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Lisa Lockhart’s NFR streak ‘very much a blessing’

When you qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 13 consecutive times, it’s understandable that it might be difficult to keep track of what happened, and when. Especially since, throughout those 13 years, you’ve helped raised three children around the often hectic pace of rodeo.

Such is the case of barrel racer Lisa Lockhart.

“It just kind of runs together. You go out there and get the job done,” Lockhart said. “I can’t even remember how old I am half the time. I remember my kids’ ages more than mine.”

And those would be?

“Twenty-one, 18 and 16,” Lockhart, 54, said, without missing a beat.

It’s a little harder to accurately pinpoint all of Lockhart’s rodeo success, plentiful as it is. In 2014 and 2015, she finished second in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world standings. She won the prestigious Wrangler NFR average twice, propelling that second-place world finish in 2014 and a third-place world finish in 2016.

In 2018, Lockhart finished 11th in the world, with season earnings of $170,746. Heading into the 2019 Wrangler NFR, Lockhart was already approaching that total, at third in the world with $146,352. A single go-round win over these 10 days at the Thomas &Mack Center would shoot her past her 2018 earnings.

She almost got that in Thursday’s first go-round, taking second with a 13.70-second effort to pocket $20,731. Add to that the $10,000 bonus each Wrangler NFR contestant receives, and Lockhart now stands at $177,082 for the season – atop the world standings for the moment.

Not that she’s thinking a lot about it. Or even about getting that first world championship.

“I’ve been fortunate to be a frequent visitor to Las Vegas. It’s very much a blessing,” Lockhart said, before alluding to the elusive gold buckle. “It’s probably not the typical answer, but I love what I do. I love my job. Being able to make it to the NFR, from a business perspective and the accolades that go with it, I’m just trying to do my job daily.

“Winning the world title is an endeavor all its own.”

And succeeding at that endeavor might require less time with family – something she’s not willing to compromise. Lockhart raced in 47 qualifying rodeos in the 2019 season, second-fewest among the 15 Wrangler NFR qualifiers. In fact, 10 of 15 qualifiers had at least 55 runs, and eight of those hit 64 or more rodeos.

“I have a family. I chose not to rodeo that hard,” Lockhart said. “To me, in order to achieve a world title, unless I’m fortunate to win a lot of bigger rodeos, it comes down to what happens in Las Vegas. It’s not necessarily been a goal of mine to win. The goal is to make it to the NFR, not necessarily win the gold buckle.”

So once again, that goal was achieved. Lockhart is nothing if not consistent, and she had some big wins along the way this year. In March, she topped the field at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida, a victory that helped her qualify for the Calgary Stampede over the summer. But first, in keeping with her emphasis on family, she took her annual two-months-plus spring break to recharge and focus on life at home in Oelrichs, South Dakota.

Then Lockhart went to Calgary in July and won the Stampede, alternating between longtime top horse Louie and steady backup Rosa. But she’s also got an up-and-comer in young horse Cutter. All three were key to a stellar season, putting her in tremendous position for the NFR. That’s created a dilemma as to what the rotation will be throughout this 10-day rodeo — a good problem to have.

“Honestly, my plan, which is not chiseled in stone, is to start out on Cutter. But plans can change anytime,” she said.

Regardless, Lockhart is just aiming for the kind of consistency that led to those NFR average victories in 2014 and 2016. A 10-day run that mirrors those could lead to another big payout; the top eight in the average get a check, including a hefty $67,269 for first place. But as Lockhart can attest, getting that average money — whether first or eighth — is no easy chore.

“It is hard. Sometimes the average is won or lost with a tipped barrel (a 5-second penalty), because it’s so hard to do 10 times,” Lockhart said. “The repetitive runs, it’s mentally and physically taxing. It’s a huge accomplishment, more so than at any other rodeo. No place has 10 rounds – there are two, three, four, but never 10.”

Louie certainly knows the drill, having made 83 runs at the Thomas &Mack since 2010. “All the credit goes to him. I was just along for the ride,” Lockhart said with a laugh. Cutter and Rosa could gain a lot more experience over these 10 days. And who knows, maybe a gold buckle could come Lockhart’s way.

“I’m determined to have more than just some success,” she said, before trotting out just a little more of her trademark humility. “It’d be nice to finish near the top, but even if I finish 15th, I’m OK with that. I’ve had a fabulous career, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade my family time for anything either.”

Lockhart has maintained that balance well, so don’t be surprised if these 10 days go equally well for her — and that 12 months from now, she’s back for a 14th straight year.

“Leaving Las Vegas after that first year, I told my husband Grady, ‘I want to come back,’” Lockhart recalled. “The NFR just lights a fire in you.”

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