VOLBORG – Reaching the Lockwood family ranch takes patience.
Its 50 miles south from Interstate 94 that cuts through Miles City to a gravel road just past the combination general store/post office for the small community of Volborg.
From there, it’s a twisty five miles, followed by a left for another mile on a road that connects a series of ranches in the wide-open eastern Montana landscape.
In this part of the country, neighbors and other family members are located, “Just over the hill.”
It’s 2½ miles in from the connecting road to reach to the family homestead and a series of buildings that go with ranching 10,000 acres. A herd of pronghorn antelope grazes off to the side of the road and cows watch over their young in a pasture closer to the house.
Cell phone service is more miss than hit.
And while getting there takes good directions, letting your oldest son leave home at the age of 17 is even tougher.
Ed and Angie Lockwood knew for a long time that day in the fall of 2015 was coming.
Angie still has the calendar and the day marked.
“Oh, I cried,” said Angie, the mother to sons Jess and Jake. “I was a little concerned. A lot of bull riders, they live to have their fun.”
Angie is the one who shares stories of when her sons were young, quickly going into rooms to find pictures and scrapbooks documenting their lives. Friendly and talkative, Angie Lockwood seamlessly weaves stories together, the pride in her boys wrapping every word. When not supporting her boys at their events or working around the ranch, the former Wolf Point teacher is a track and field coach for Powder River County High School in Broadus, 38 miles south of their home.
Ed, her husband, is the more reserved of the two, with a quick sense of humor.
The two have tried to tame the tiger of the public demand of their son Jess after he has become one of the best bull riders in the world in the past year.
“We told him to use his head. To make wise decisions,” Ed said of the day his son drove away to pursue his dream of becoming a professional bull rider. “When he walked out that door, he had that drive to succeed.”
Almost exactly a year ago, Lockwood’s star exploded across the Professional Bull Riders’ sky, winning the event in Billings. He would go on to earn PBR Rookie of the Year honors for 2016 and finish eighth in the final world standings.
Lockwood, now 19, has already won PBR events in New York City and Sacramento, California, this year. He has earned $171,873, almost matching his season earnings from 2016.
The teen’s success is no surprise to his parents.
They’ve seen this coming since he began climbing aboard his dad’s back in the living room, riding for eight seconds and asking, “How many was I?,” every time. The two wore out a lot of carpet.
And when father and son were done, Ed would interview the young cowboy, the television remote serving as the microphone.
Bull riding even dominated Jess’ art projects in school.
But mother and father were still cautious with the early stages of their son’s career.
“Fear,” Ed said of watching Jess ride, even now. “Concern. It’s always been there. Any time he gets on, you get nervous. I’ve seen things happen. I’ve lost friends.”
Ed and Angie are familiar with the whirlwind rodeo lifestyle.
Ed, a former Big Sky region champion bull rider, was a professional saddle bronc rider for 18 years. He was the year-end Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit champion in 1992 and was the MPRC Finals champion in 1994. He retired after Jake was born, even bypassing the 2000 MPRC Finals.
Angie, formerly Schillinger, was a long-time barrel racer out of Circle. She won the barrel racing in Williston, North Dakota, 10 days after Jess was born. Her barrel racing horse, now pushing 30, spends most of its time in a barn.
The two would take turns on child-watching duties at rodeos.
“When we rodeoed together, we would hand him off after the other was done,” Angie said.
Jess didn’t start riding bulls until eighth grade. Even then, Ed had a watchful eye.
“It was a junior high rodeo in Broadus,” he remembered. “Jess was the only one entered and the stock contractor brought two bulls. One bucked pretty good. I told the guy if Jess drew that bull, he wasn’t going to ride.”
“The contractor fixed it so Jess got the other one,” finished the father with a smile.
And Ed saw something else in his first-born.
“That was easy,” he said. “He rode bulls nobody else did. He just stayed on. This is what he wanted to do.”
Jess had his parents’ full support when he made the decision to stop wrestling in high school – he was the Class B-C 98-pound state champion as a freshman – to focus on bull riding. Jess would attend school Monday through Thursday and leave home every Friday to ride bulls.
Jess earned more than $60,000 his junior year of high school. He won Northern Rodeo Association year-end championships in 2014 and 2015 – before he was old enough to vote -- and competed in “Duel in the Dirt” events around the Midwest.
One of his best rides was 90 points on Badger Milk, one of the NRA’s top bulls, in Deer Lodge.
Jess was also a three-time Montana high school state champion and three times came within a ride of winning national high school titles.
He joined the PBR the day he turned 18 on Sept. 27, 2015. He also opted for online classes to complete his senior year of high school.
Jess first left home at 17, accompanying friends to the PRCA Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon. He left home for good Oct. 1.
“He was always focused. Always responsible,” Angie said.
His father had additional advice.
“Treat people how you want to be treated,” Ed told Jess. “And be good to your fans. You were one of those once.”
Jess set his goals of making the Built Ford Tough Series tour – the PBR’s highest level. He earned his first PBR check in Clovis, New Mexico, less than a month after he left home.
On back-to-back weekends in March, he won a Blue Def Velocity Tour event in Wheeling, West Virginia, followed by a Touring Pro Division win Perkins, Oklahoma. The following weekend, Jess made his BFTS debut in Sioux Falls and two weeks later won the PBR event in Billings.
And while Jess hurtles into adulthood, Angie sees glimpses of the past. She still sees the young boy who would drive his electric car up and down the path in front of the house, stopping occasionally to walk through the door and say, “Hey.”
“He always checked in,” Angie said. “And he does that even now when home.”
At New York City, where Jess was invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, Angie saw her son hanging on the bucking chutes by himself, like she had seen so many times at so many different places.
And her son waved at her and cousin Alyssa Lockhart, who had accompanied Angie.
“Just like when he was a little boy,” Angie said. “He was just checking in. He always wants to know where we’re sitting.”
The mother, son and cousin exchanged, “10, 15 waves,” Angie added. “We tried to do it discreetly so people around us didn’t think we were strange.”
Jess won the event for more than $100,000.
And while proud of their son’s bull riding skills, the parents are even prouder of something more important.
“We didn’t do anything special,” Ed said. “Jess has handled this himself. He did it on his own.
“Look at the opportunities he has gotten. It’s pretty special.”