It’s the most commonly used word to describe the work PBR co-founder Cody Lambert has done for the past 20-plus years as the organization’s livestock director.
“One thing I can say about Cody Lambert is he’s a man of his word,” said Chad Berger, who is a four-time Stock Contractor of Year. “He has a lot of integrity. Just because I have a lot of good bulls he doesn’t favor me over anybody else or anybody over me.”
Jeff Robinson agreed.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Jeff Robinson, Chad Berger or H.D. Page,” said Robinson, who, like Berger, is a four-time Stock Contractor of the year, “if they’re not better than John Doe’s, they’re not coming.”
Berger added, “If you have a great bull Cody Lambert’s going to take it if it’s whoever.”
“Cody has a different perspective,” said PBR statistician Slade Long, “and it’s always interesting, to me, to hear someone else’s perspective. He can usually spot a hole in a bull. He has an advantage over everyone else on the planet because he’s been watching all of them for years.”
Throughout his 20s and into his early 30s, Lambert never really paid more attention to bucking bulls than he did his fellow rough stock riders. He just has a good memory when it came to recalling specific outs and certain matchups.
However, upon forming the PBR, Lambert, 53, and Ted Nuce were among the elder statesmen and with that came an added sense of responsibility.
Lambert was in the twilight of his professional career.
“I got stuck with the role as the unofficial livestock director,” Lambert recalled. “It’s like there’s nobody there to coach the team, so one of the players becomes a player-coach. That’s how it felt to me.
“I got the bulls for several events – not all of them – but several of them and I would always set the short goes and things like that and then when we had our first World Finals at the MGM, I was given that job. That was a paying gig. I got all the bulls, lining up all the bulls, we had chutes on both ends, we had live television, figuring out how many on each side we could have and figuring out how we could make all of that work on a really low budget. And I was riding there too. I was coming off a broken leg and hadn’t been on a bull in nine months.”
In fact, prior to the first World Finals, Jerome Robinson’s arena crew was undermanned and Lambert was among the riders who pitched in and unpacked panels the night before the opening round.
They finished setting the arena within a few hours of the rider introductions.
Lambert’s leg wasn’t fully healed and, by this point, it was beginning to swell up on him, but everyone was pitching in however they could.
Lambert, who was not in contention for a title, had yet to have a chance to focus on his own matchup. Instead he then turned his attention back to making last minute adjustments to the bull pen for Round 1.
“I thought it was necessary,” Lambert said. “I didn’t think about whether I enjoyed it or didn’t enjoy it. It never crossed my mind. I did it and it just to where I did it more and more and everyone was counting on me and I wasn’t going to let them down.”
In 1996, he had torn up his knee.
His MCL had been gone for years. Back in June of that year, he tore the PCL and knew that he was not only facing surgery and long nine to 10 month recovery, but, at 34, the inevitable end of his professional career as a bull rider.
“It was the first year we had $1 million in prize money at the World Finals,” Lambert said, “so I wanted to ride in that big event one time. For some reason, I thought, I’m going to do this one time before I quit.
“I knew it was over,” he continued. “That was pretty much it for me and then Randy (Bernard) said, ‘Well, we need you to continue to get the bulls at all the Bud Lite Cup events.’ I said, ‘I’d be glad to do that, but I had to get paid because I’m not riding for a living anymore.’”
Prior to the start of the 1997 season, Lambert went from unofficially lending a helping hand to officially taking on the responsibility of being the livestock director.
It was a job.
More importantly, Lambert viewed it as a necessary role and he took the position seriously.
“I figured out a way to do it,” he said. “I only have one style of doing it and that’s what I stuck with.”
He added, “I didn’t have a lot to go on when I started doing it. Mainly the main thing I had in mind was don’t bring a bull there that they can’t score at least 80 points on because this is the highest level of competition. At that time, it was very, very hard to do. It was impossible really and now you get a re-ride if you have a bull that doesn’t give you a chance to score 80 points.”
The PBR was founded on the notion that fans were guaranteed to see the best riders in the world matched up against the rankest bulls in the world.
In the early years, Lambert drew a line in the sand and held true to the idea that at a bare minimum bulls needed to score at least 38 or 39 points to even be considered for an event.
These days the standard is more like 40 points.
