By: Covy Moore
AIRDRIE, Alta. – Jake Gardner is heading back to Red Deer, Alberta, the site of his 2022 PBR Canada Cup Series victory this weekend.
But the six-time PBR Canada National Finals qualifier says this year is setting up to perhaps be the best show in Red Deer yet.
More than half a dozen PBR Canada competitors have been spending time south of the border this winter. Many of the stars of bull riding in this nation will have their tools sharp this weekend in Red Deer.
“You are in for a treat if you go get your tickets,” Gardner said. “When I got down south, Denver was my first PBR at the start of January, and there were six other guys from Canada down here. They are riding hot, riding well. You have to step up your game when those boys are down here.”
“I know all these guys down here riding, you can expect them to be putting up good scores on the board with the confidence and momentum they have rolling with them.”
Known for riding in both the rodeo side of the sport as well as PBR Canada competition, Gardner said his focus last season was on ensuring he qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo. But come the fall, and after the announcement of a $100,000 bonus to the PBR Canada Champion, Gardner made a push to ensure he was able to qualify for the PBR Canada National Finals and be within striking distance of that bonus.
“2023 was a good year. My goals were a little more towards the rodeo side of things, but I really wanted to maintain a strong position in the PBR to go into those Finals in a position to be able to win that $100,000,” Gardner said.
“I got hurt earlier in the year at Lethbridge. I dislocated my shoulder, so I had to fight through that for a part of last year. Towards Finals season I was on the outside looking in and I had to pull my socks up. I readjusted my focus to the PBR and finished inside the Top 10. I had some good finishes at the end of the year to make up that ground. I didn’t do as good as I would have liked at Finals. I think I will be looking to work on my consistency at these Cup events a little bit, take advantage of all this opportunity given to a guy and get inside that Top 5 for the end of the year.”
The 2022 edition of the PBR Red Deer Classic was a fairytale start to the season for Gardner, who said there is nothing more valuable than a big win early in the season in a sport that is so dependent on momentum.
“I drew some good bulls that day. Grateful to get that one for sure, and it was my second Cup Series event win. It was nice to get one going right at the start of the year, setting me up for success for the rest of the year,” he said.
“I seem to ride well in Red Deer, throughout the years. Before it was a PBR in 2018, it was always a good one for me. If you can get the upper hand at the start of the season it helps a guy’s mental game and that ability to stay focused. You don’t need to panic, it’s bull riding though so it doesn’t always go that way. Getting a win early sets you up for success the rest of the year for sure, helps you stay confident through it all.”
This coming Saturday, the top riders within the PBR Canada ranks, including 2023 PBR Canada Champion Dakota Buttar and Red Deer native Ashton Sahli, return to the Peavey Mart Centrium for the 2024 PBR Red Deer Classic.
According to Gardner, there are no better bull riding events in Canada than the Cup Series events.
“They are the best bull ridings in Canada,” Gardner said. “The best riders, the best bulls. It’s very comparable to the Velocity events. They are hard to win, so if you can do well at those ones, it is sure good for your confidence.”
Sahli echoed Gardner’s sentiments, urging fans of the sport, or even those who want to see something different in an incredible venue to get out and get their tickets.
“That is one you don’t want to miss,” Sahli said. “We are really blowing up in Canada. The PBR is getting bigger and better each and every year. Each event is better than the last. It’s the best bull riders and the best bulls in Canada. Everyone is hungry, healthy and itching to go. It’s going to be a dinger.”
Photo courtesy of Andre Silva/Bull Stock Media
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