BY BRETT HOFFMAN
Special to the Star-Telegram
Jess Lockwood exudes confidence.
A year ago, he won the Professional Bull Riders’ tour stop in Billings, Mont., as an 18-year-old high school senior. Billings is about three hours west of Lockwood’s home in Volborg, Mont. Volborg is a very small post-office spot on the road in remote ranching country that sits about 40 miles south of Miles City, a famous stop for the legendary late-1800s cattle drives of the Old West.
Looking back, Lockwood said he wasn’t intimidated when he was in Billings to compete on pro bull riding’s marquee tour.
“You expect yourself to win each weekend,” Lockwood said. “There’s no use in showing up if you don’t plan on winning.”
This weekend, Lockwood is planning on finishing in the money at two big-time Western riding sports shows at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium: the PBR’s Iron Cowboy VIII and the fourth annual RFD-TVs The American.
The Iron Cowboy is scheduled for Saturday (5:50 p.m.) and it’s part of the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series, which is the association’s top-tier tour. The Arlington show is among four major tour stops on the Ford Series during the regular season. The PBR’s majors are the bull-riding equivalent of pro golf’s Masters or the U.S. Open.
The major shows are in New York (traditionally held in January), Arlington (February), Las Vegas (May) and Nashville (August). They offer way more world title race points and prize money to competitors than the other tour stops. Last year, veteran bull rider Shane Proctor won the Iron Cowboy title and earned $115,625.
The major Ford Series shows such as the Iron Cowboy help riders qualify for the PBR’s Nov. 1-5 World Finals at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
Lockwood will enter the PBR’s Iron Cowboy and The American as the world’s No. 1 ranked bull rider. He won the PBR’s season opener at New York’s Madison Square Garden in January. He also clinched the title at a recent Ford Series tour stop in Sacramento.
After a fast start this season, Lockwood has earned 1,678 world title race points on the PBR circuit. Brazilian Rubens Barbosa is second in the world standings with 1,293.
“I have the lead going into this big event,” Lockwood said of the Iron Cowboy. “Now, it’s time to capitalize and further my ground.”
The Iron Cowboy will be held in conjunction with RFD-TV’s The American, which is scheduled for Sunday at AT&T Stadium. The American, which features all of pro rodeo’s standard events such as tie-down roping and barrel racing, offers its field of credentialed competitors $2 million, a record payout for a single performance rodeo. Most in The American’s bull-riding field are PBR stars such as Lockwood.
Lockwood was raised on a 12,000-acre ranch where his family runs about 400 head of cattle. In addition to earning his livelihood in bull riding, he also plans be a rancher.
Rodeo always has been a big part of Lockwood’s life. His father, Ed, rode bulls in high school and was a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association saddle bronc rider. His mother, Angie, was a prize-winning barrel racer. His aunt is Lisa Lockhart, a former champion at The American and a former qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Lockwood began by riding sheep and calves when he was 4 years old and came up through the junior ranks. He moved up to the bulls at 13. He won three state high school rodeo titles.
Ed Lockwood said he’s not surprised that his son is faring so well as a young pro bull rider.
“I know the effort he’s put out to get where he’s at now,” Ed Lockwood said. “This has been going on since he was 3 or 4 years old. Since then, he’s been thinking about it and talking about it. He wins because he works out, he thinks about it and he’s focused. He puts a lot of time into it and you get out of it what you put into it.”
Last year, Lockwood joined the PBR after turning 18, which is the minimal age to compete in the world’s toughest league for bull riding. He is being tutored by longtime PBR livestock director Cody Lambert, who was a world-class bull rider in the 1980s and 1990s. Lockwood lives on Lambert’s property near Bowie.
“Jess still has a lot to learn, but he’s adjusted so fast,” Lambert said. “He’s really talented, but he’s stepping up to the highest level of bull riding. So, we’ve told him: ‘Don’t expect it to be easy or to be guaranteed. You’ve got to make it happen.’ When we tell him that kind of stuff, he listens really well.”
Lockwood said the PBR circuit is a bigger challenge.
“It’s a whole different level when you’re on the Built Ford Tough Series,” Lockwood said. “Every time you nod your head, you’re getting on one of the best bulls in the entire world. It’s a step up and a different kind of level of bull riding.
“The bulls are 10 times faster and they kick harder. They just buck harder all of the way around.”