“We’ve consistently demanded the best,” Lambert said. “We were trying to get the best in the beginning and then at some point as the PBR grew we could demand the best. We paid more and we were the only place that the best bulls can be challenged. And we still are. If you have a real legitimate bucker there’s really no place for him to go except the PBR.”
Long said, “He’s definitely given people an incentive to have better bulls.”
Over the past 23 seasons every aspect of the bucking bull industry has changed.
The best bulls in the world are still “freaks of nature,” but there are more of them than ever before.
While a bull like Bushwacker is still a once-in-a-lifetime bull for a contractor like Julio Moreno, there used to be only about 10 to 20 bulls ranked at the level just below him. According to Lambert, there are now a couple hundred.
He only has room to bring 120 bulls to the World Finals, but there are between 300-400 bulls good enough to compete there.
Unlike Lambert’s days of competing at rodeos, where the winner was more or less determined by the luck of the draw, today’s bull pens give any rider an opportunity to win any given round.
“The pool is much deeper,” Lambert said, “and the numbers are in our favor in a big way. They’re in the bull riders’ favor too and the bull riders need to understand that.
“Getting on a good one every night is not a bad thing. There was a time when you didn’t get on a good one every night. You rode a lot higher percentage and you didn’t get paid most of the time.”
“The whole business is better,” Robinson said. “The whole economics of the bull business is better since the PBR started. If you had Chicken on a Chain now you could name your price.”
Robinson actually turned down a $600,000 offer to buy Chicken—electing instead to keep the famous bull as an anchor to his breeding program and passing on a chance for a one-time payday 40 times what he paid for Chicken.
Robinson said Chicken was originally a $15,000 bull.
Robinson said when he got into the business it was a lot to ask someone to pay $10-20,000 for a bull and the best bull being hauled down the road was probably valued at $60,000. Nowadays he said a World Finals qualifier for one of the long rounds commands anywhere from $50-75,000.
Berger’s financial comparisons go back to a day and age when his father sold “great bulls at the NFR every year” for $5,000. In fact, in 1997, Little Yellow Jacket’s father sold for a mere $17,000.
“That was big time and he went on to be Bull of the Year in the PRCA,” Berger said. “That gives you an idea that some of the best bulls in the world, that’s all they would bring. Well, now the PBR comes along and a bull like him would bring $175,000 or $200,000, so that’s what the PBR did for the bull industry. They made bulls worth something. My dad was out there raising bulls in the 70s, 80s and 90s for nothing—just for the love of it.”
In recent years, Moreno turned down an offer of $700,000 and a rumored $1 million for Bushwacker.
As a result, bull breeding programs – “they started paying attention to the genetics” – are more financially stable than at any point in PBR history.
“I hope what I do has an impact,” Lambert said. “When we started the PBR it was to improve the sport and we’ve worked at it every day. I hope it equates to guys coming up with better bulls.”
In the past, rodeo producers were stock contractors by default and as a cost-saving measure they used their own bulls at events they produced.
Rodeo producers like the Steiner family – Bobby Steiner was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2002 – were regarded as much for the events they produced as they were the XS brand on the stock they hauled.
“I do feel like I’ve put in the kind of effort that it takes to get better every year,” said Lambert, who has attended less events this year than in past seasons.
Technology now allows him to watch the events and update his stats and bull ratings uninterrupted.
“I can be more efficient because then I can go through the master list for every bull that’s there in between every ride,” he explained. “When the last bull bucks I can hit send and they’re ready to draw for tomorrow because I can do it from an office setting. I don’t know if I’ve done a better job or not, but I’ve tried to get better.”
“I can’t stress enough that it’s a thankless job that everybody takes for granted,” Robinson said, “and they don’t appreciate him enough, especially if it doesn’t go their way.”
Robinson and Berger stressed how difficult Lambert’s job is.
Both longtime bull men said not only fans, but that by in large their fellow stock contractors and bull riders alike fail understand the amount of time and effort Lambert puts in week-in and week-out watching videos and fielding phone calls seven days a week to make sure he’s not missing out on discovering the next potential Bushwacker.
Even then, unlike Lambert, animals are unpredictable.
“Man, I’ll tell you what,” Robinson concluded, “of all the ups and downs and comings and goings in the PBR the last 10 years, 12 years, that’s the one constant that’s always the same.
“He just wants what he believes are the best bulls available.”
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