Kyle Lockett: Comeback Kid at 41

I’ve known Kyle Lockett since the day he was born. My fondest early day memories are of him sitting on the wood boards at the bottom of the dark green contestants’ family bleachers at Salinas as a toddler with his big brothers, Blaine and Brent, and running wild everywhere—swinging a rope at all times. Then there were the Wade Wheatley years of his youth, that started with winning their first saddles together in the Northern California Junior Rodeo Association when Kyle was 10 and Wade 11, and ended with their last Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2005. I remember clear as a bell Kyle carrying his and Leigh’s brand-new, first-born baby, Shayla, around at Salinas in 2006, and him packing off the all-around prizes in the other arm at rodeo’s end. When my sons were boys, Kyle was amazing with them, too, and even invited them to come to Visalia to rope with him when they were kids. This gentle giant has a huge heart for all kids. I watched Kyle pull up from the full-time rodeo road in his prime to be Mr. Mom while his labor-and-delivery-nurse wife, Leigh, went to work every day. Riding young horses, roping, changing diapers and fixing bottles were all in a day’s work for Kyle, and he multi-tasked with the greatest of ease. Family first for this guy. Always. Fast forward to the Lockett family fairytale of 2019. It couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy. Here’s how it went—and what’s coming next—in his words…

— Kendra Santos

In the Beginning

I grew up on a ranch in Ballico, California, which is just outside of Oakdale, where my dad (Jim) took care of stockers. I was always outside with my dad and helping him on the ranch. I have two older brothers (Blaine is 5 years older, and fellow NFR heeler Brent is 4 years older than Kyle) who roped and rodeoed, so I kind of fell in their footsteps. I always liked the cowboying as much as the rodeoing. That’s what we grew up doing, and I just like the whole lifestyle. I knew I was going to rodeo, and dreamed of making the Finals. That’s what we did.

Kyle Lockett and Wade Wheatley have been buddies since they were babies.

The Wheatleys (NFR header Jim and his wife, Terry) have always been close family friends. My mom (Sharyn) babysat Wade when he was a baby, and Wade and I went to preschool together. So naturally, that’s who I was going to rope with growing up. Wade was a year older than me, and he went to college. I went straight to rodeoing out of high school, so I rodeoed my rookie year with Walt Rodman (Kyle was the 1997 Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year, and roped with Walt at his first Finals that year).

From there, I roped with Jason Stewart at the 1998 NFR, then Wade from 2000-02 (Wade and Kyle were the reserve world champs behind Speed Williams and Rich Skelton in ’02). I heeled for Tee Woolman at the 2003 NFR, then roped with Wade again at my seventh—and last, I thought—Finals in 2005.

Mr. Mom

I pretty much quit rodeoing full time in the summer of 2006. We were having a baby (Shayla was born July 12) and getting married that fall. I’d rodeoed for 10 years, and was kind of tired of it. It wasn’t as fun as it had been. A lot of guys were frustrated at that time and wanted to quit, but a lot of people couldn’t quit, because they didn’t do anything else. It seems like we had a meeting after every slack about something. Rodeoing just wasn’t how we all dreamed it would be as kids.

The Lockett family, left to right, includes Georgia, Shayla, Leigh, Kyle, Sutton and Blevins.

I’ve always started colts, trained horses and worked at several different ranches around here. I had a stud and some mares. And I’ve always liked kids, and didn’t want to be gone when mine were growing up. I used to say that I might wait ’til my youngest was 15 or 16 and then go try it again. But the plan was to stay home the whole time the kids were little, and just circuit rodeo.

March Madness 2019

Shayla’s going to be 13 next month, Georgia’s 11, Sutton’s 8 and Blevins is 6. We circuit rodeo in a motorhome now, and I wasn’t planning to leave the circuit, except for Reno and Pendleton. Aaron (Tsinigine) called, and he didn’t have a partner for Fort Worth and San Angelo. I told him I didn’t want to go. Then he called me back and said, “Hey, we can go to both of them on Friday, then San Angelo Saturday and Sunday.” So I could fly to Fort Worth on Friday, and fly home Sunday. So I said, “Fine. No big deal. Perfect. I’ll go.” And I rode Rich Skelton’s buckskin horse.

We didn’t do any good at Fort Worth. We went to San Angelo and made the short go, so I flew home, then back on Saturday. Aaron was like, “Hey, if we win this, you get to go to Houston.” I thought, “That’s sweet.” I got to go to Houston last year. It was the first time I’d been there in a long time, my wife went and it was a blast. They take great care of you. There are concerts. It’s just a great rodeo. It was a lot of fun, and we were kind of bummed that I didn’t get to go this year.

Then here was my chance at San Angelo. We were coming back second call back. And the short go really wasn’t that tough. I don’t pay attention real good, but right before we rope, Aaron says, “Hey, we’ve only got to be 7.2 for you to get to go to Houston.” Even if the high team back, Clay Smith and Jake Long, won it, they were already qualified. So then they’d take me.

San Angelo is not a very big arena, so it’s almost easier to be 5 flat than 7 flat. I asked Aaron which he was going to try to be, and he said, “Let’s just go be under 7.” Our steer was a little left, then back to the right. Aaron caught him and I caught him. We were 5.1. Then Clay Smith broke the barrier, so we wound up winning it.

Kyle and Aaron Tsinigine’s win at San Angelo ignited Kyle’s 2019 winning-rampage firestorm and put the fairytale in motion.

