The Climb

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

Neil Holmes, a six year veteran bull rider of Championship Bull Riding, lives by that quote from Muhammad Ali. 

Holmes who will be riding in his seventh CBR World Finals has had an incredible year in his chosen line of work, being a professional cowboy. 

He is currently riding at 48%, or one for three, of the bulls he attempts and it is safe to say Neil Holmes will be a factor during the 2015 edition of the CBR World Finals. He thrives in pressurized high-octane environments, drawing inspiration from the men who have gone before him.

“The ability to get advice and tips from guys like Tuff Hedeman and Don Gay is like a basketball player having a pickup game with Michael Jordan,” said Holmes.

On this year’s Mahindra Road to Cheyenne televised tour, Holmes rode three for four in Del Rio, three for three in Fort Worth, one in Mulvane, Bossier, and Mercedes. He was the High Marked Ride of the event in El Paso as he conquered Lineman, of Carr Pro Rodeo, for 92 points to win the first round.

Twenty-nine year old Holmes of Houston, Texas finished the 2014 CBR season as the number 4 bull rider with 1,164 points. Riding four of the five bulls he mounted at the CBR World Finals in Cheyenne, including being the first to cover Cory Melton’s Crimson King for 92.5, he earned  the title of CBR World Finals Event Champion.

This five foot six inch one-hundred and forty pound bull rider is equipped with determination, drive and a desire to succeed which has helped turn his dreams into a reality in the bull riding world.   

Holmes shared, “That was my first time to be at Cheyenne. The crowd and the excitement was great. Getting on five bulls in just two days, it was a jam up bull riding. I took it one bull at a time.”

When Neil Holmes will arrive in Cheyenne is anybody’s guess. He is busy crisscrossing the country straddling multiple bull riding association standings. 

During Neil’s six year tenure with CBR, he admits a few things have changed including the entry fees, the point system and most notably his game plan to overcome challenges.

In 2014 when Neil competed in Del Rio at the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding he rode 3 for 3 missing the GPMBR championship by just .5 point. Trey Benton won the event with only two down, but beat him in the Final Four Shootout, which determines the event champion. 

Disappointment is an understatement that the 5’6, 145 pound cowboy felt following the event. I spoke with Neil and as I reviewed my voice recordings with Neil (after Cheyenne) at the end of the year, I began to see the cowboy for his positive attitude and the determination in his next sentence was bone-chilling considering it was 90 days before the first bull would be bucked in Cheyenne. 

When asked about missing the title by .5 points, Neil Holmes said, and I quote, “It’s okay Miss Leigh Ann, I will get ‘em all in Cheyenne, it’s a judged sport and maybe my ride looked different from that judge’s side. People have asked me to judge before and that’s one job I don’t want.” Neil would go on to “get em all” in Cheyenne in 2014 as the CBR World Finals event Champion that came with the $50,000 bonus.

Neil Holmes made his CBR debut in late 2009, and he made an instant impact by qualifying for the Tour Finale.  He started the 2010 season very well, picking up his first-ever win at a CBR televised event.  At the Huron event in early September of that same year he had one of the worst bull riding wrecks of the season. Holmes cracked his pelvis and recalled that experience and the challenges that followed. 

“I hung up and they actually thought I was dead in the arena. I don’t remember much of it. I was supposed to take a few months off but came back a little early. Even once I was physically fine, I was fighting my head with every move I made. “

Anyone that has ever suffered from an injury and made the comeback to compete again understands how much mental toughness it takes to get back on track. 

“I honestly had to finally say ‘to hell with it’. I had been trying to reserve myself for the next ride. It’s not a safe sport and I finally just went balls to the walls. Can I say that? I decided to go and leave everything out there. Once, I finally put that mind set in my head and that approach and not caring what that bull was and thought it was my chance to dance- I didn’t ride everything, but I was better.  I felt like I was more of a contender.” 

While Neil has a degree in Agriculture from Prairie View A&M, he doesn’t have plans of pursuing a career in that field. 

“I hope I never have to use it. At one time I wanted to be an Ag teacher. I’m glad I went and got my degree. College is where I found myself. I didn’t really start riding bulls until I was freshman in college.”

He looks up to his mom Linda. “I admire her strength and adversity and without it I probably wouldn’t be giving you this interview now,” he replied on the other end of the line. 

Every Easter, Neil and his mother would go watch their local rodeo. This event sparked Neil’s interest in bull riding and he eventually decided to give it a try when he was in high school- on the sly. “I would sneak off to go practice and got hurt one time and needed stiches. Mom found out.”

During that time, Neil met Craig Jackson at some local rodeos where the two instantly clicked and have been close friends ever since. They travel together when they can. “Craig’s been hurt lately, but it’s mainly me and Craig and Clayton Foltyn when he’s not rodeoing.”

Neil’s appreciativeness of his entire support system is evident as he tries to thank everyone. “I don’t want to start the name game and leave someone out, but Lyndal Hurst was able to get me invited to my first CBR event in Bossier City.  Ever since then he’s given me a helping hand every chance he could.”

In addition to Hurst helping Holmes along the way, getting on bulls in Orchard has made a better bull rider out of Neil. 

Billy Jaynes shared, “Neil’s Ability to block out fear, and ability to GO FOR IT no matter the cost is what sets him apart. What he lacks in ability he makes up with effort.”

“Outside of the arena, I’d like to become a better man and better father. I hope I’m not remembered just for my bull riding, but for the guy I am. I try to be a standup guy in and out of the arena” -- Neil Holmes.