SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Jess Lockwood still remembers stepping foot on PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert’s ranch in Bowie, Texas, on his way home from the Kalispell, Montana, Touring Pro Division event in February.
The 18-year-old BlueDEF Tour prospect got to talking with Lambert and two-time World Champion Justin McBride, a frequent visitor at Lambert’s, about his championship-round ride attempt on Dakota Storm.
Lockwood’s mind was going a mile a minute thinking about he would even respond to two PBR legends once they finished watching the film of his attempt.
Lockwood had only been living at Lambert’s ranch for a few weeks at that point, but he already knew what to expect when he returned following a weekend where he didn’t give his best.
“It helps being around guys like that, Justin and Cody,” Lockwood said on Wednesday while packing for his first career Built Ford Tough Series event. “It makes you want to ride bulls a lot more because you know if you fall off you are going to come home and get your ass chewed.”
Lockwood knew after Kalispell, where he went 3-for-4, that he still had to be better if he wanted to make it to the Built Ford Tough Series.
Lockwood chuckles thinking back to the moment, especially considering the bull who bested him in Montana is the very same he’ll draw in Round 1 in Sioux Falls.
“It is kind of funny,” he said. “It is the first bull I drew here at Sioux Falls – Dakota Storm. I had him up at Kalispell and I had double entered that night. I rode both of my long-round bulls and I rode my short-round bull and I had this bull next. No excuse, I was kind of tired, but he just went there to the left and I was riding him good and I just kind of got lazy and bucked off. He kind of got me leaned back and threw me off. Cody was like, ‘What the hell was that for? You were riding him easy.’”
Lockwood then added, “I really, really try hard not to fall off when I am down here. Just like any other time, but it scares you a little more down here.”
It’s not exactly fear though.
It is more avoiding disappointing the PBR founder who opened his doors to the aspiring World Champion from Volborg, Montana. A mutual connection had earlier approached Lockwood with the idea of heading south to Texas to learn from Lambert, as well as McBride, after a particularly tough January (0-for-6) for the young rider.
Lambert is quick to point out that he hasn’t had to teach Lockwood how to ride bulls. Lockwood, a Montana High School State Bull Riding Champion, already has a resume to prove that. He also has the lineage. Lockwood’s dad, Ed, was a professional bronc rider in the PRCA and won the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Championship in 1992.
“We haven’t taught him anything really about riding,” Lambert said. “We have just been trying to lean him to the right frame of mind to be out there for a tougher challenge than he has ever faced before. To have him understand it is all about riding. There are going to be all kinds of distractions. There will be. Everything is brighter and just not to let it get to him.”
Lambert wanted to help Lockwood prepare himself for the mental grind of the Built Ford Tough Series. If Lockwood was serious about being a PBR bull rider, then Lambert wanted to help instill Lockwood with the mental fortitude needed to succeed on the BFTS.
Lockwood is far from the first teenager on the BFTS, but very few ever evolved into superstars. Some have good careers, others quickly wash out of the PBR.
A select few became champions.
It was one of the first conversations Lockwood remembers having with Lambert and McBride.
“Really the only thing they teach me is how to win,” Lockwood said. “They give me some motivational speeches every day. They told me the only 18-year-olds that have been on the Built Ford Tough that got on as young as I have, the only ones that did good getting on have been the ones that are cowboys and just tough. If they weren’t tough, they didn’t make it. The guys like Justin McBride, Ross Coleman and J.B. (Mauney) were tough. You see how they ended up. They just told me you have to be tough.”
Lambert, while also mentioning the “very good” careers of L.J. Jenkins and Luke Snyder, added three other riders to the list of talented 18-year-olds that were generational superstars.
“The ones that you saw the first time you saw them and you knew that guy was going to be a World Champion was Chris Shivers, Justin McBride, Mike Lee, J.B. Mauney – Ross Coleman had a really good long career. Those five guys there, and you have to add J.W Hart in there, had a real cowboy toughness. They made no excuses.”
All of those riders competed during an era where excuses were hard to find in the locker room. There were no pats on the back for a buckoff either.
Lambert knows that has changed over the years. There are more distractions than ever before as the sport has grown in scope and popularity, society has changed too.
“I am pretty harsh when I talk about it because I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” Lambert added. “I put it like this. Every time you buck off a bull, there are at least 10 losers on the back of the chute that want to tell you it is not your fault. ‘That bull cheap-shot you. He wasn’t that good.’ They try to give you an excuse for not riding him. That makes them feel better about themselves because that is the kind of effort they put out.
“The thing we tried to instill into Jess is to not fall into that, and hold himself accountable. Expect to ride every single bull he gets on and hold himself accountable when he doesn’t.”
It’s a message that is repeated to Lockwood frequently, though, life at Lambert’s has been far from a PBR bull riding boot camp. In reality, Lockwood’s daily routine is not much different than back on his family’s ranch.
A typical day sees Lockwood wake up between 8 and 9 a.m. for his morning workouts, which sometimes includes a hot yoga session. After, he returns to Lambert’s ranch to assist with various tasks.
It’s your typical ranch work; feeding the calves and cows, cleaning the horse shed and working on any other thing Lambert needs help with on the grounds.
Once the chores are completed, Lockwood usually joins Lambert, and sometimes McBride and Lambert’s son, Riley, for an afternoon team roping session. Lockwood and Cody are headers, while McBride and Riley normally heel.
It is in those moments where Lockwood learned the most about life on the BFTS and the toughness evident in the PBR legends.
Life at Lambert’s has enveloped Lockwood in the PBR and bull riding culture. It has also sharpened Lockwood’s focus, which naturally extends to his riding.
Lockwood, who credits both Lambert and McBride for helping him learn to not lean forward so much in the chutes, used the advice to help him win the Wheeling, West Virginia, BlueDEF Tour event. The victory gave Lockwood the opportunity he had been striving for, the chance to debut on the BFTS in Sioux Falls.
He has not taken that chance lightly.
Over the Easter holiday, he picked up some more momentum by winning the Perkins, Oklahoma, Touring Pro Division event, as well as placing second at the Stephenville, Texas, TPD event.
He went 7-for-8 in March and rose from 47th in the world standings before Wheeling, all the way up to 28th entering Round 1 on Friday night. Lockwood is a combined 20-for-45 (44.44 percent) on the BlueDEF Tour and Touring Pro Division. He’s hoping that success can translate to the BFTS.
“It is all just a mind game in this PBR because all of these bulls are tough you are getting on,” Lockwood said. “If you start bucking off some and just let it get to you, it can get real bad. If you get one rode and let that carry on and carry on, it can be the greatest thing ever. Your mind can work against you or work with you. It is a big deal.”
Sioux Falls is roughly eight hours from his Volborg, Montana, hometown, and Lockwood expects to have close to 10 members of his friends and family in attendance. That includes his aunt, and professional barrel racer, Lisa Lockhart.
Of course Lockwood would like to make his family proud in his BFTS debut, but he’s also looking to make his mentors smile on Friday night.
“I got (Dakota Strong) in the first round here in Sioux Falls, so I will have to make up for that and show Cody I can ride him,” Lockwood said.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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