Kyle Lockett’s lived a lot of life since his last trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2005. He’s older—Kyle turned 42 last Saturday—and wiser, too. Meat’s a husband and father of four who’s done a lot of diaper duty as Mr. Mom, along with whatever it took to make ends meet and make it work for his young family. So if you think you’re going to rattle him riding into his eighth NFR, well, good luck with that. In fact, while the rest of this year’s NFR field has been on full-court-press Thomas & Mack practice mode for at least a month now, Lockett and Erich Rogers are feeling locked and loaded for Las Vegas after spending just two days together.
“We probably ran about 30-40 head, and it went like clockwork,” Kyle said after day one of their two-days-and-done NFR practice sessions earlier this week. “I told him before I showed up that I didn’t want to run a ton of steers. My arm and shoulder hurt when I rope too many, just because I’m getting a little older. I’m more of a quality guy than quantity now. Back in the day, we ran 100 a day. Not anymore.”
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They practiced at Rogers’ place in Arizona Monday and Tuesday before Wednesday’s rains came, they called it good and Kyle headed back to California.
“The very first year I rodeoed (Kyle was the 1997 Resistol Heeling Rookie of the Year), me and Walt (Rodman, Kyle’s header at his first Finals that year) and Bobby Hurley and Cody Cowden were buddied, and we came over here to Toltec on the next road over from where Erich lives now in Eloy to practice for the Finals. When I was driving here it was like déjà vu, because I’ve been here before, and for the same reason.”
After their first day ever of roping together on Monday, Kyle and Erich spent the evening in Rogers’ living room watching Finals footage from last year, when Erich roped with Clint Summers at his eighth-straight NFR.
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“I’m watching his runs from last year to see what I’ve got to look forward to this year,” Kyle said. “He rode the same horse (Rogers’ dun, Boogie Man) last year that he’s riding this year, so it’s a pretty true preview. If you watch him rope there for the last eight years, you’ll notice he does the same thing every time. Erich’s not a come-over-the-chute gunslinger. He sits down and rides. When things stay straight and you can finish strong in the middle of the arena, it works great.”
Kyle—who celebrates the same November 16 birthday as Cowboy King Trevor Brazile, but is one year younger than the gold-buckle bandit who tonight and tomorrow takes his shot at a 25 world championship at the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane, Kansas—is content with the two days of NFR pre-game.
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“It went exactly how I’d planned,” said Lockett, who laughs about why they’ve never roped together before—“I’ve tried to be Erich’s second partner, but was too far down the line. They don’t have go-six-times ropings, or I’d have had a shot.” “Roping together was exactly what I knew it was going to be. I had a really good idea of what Erich was going to do, and he did it on every steer today. It was one-two stick and handle. Our runs were all like 4.2, 4.3, 4.5 and 5 flat at the worst on the stronger steers. This first day of practice was exactly what I thought it was going to be when I was thinking about it last week in bed. It was easy.”
Lockett will ride the roached-mane sorrel horse, Stinky, that he’s ridden all year. Stinky is “14 going on 6,” according to Kyle. Rogers’ Boogie Man is 12 now, and Erich knows he’ll be good in that building, because, “he was awesome there last year.” It’s been awhile since his heeler’s done work at the Thomas & Mack, but Rogers is just as confident in that component of his NFR Team 2019.
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“He hasn’t been there in a long time, but Kyle’s a veteran and he knows what it takes to win there,” Erich said. “He dang sure can handle his rope, and he helps me finish the run. When Kyle heels one, there’s a little pull-back to help me get around and face fast. I’ve been so lucky getting to rope with Cory (Rogers won the world with Cory Petska in 2017) and Clint and Kyle these last few years. Partners like them make it pretty fun.
“Kyle and I had never roped before this week, but from the first steers we roped today (day one on Monday) on our good horses, our timing was phenomenal. There was no miscommunication and no out-of-whack. We both had a game plan, and it all went according to plan. Our run feels good, and we can make it 10-20-30-40 times in a row. We can make our run every night out there (at the NFR).”
The battery in Rogers’ water truck went dead that day, so they ran to town for a new one after they roped. Before returning to Rogers’, Lockett detoured the truck to the grocery store to pick up some sausage, chicken and ribs for dinner. Kyle’s a world-famous grill-master at cowboy camps coast to coast.
“I paid pretty close attention when Kyle was cooking,” Rogers said later that evening over an ice cream sundae. “A guy can learn a lot more than just about being handy in the arena from him.”
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Kyle and Leigh Lockett have rented a house in Vegas, so their family of six can spread out and even do a little cooking during the Finals.
“I’m just excited to get to go back,” Kyle said. “Who’d have thought? I’m a retired circuit heeler. But the stars lined up, and everything worked out. I’m excited that my family gets to go this time. I have four kids (Shayla, Georgia, Sutton and Blevins) who get to go and are old enough to know what it’s all about. They might be even more excited than me. Sutton’s been showing his (third-grade) class some of my runs. Now all his classmates know why he won’t be in school those two weeks.
“I’m not supposed to be back there, but it was just a fairytale season. I’m super excited—crazy stoked. Erich and I have a plan to just go make our run and do what we do. We do that, and we’ll cruise through it and call it good. Our run 10 times in a row. We’re going to go try to win the average and win the world title. This is as tough a field as there’s been in a long time. I think it’s going to be dirty tough and hard to win. But we have a game plan. Nobody’s going to notice we’re there until about halfway through the week. We’re going to go take our seconds, thirds and fourths, and see what it all comes down to in Round 10.”