FORT WORTH, Texas - At 13, Cody Lambert was the youngest of nearly 50 bull riding students.
It was the fall of 1974 and Jerome Robinson, who by then had already established himself as one of the all-time great riders, was hosting one of his many bull-riding schools. Lambert had seen the legend compete and gotten permission ahead of time to participate.
"You had to be 14 to go to the school," Lambert said, "and my mom called and asked if it would be OK. She told him I was only 13, but I had already been riding bulls for a year and he let me go."
Robinson said he can remember it like it was yesterday.
In spite of being younger than everyone else, Lambert stood out. According to Robinson, the youngster from El Paso, Texas, was outstanding and it was apparent that he "knew how to ride." Although his body hadn't physically caught up to the knowledge he had, Lambert was already on his way to turning professional.
"He was really an outstanding rider and rode the small bulls like you would the big bulls," said Robinson. "They weren't natural moves. You could tell he had thought through them. You could tell he had a system."
Lambert said, "(Robinson) is such a great instructor and he's so thorough about everything that the next bull riding school I went to, I was teaching. He taught me everything that I know about riding and as I got better, everything he taught made sense."
By then, Lambert had ridden a lot of junior bulls.
He said he'd taken advantage of every opportunity and never refused an offer to ride bulls. He may have known a lot beforehand, but he learned why some things worked and some didn't from his initial experience with Robinson.
The next time Robinson saw Lambert, the 13-year-old he remembered had now developed into a "lean, mean" 19-year-old professional.
The first year Lambert qualified for the National Finals Rodeo was the last year Robinson qualified; as they would many times throughout the next 40 years, their paths crossed again.
Robinson went on to become a successful rodeo producer, promoter and all-around event specialist. One such project he worked on was the Winston Tour Rodeo, which Lambert and other top riders thought were some the best events they had ever attended.
The tour lasted only two years, but according to Robinson, Lambert was among the Top 4 riders featured at the events along with Lane Frost, Tuff Hedeman and Ted Nuce.
"Cody and those guys realized what they had lost," Robinson said, "and, I think, it actually led them to thinking real seriously about starting the PBR."
"They were the best rodeos we had ever seen," Lambert said, "and when we started the PBR we patterned a lot of the things we do after the Winston Tour. We learned so much from rodeo. We learned some things we didn't want to try and a lot of things we did want to try."
One of the first things they did was to hire Robinson to oversee the first PBR World Finals.
"Our events were better for having him," said Lambert, who is a key rider among the 20 founders of the PBR, "and our whole business is better for having him. He does business in an honorable way."
Robinson said the same for Lambert. "Cody's the reason I came to work for the PBR."
He's the one who asked if I would be interested. I remember the meeting and everything. I didn't know the attorney that was with him, at the time, but do remember agreeing to it on the condition that Cody would be the assistant manager."
"Like the code of the West, Cody's handshake was better than a written contract." -- Jerome Robinson
Robinson said he knew Lambert was the kind of man who honored
"Like the code of the West," Robinson said, "Cody's handshake was better than a written contract."
It's lifelong friendship that has spanned parts of five decades.
In that time, they've developed an appreciation and respect for one another as friends and as colleagues, whose contributions to the sport of bull riding has extended well beyond their respective riding careers.
Lambert said that he mimicked what he learned from Robinson - "sometimes word-for-word" - in the bull riding schools he eventually taught.
Robinson said he still laughs every time he thinks of the autographed brochure he gave then 13-year-old Lambert. On the backside were three autographs from the endorsees of an equipment provider from Minnesota.
Robinson had signed it and so too had Jack Ward and Sandy Kirby.
"I made a comment about Sandy Kirby's penmanship," Lambert said, "and mine is just as bad as his, it turns out. At the time, being 13 years old, I had a smart remark to say about that and Jerome has never let me forget that."
Robinson remembers the comment: "This Sandy Kirby - what did he do, sign this with his toe?"
Lambert laughed. "I still have the picture in my photo album."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
© 2013 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.