The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all sports across North America in mid-March, but not for one Saskatchewan family.
The Tonita’s, who live south of Saskatoon, has an interesting setup at the farm — one that allows them to curl inside a barn from fall until spring, and ride bulls during the summer. Even during a pandemic.
Laurie Tonita built the pen and chutes five years ago, a project that took roughly three months of daily labour to complete. However, for Tonita, a former bull rider, the work was well worth the reward for a sport that he loves.
“Well it’s (bull riding) a pretty big adrenaline rush… you can’t even really think,” he said.
“You just try your hardest to hang on for dear life.”
Bull riding is a passion that he was lucky enough to pass on to his son Stefan, who got into the sport at a young age.
“I started riding small steers and cows when I was like 10, then I transitioned to bulls when I as 14, 15 years old,” Stefan said.
The young Tonita has competed in hundreds of bull riding events, but the biggest contributor to his growing success as a rider comes from the chutes and pen only a couple hundred feet away from his back door.
“I mean, you don’t have to go far to get on them,” he said. “I feel like it gives me an edge on my competitors because lots of them don’t practice during the week, and this gives me a place to perfect my craft.”
Another former rider and current bull fighter, Logan Kadlec, has seen Stefan’s growth as a bull rider throughout his young career.
“He gets to come home from school every day, have his buddies come over or whatever, and get on a couple of bulls. It’s pretty cool,” Kadlec said.
“He’s won a pretty much every level that he’s been at from junior steers to junior bulls to now bull riding. He’s constantly won and constantly gotten better —better with each year and each level that he’s been at.”
The high level of success enjoyed by Stefan has not only helped grow his skills, but, his bank account. The young bull rider has in turn reinvested the prize winnings into his career, having purchased all of the bulls he uses to train with from money won at competitions.
“When I invest into my practice bulls it kind of like, makes me win more, and you know, makes me a better bull rider,” Stefan said.
Even though he’s no stranger to success, Stefan remains humble, knowing that each level of competition will bring with it further challenges.
“”No matter what level you get to there’s always going to be a harder bull to get on,” he said. “And they’re going to show you the house of pain every now and again.”