 this past season. Winning the prestigious Glen Keeley Memorial Bull Riding, there were very few events where Sahli wasn’t in the conversation.
Tonita rode to his first PBR win this season at the sold-out Touring Pro Division stop in Ponoka, Alberta. And only weeks later notched his second victory when he tied with the win in Picture Butte, Alberta. The reserved Saskatoon native has grown leaps and bounds the past two campaigns, and is expected to be a championship contender in the coming years.
In his first full season on Canadian soil, it didn’t take long for Australian Fraser to make an impact, collecting his first golden finish when he tied for the win in Marwayne, Alberta. Fraser spent a good chunk of the season fighting injuries after a wreck at a rodeo in Drayton Valley, Alberta. Any time he showed up, however, he kept his hand shut and was in contention for the victory, leading to his first PBR Canada National Finals qualification in November.
Hartman broke through in 2023 as well, winning one of the nights of multi-night Touring Pro Division event in Calgary. Hartman has improved tenfold since 2022, going from an alternate to the National Finals, to not only a direct qualifier, but also as a Top 10-ranked rider. With high expectations for himself, 2024 should be a career year for Hartman.
While Davidson won his first PBR Canada in 2022, he made significant gains in 2023 in addition to earning his second win at the first annual Ty Pozzobon Legacy PBR in Calgary. Davidson may have concluded the year just short of a berth to the 2023 National Finals, but it wasn’t without a push at season’s end, ultimately beaten out by less than a point for the last spot by 2023 Canadian Rookie of the Year Conner Halverson. Davidson is treating his bull riding career with care, and between his effort and style, he is sure to be at the top of the heap in 2024.
On of the final standouts was Craig. While the Albertan earned his first win in 2022 in Longview, Alberta, Craig credits his breakthrough victory this past season in Tofield, Alberta, as his first. Mounting an admirable regular season campaign, Craig began the 2023 PBR Canada National Finals with confidence. And that confidence was awarded as the Albertan went a perfect 4-for-4 to win the prestigious event title. If that result is indicative of where he is headed, Craig is expected to challenge for more wins and a Canadian Championship in the near future.
Bull Riding is Truly Back
The 2023 season marked the true return to form of bull riding in Canada, since the start of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in 2020.
With Australians Fraser, Callum Miller, Lachlan Richardson and Macaulie Leather at the National Finals, Americans Daylon Swearingen, Halverson, Jake Dunham, Cole Wagner and John Crimber frequent faces during the regular season, and a schedule chalked full of events, it felt like years past.
The veteran class of Canadian bull riders is strong. Most of the competitors who make their careers in Canada can never be counted out, and this year proved that as it is no secret that experience will prevail in the sport of bull riding.
Three-time Canadian Champion Aaron Roy, two-time Champions Cody Coverchuk and Dakota Buttar, Garrett Green, Jared Parsonage and Jordan Hansen were again perfect examples of consistency.
Roy alone won five Touring Pro Division and one Cup Series event and was season long in the conversation for an unprecedented fourth national title.
Hansen won five Cup Series rounds, in addition to two event victories. Hansen, along with his travelling partner Parsonage, qualified for the 2023 PBR Canada National Finals via seven and nine events respectively, a feat that shows their dominance.
Tetz and Robbins Impress
2022 PBR Canada Champion Nick Tetz had another career year in 2023. With hopes of becoming the first to win back-to-back titles fueling his efforts, accompanied by his standout first-year season for the Arizona Ridge Riders in the separate PBR Teams League, Tetz had it all going in his favor.
Along with being the Ridge Riders’ top performing rider, Tetz led Canada in round wins with 10 across both the Cup Series and Touring Pro Division. Heading into the PBR Canada National Finals firmly inside the Top 3, Tetz went 3-for-4, but wasn’t able to hold off Buttar, who ultimately won the 2023 title.
With the 2024 season in full swing, Tetz is eagerly awaiting the return of PBR Teams, but before that he will be competing for his second berth to the PBR World Finals.
Much like Tetz, Coy Robbins also had a career year. Starting out his PBR Career in 2017, winning the Rookie of the Year title, Robbins has fought injuries nearly every turn since.
The past two seasons, however, it has been a different story. With a renewed focus on both his health and wellness, running his own business and producing a PBR event, Robbins said it gave him the proper balance he needed to become more successful. Earning nine round wins across both the Touring Pro Division and Cup Series, Robbins was a consistent presence atop the standings.
He showed that his less-than-ideal experiences from past seasons, from the buckoffs to the injuries, can indeed teach lessons that will make you a better competitor.
Dakota Buttar Wins First $100,000 Champions Bonus
In 2020 Buttar prevailed in the PBR, winning the Canadian Championship at an unorthodox, four-part National Finals held during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
Annually since, the PBR Canada National Finals have been held at the renowned Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. And while Buttar began the events in both 2021 and 2022 ranked No. 1 in Canada, injuries plagued the Saskatchewan man, inevitably costing him a title both seasons.
While the script didn’t change much in 2023, the outcome did as a historic $100,000 was on the line for the first time ever for the year’s Champion.
Via a consistent season, highlighted by a strong summer campaign, Buttar began the National Finals No. 3 in the nation.
But as he experienced in previous years, he travelled to the National Finals battling injury. In October, Buttar broke his collarbone during his dismount from his event-winning ride in Grande Prairie, Alberta. He was sidelined since, making his return to competition just in time for the National Finals.
Despite being in visible pain at times, Buttar went a perfect 4-for-4 inside Rogers Place, including a slight hangup in his final ride that would re-break the collarbone, en route to his second PBR Canada Championship. As PBR Canada’s General Manager Jason Davidson said during the championship presentation, Buttar was as deserving of a Champion possible in 2023, and the accompanying $100,000 bonus was deserving as well having been the champion in the unprecedented 2020 PBR Canada season.
No matter how long the now 30-year-old decides to continue riding, he will always be in the conversation for event wins and titles.