Mike Lee's 500th PBR Ride

Mike Lee takes a victory lap after his 500th career qualified ride during the Professional Bull Riders event in Billings in 2016. Lee, the 2004 PBR world champion, is originally from Billings.

Gazette file photo

BILLINGS — Deep down, Shane Proctor was always more than just a bull rider.

He was a cowboy.

Originally from Grand Coulee, Washington, Proctor competed in five events for the Northwest College rodeo program in Powell, Wyoming.

But he made the decision to become a full-time bull rider while attending Montana State, making his debut at the Professional Bull Riders highest level in 2006. Proctor has earned more than $1.3 million during his PBR career, qualifying for the World Finals nine times.

The son of educators, he is also a five-time qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo, winning the PRCA world title in 2011.

Now he is walking away from the PBR to become a cowboy again.

Proctor told PBR officials that this weekend’s event in New York City would be his last.

“I have been a good bull rider doing both associations for several years and now I want to be a great cowboy,” Proctor told Justin Felisko of the PBR this past weekend. “I have always wanted to win an all-around title. I figure I will be 33 in March and I thought, ‘Well my time is starting to run out.’ "

Proctor is also a standout bronc rider and has competed in both events at PRCA rodeos when the schedule allowed. He was $400 shy of qualifying for the PRCA all-around title in 2016.

The last roughstock cowboy to win the PRCA all-around title was Ty Murray in 1994.

Lee stepping away

Proctor isn’t the only marquee bull rider to step away from the PBR in 2018.

In November, 2004 world champion Mike Lee announced via Facebook that he was going to focus his bull riding career in other associations.

Originally from Billings, Lee was the first bull rider to win the year-end and PBR World Finals in the same year.

Lee is a 16-time qualifier for the PBR World Finals and ranks sixth all-time for money won with $3.9 million. He finished 31st in the BFTS standings in 2017.

On April 16, 2016 in Billings, Lee became only the second PBR competitor with 500 or more career rides. He finishes second to Guillherme Marchi with 525. March achieved his 600th career ride in Billings last April, while two-time world champion J.B. Mauney reached the 500 mark on Friday night in the first performance of the 2018 season.

Name change

To mark its 25th anniversary, the bull riding organization is calling this season the PBR 25th Unleash the Beast Tour.

Monster Energy has replaced Ford Truck as the primary sponsor for the PBR's top-tier events, which includes Billings in mid-April. It was previously called the Built Ford Tough Series.

Family affair

The American rodeo will be a family affair this year.

Two-time winner Lisa Lockhart will be competing in barrel racing, while her nephew, Jess Lockwood is among those invited in bull riding. Lockwood, of Volborg, is the reigning Professional Bull Riders world champion.

The world’s richest one-day rodeo is Feb. 25 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Event winners earn $100,000, while those who reach the finals through the qualifying process are eligible for a $1 million bonus.

Ty Erickson of Helena, the 2016 The American winner, returns in steer wrestling, while three-time world champion Clay Tryan will be competing in team roping. J.R. Vezain, of Melstone, has been invited for bareback riding.

Brody Cress, of Hillsdale, Wyoming, will be in saddle bronc riding. Cress won the NFR average this past December at his first NFR.

Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

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