2023 NRA Season Wrap Up
By JOE KUSEK
November 3, 2023
The superlatives roll out like a quickly uncoiling rope ...
Fantastic, terrific, thrilling, pulse-pounding, historic … the list is long.
So many to choose when describing the 2023 Northern Rodeo and Northern Women’s Rodeo seasons.
The NRA and NWRA wrapped up the recording-setting year with its 48th Annual NRA Finals presented by nuWest Builders in Kalispell.
The Finals was the culmination of the 29-rodeo Mountain Health Co-Op Tour.
For three nights, the organization’s best rode, roped and raced for coveted championship buckles and saddles that represent year-end titles along with the $115,000 in prize money.
When the dust settled at Majestic Valley Arena, history was made and new chapters were started.
Of nine individual event titles decided on the final Saturday of October, eight were won by first time champions.
First time event winners are: Jordan Larson, bareback; Hunter Haskins, saddle bronc; Kelly Murnion, bull riding; Koby Bignell, steer wrestling; Kevin Peterson, tie-down roping; Shawn Bird, team roping header; Zachary Schweigert, team roping header; Alexis McDonald, barrel racing.
Both year-end all-around champions – Celie Salmond of Choteau and Murnion of Jordan – have deep family roots in the NWRA and NRA.
Salmond swept the all-around cowgirl and breakaway roping championships for a third straight year. She is only the third woman in the history of the NWRA to win three or more consecutive all-around cowgirl titles. The last, her mother Mary (1987-90). The record is five by Lisa Scheffer (1982-86).
Salmond also became the first in NWRA history to win three straight breakaway roping year-end titles since the event was sanctioned in 1976.
Her 2023 earnings of $17,846 is a single-season record, the most won by male or female in the long history of the organization. Salmond also finished second in the barrel racing standings and won money in team roping during the summer with her father Mark.
Molly Salmond of Choteau was second in the all-around cowgirl standings with $11,153, the third most among the competitors. It is the second straight year Celie and Molly Salmond finished 1-2 in the all-around cowgirl standings.
Murnion placed first, second and second in the three rounds to jump from third to first in bull riding. It also allowed him to jump from third to first in the all-around cowboy standings.
Murnion earned $11,757, second most of all competitors despite missing some of the summer with a collarbone injury. He also won money in bareback riding and tie-down roping.
Murnion joins his father Colin as an NRA all-around and bull riding champion (1985). Colin Murnion also won a bareback title in 1983.
With big money available, every year-end championship was up for grabs.
Kolby Bignell of Helena placed in every round to jump from fourth to first in the steer wrestling standings, while Dillon’s Kevin Peterson moved from third to first for tie-down roping. Peterson, the 2014 all-around champion, placed in two rounds and won the average.
Hunter Haskins of Superior and Gardiner’s Alexis McDonald each jumped up one spot for their first titles.
Haskins won the saddle bronc crown by placing in two rounds and second in the average. He won the buckle by just $117.10 over Parker Mothershead of Joliet.
McDonald joined her older sister Shai at the barrel racing champion’s table. The younger McDonald swept to victories the first two rounds and survived a bumped barrel in the third for the championship. Shai McDonald won three straight (2017-2019).
Team ropers Shawn Bird of Cut Bank and Livingston’s Zachary Schweigert took over the standings leads the final week of the regular season. The hot roping pair stayed there, stretching their lead by placing second in the second round and winning the third round and the average.
Jordan Larson of Charlo dominated in August and kept rolling to the bareback title. He placed in all three rounds and tied for second in the average at the Finals.
Bareback: Larson, $8,801; Ty Owens, $6,003; Dalton May, $5,622.
Saddle bronc: Haskins, $10,451; Mothershead, $10,334; Wyatt Hotz, $6,704.
Bull riding: Murnion, $9,925; Gavin Knutson, $9,273; Devyn Hundley, $7,076.
Steer wrestling: Bignell, $6,505; Austin Whitehouse, $6,121; Ben Ayre $5,370.
Tie-down roping: Peterson, $7,070; Jack McAllister, $6,849; Clint Craig, $6,283.
Team roping headers: Bird, $9,534; Ian Austiguy, $6,964; Chad Turner, $5,122.
Team roping heelers: Schweigert, $9,534; Sam Levine, $6,964; Gavin Beattie, $5,122.
Barrel racing: McDonald, $8,621; Celie Salmond, $7,900; Gayleen Malone, $6,898.
Breakaway roping: Celie Salmond, $8,757; Charley Yeager, $7,349; Haven Wolstein, $6,595.
All-around cowboy: Murnion, $11,757; Mothershead, $10,509; Mitch Dettonm $9,048.
All-around cowgirl: Celie Salmond, $17,846; Molly Salmond, $11,153; Payton Levine, $7,963.
Junior barrel racing: Tye Brown, $3,192; Sophia Neill, $2,873; Bailey Billingsley, $2,594.
Junior breakaway roping: Shaylee Broere, 1,852; Steely Stubblefield, $1,850; Dylan Burger, 1,848.
Junior all-around: Billingsley, $4,203; Brown, $3,322; Broere, $2,405.
Finals average winners: Bareback, Owens, 240.5. Saddle bronc, Hotz, 205.5. Bull riding, Murnion, 252; Knutson, 252. Steer wrestling, Whitehouse, 12.0. Tie-down roping, Peterson, 36.2. Team roping, Bird- Schweigert, 112.1. Barrel racing, Brittney Sporer, 45.10. Breakaway roping: Charley Yeager, 105.2.
Top rookies: Bareback, Leighton LaFromboise. Saddle bronc, Levi Hurst. Bull riding, Wacey Schalla. Steer wrestling: Jaxsen Petersen. Tie-down roping, Cass Cairns. Team roping, Kyler Erickson. Barrel racing, Raegen Taylor. Breakaway roping, Tavy Leno.
Bucking stock of the year: Bareback, Dirty Dancer, Big Circle Rodeo. Saddle bronc, Cocoa Puff, Red Eye Rodeo. Bull, Tag Along, Jacobs Livestock Rodeo.
Rough stock of the Finals: Bareback, Melrose, Big Circle Rodeo. Saddle bronc, Impossible Dreams, Red Eye Rodeo. Bull, Loaded Dice, Big Circle Rodeo.
Bill Parker Timed Event Horses of the year: Tie-down roping, Joy, Mitch Detton. Team roping heading, Bucking Nightmare, Shawn Bird. Team roping heeling, Java Zachary Schweigert. Steer wrestling, Rockstar Logan Beattie. Barrel racing, Rosie, Alexis McDonald. Breakaway roping, Hotshot, Celie Salmond. Junior barrel racing, Mia Special Lynx, Tye Brown. Junior breakaway roping, Rio, Bailey Billingsley.