Aaron was already into Houston from last year’s standings, and was entered with Walt Woodard. So they dropped down on the heading side, and took Ty Blasingame. That’s how Ty and I ended up roping together at Houston. We’d never run a steer together before. Houston has a long box, so it’s not really that long of a score. And every steer there is a one-header. It’s a perfect set-up for Blaster, and he did a great job. We won it on our last steer, but we caught six of them clean to get there.

We’d run that same steer in the third round. He was straight and he was good. Then he kind of got shoved left in the semifinals, and wanted to stop with Shay Carroll. He was a little bit over there to the left in the finals, but I knew what was happening. He was just a little farther away than a guy would have liked, but I was OK with it. I think because I’m bigger and have a lot of range it’s not that big a deal. I’ve always done better with cattle out there a little farther in front of me, because I can see ’em.

Where I threw from was definitely not an ideal position, but I knew where the steer was going, and I had enough loop and arm to get it there. So I really wasn’t worried about it. I think it looked a lot worse and more scary on TV than it actually felt from where I was in live action.

Ty Blasingame and Kyle Lockett hit the ground running in 2019 with the win at RODEOHOUSTON.

I’m still not wrapped around making the Finals so early, but in March I had $75,000 won, and it’s been one thing after another. I got to go to the (Ram National) Circuit Finals in Florida the week after Houston, and me and Blake Hirdes won a go-round for another $6,200. It sucks that that doesn’t count next year. I can’t believe none of the circuit stuff counts next year. That’s a bummer. I probably won’t go back to Florida, if it doesn’t count.

Where I’m at right now is crazy. I’m sure everyone’s saying, “Man, that lucky guy. He doesn’t have to go anywhere and he’s got the National Finals made.” And it’s true. I told people before this year, “Hey, a guy needs to go to The American. And a guy needs to try to go to Houston. Because one person’s going to make the Finals off of both of them.” Somebody was going to do it. I was probably not one of the top choices to get it done. But it was going to happen to somebody, and sure enough, it happened to be me.

And it doesn’t end in December. I get to go to San Antonio next year. I get to go to my circuit rodeo at San Juan Capistrano, where they only take the top 30 in the world, which is an awesome rodeo. I’ll get to go to Houston for the next three years, no matter what. Who’s to say it can’t happen again? It probably won’t, but you never know.

I’m extremely lucky. I look at all my buddies who are out there grinding it. I’ve been there. After the winter, it’s hard to go win $15,000 at a rodeo. Those guys have to go all out all year to try to qualify for the Finals. And here I am. I’m going to stay close to home, and see them there in Vegas.

I was gone six weeks this winter, and that’s only possible because my parents live three miles down the road, and Leigh’s parents (Cliff and Lynn Garrison) live on the same property. Two kids are over here, and two kids are over there. Leigh’s working part time as a nurse now, but there’s a lot that goes into me being gone even for a week, as far as who’s going to feed the horses and steers. The kids are old enough to take care of the chores now, but you still have to have somebody watching them. I wouldn’t be able to do this without a good circle of people and a good cheering section.

Kyle plans to rope with Lane Karney—like he did at Oakdale—at the circuit rodeos this year.

Taking it from Here

I’m planning to go to the circuit rodeos, Reno, the BFI and Pendleton. The only two times I plan to go out of state are for Reno and Pendleton. I’m going to cruise around in the motorhome with my family to places like Santa Barbara, Tehachapi and Ventura, and rope with Lane Karney at the circuit rodeos. Everybody says I have enough to make the Finals now, but I’m still just going to go to the rodeos I usually enter. If fall comes and it looks like I have to, I may leave a tick earlier and head up to the Northwest for Ellensburg and a few of those. We’ll see on that when the time comes.

It’s crazy that in December I’m going to get to go back over there to Las Vegas. Last time I roped there, the rounds paid $14,000. Now they pay $26,000. It’s very exciting. The kids are as excited as I am about getting to go to the Finals. They’re old enough to get what it means. I’ve gone over there the last couple years to go to the open roping outside the South Point. But I don’t think I’ve went and watched a perf since the last time I roped there. Hopefully, they still have it in the same place and I know how to get there.

I’m 41. I’ll be 42 by the time the Finals rolls around. People ask if this year surprises me. It surprises me the way it all went down. It doesn’t surprise me that I could do it. I knew I could do it. But it’s still crazy. This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal. I stayed at Ryan Motes’s house for a couple weeks this winter, and Motesy goes and wins the American (with Coleman Proctor). A week and a half later, I go win Houston. So here we are two guys who don’t mind staying home, we win a ton of money at a rodeo or two, and now we get to go to the National Finals.

What’s happened this year is life changing. I get to go to Vegas and have a chance to win $100,000. Or $160,000. Maybe even a gold buckle. Some guys are saying that now’s my perfect chance to go rodeo hard and try to win the world. I’m just going to show up in the Top 15 and still try to win the world. It’s not like I’m going to do this until I get a gold buckle. I’m not that guy. I’m never going to lose sleep over gold buckles.

Kyle heeled for Wade at their last NFR in 2005

I drove home 27 straight hours from Houston and never stopped. It’s pretty easy to drive that far after a big win, because you’re pretty pumped up. We have a lot of friends who haven’t been back to watch the National Finals since the last time I went, but by God, they’re getting tickets and going again. That’s pretty cool. To me, that’s the good stuff.

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