History isn’t the point. She doesn’t chase it. It’s about the here and now for Lisa Lockhart, about a moment in time, about whatever happens next.
The legendary barrel racer is competing in her 17th straight National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center. The winningest athlete in NFR history in her event, Lockhart has never focused on an end result.
“I never could have imagined making (17 straight),” the 58-year-old Lockhart said. “It’s not very attainable. Getting here isn’t easy. You work so hard to make it every year. You do your best and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. It’s just part of our everyday life.
“You never take it for granted. You just put your nose to the grindstone.”
The sport has matured into what is now the race — when horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around three preset barrels in the fastest time.
The turns are tight and precise.
It hasn’t always been the easiest of roads for Lockhart, who came down to the last few rodeos of qualifying for the NFR in recent years just to make the field. But she did. Kept the streak alive.
“It was a reality check,” she said. “But no backing down. You go the extra mile to get it done and make it happen. All the crazy things you want to accomplish, you come to appreciate all of it.”
Her results thus far through two go-rounds of this NFR: Lockhart finished seventh Friday before cashing with a third-place showing Saturday night.
She attended her first rodeo at age 6, but her family wasn’t educated on the sport. It didn’t stop her from falling in love with horses. Didn’t really know much about the NFR until she reached college age. She was a fast learner.
It’s what makes barrel racing so different from other events, this relationship between rider and horse. Some duos will be together for years, a sense of comfort that often leads to much success.
Lockhart, who lives in South Dakota, takes a pretty straightforward view of things: That this is a horse race, but a lot more goes into it than those watching might imagine.
That most credit goes to, as it’s called, the equine athlete. That the horse is the star. That they make or break the rider, who has a great appreciation for the uniqueness of it.
That it’s important to learn the most you can about it, trying to tap into a horse’s greatest skills. Its ability to turn, its desire to be consistent and become a team.
Lockhart enjoys joking about the good ol’ days of rodeo and how there weren’t the resources available 10 years ago that there are today. That opportunities were once incredibly limited. Now, the number of events allows for more earning potential. The money is much better. The sponsorships. Everything has changed for the positive.
She even credits the television show “Yellowstone” for improving the image of her and fellow NFR competitors.
“Hollywood has helped the whole concept,” she said. “All of a sudden, being a cowboy is pretty darn cool.”
Maybe her greatest strength is the impact she has had on younger riders, on the legacy she has written and continues to do so. On giving them someone to emulate, to follow.
“I was talking to Lisa about how she does this year after year, and she said, ‘I just do it,’” said barrel racer Sissy Winn, who won her first go-around at the NFR on Friday in just her second trip to the finals. “I remember watching her on my couch, and now competing with her is like, ‘Wow.’
“You don’t picture it as a young kid of 13 and 14. She’s phenomenal. She’s a legend. She’s sweet, she’s a competitor, she’s an icon for barrel racing.”
She’s about a moment in time, the here and now, whatever happens next.