BUTTE – They say that one never forgets how to ride a bicycle.
Loncey Johnson has taken that saying to a whole new level.
Johnson continued his triumphant return to the rodeo circuit on Thursday night by winning the bull riding event on Day 1 of the Northern Rodeo Association’s Finals Rodeo at the Butte Civic Center.
Johnson took a five-year hiatus away from the sport only to come back and make it look as if he was never gone.
He entered this weekend’s Finals as the top money-winner in bull riding and doesn’t look like someone willing to get beaten – by a competitor or a bull – as the season draws to a close.
“Every time I come out, I just know I’ve got to ride,” said Johnson, a native of North Platte, Neb., who now lives in Dillon. “It doesn’t matter if it’s this rodeo or the first one of the year. I’ve got to ride. It’s been my approach all my life. It’s just something I’ve always strove for. I take it personally when I get bucked off.”
Being the earnings leader gave Johnson an advantage in that he was the last cowboy to ride in Thursday night’s competition. He spends the time prior to his ride watching everything that’s going on in the ring. And getting pumped up.
“I know what I’ve got to beat that way,” he said. “Just watching the other riders and the good bulls coming out, it just fuels my fire.”
Johnson watched as Jake Lockwood, Cory Evertz, Casey Fredericks and Payton Fitzpatrick completed successful rides on their mounts. Lockwood held the lead, with 78 points, followed by Fredericks (77), Fitzpatrick (76.5) and Evertz (71) when it became Johnson’s turn.
He won the event with a score of 79.5 while remaining atop Red Eye Rodeo’s Speckled Ivory for the necessary 8 seconds.
“I think I got on him earlier this year but I don’t remember,” Johnson said of the bull. “It doesn’t matter to me and that’s why I can’t remember. You still have to ride him jump for jump. You can’t just expect him to do something. Expecting a bull to do something specific is a way to get bucked off most of the time.”
Johnson’s victory was certainly no fluke. The soon-to-be 28 year old placed in the top three during six events on the circuit this year. He won four.
Johnson doesn’t regret walking away from the sport six years ago but he admits that he sometimes wonders where he would be had he stuck with it.
But he had some priorities in his life which needed to be addressed.
“I owned a business that I started when I was a junior in high school,” he explained. “After I got out of college, I wanted to get it going better. And I had just come off of knee surgery during the winter of 2012.”
He has since opted to close his business, though not because it wasn’t successful, and it doesn’t look as if he’s missed a beat.
Johnson admitted that watching some of the competitors in the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) played a part in his return to rodeo.
“Watching the NFR and a lot of the guys I used to compete with were in the NFR…that’s always tough on me because I had no doubt that I could have made the NFR if I had chased it more,” Johnson said. “I had full intentions of it but taking five years off took that out of the picture for now.
“It’s tough seeing those guys in the NFR and knowing you could have been there, or you’ve competed against them and beat them.”
Johnson sits two rounds away from laying claim to being the top bull rider of the NRA this season. His continued approach will be to have as much fun as he can.
“I’ve always struggled in finals,” he said. “I tried to approach them as just another rodeo and have fun. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Just like riding a bike. Or a bull.