I’ve often thought that mothers are the unsung heroes of the rodeo arena. When we ask contestants how they got their start in rodeo, many of them credit their fathers. Some have moms that competed, but far less than the ones following in their father’s footsteps.
Blu Bryant, the 1998 reserve world champion bull rider, told me how his mom drove him around the country and went behind the chutes and pulled his bull rope when he was starting. I’ve heard similar stories about Lisa Frost, mother to current all-around rodeo athletes Joe and Josh Frost.
There are a lot more similar stories out there. What I think makes moms heroes is all of the support they provide in the way of everyday tasks that often go unnoticed. So I decided to talk to the Etbauer family and gain more knowledge about rodeo moms.
Beverly Etbauer is mother to saddle bronc riders Robert, Billy and Dan Etbauer. She and her husband, Lyle, also have a daughter, Wanda, who is second youngest – between Billy and Dan. The Etbauers made history in 1989 when all three brothers qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
For eight years, the trio got to represent their native state of South Dakota in the grand entry, get off of those horses and come back to the locker room and join the other saddle bronc riders for the competition.
In careers that span over 20 years, they have seven world titles and 42 NFR qualifications between them. Robert was the PRCA rookie of the year in 1985. He made his first of 12 NFR appearances in 1988. That year he was joined by Dan, who qualified a total of 10 times. The next year, 1989, was when they set the record for three brothers qualifying for the NFR with Billy’s first of 21 trips to Las Vegas. Dan also made an appearance in 2008 as a pick-up man.
Through all of the competition, Beverly and Lyle cheered on their sons from the seats in the Thomas and Mack Center. There was only one time that any of the boys got hurt and missed any of the action. That was in 2002 when Billy was out for the last seven rounds.
Beverly watched her sons get on nearly 430 head of bucking horses and never blinked an eye. She had faith in their abilities, understanding of their desires and did what she had done for all of their lives – said a lot of prayers.
“It was wonderful, a very exciting time in our lives,” she said. “I could never want one to beat the other. They were competing against the horse. I watched every ride and was right there riding with them. It was an awesome experience.”
Lyle Etbauer did some roping when the kids were little. Rodeo was a family affair and whenever they went, it was as a family. Billy couldn’t remember a rodeo that they went to without Mom and Dad until after Robert got his driver’s license.
Growing up in rural South Dakota, the three boys spent most of their free time horseback. In the winter, they used a team of draft horses to pull a bobsled around as well as other horses and sleds. It may not have been a bucking horse rein in their hands, but reins and ropes were part of their everyday lives.
“I think mom just tried to keep us out of the house,” Billy said with a laugh. “And she just closed her eyes for the rest of what went on. We didn’t have a lot but we had what we needed.”
The boys spent a lot of time with their dad, but when things got tough in South Dakota, he drove about 350 miles to Moorcroft, Wyo., where he got a job as a carpenter and later in the oilfield. What started as a part-time endeavor for the winter became a full-time way to support his family and he never left. Robert was a sophomore in high school.
Beverly spent time between the two places and the children’s responsible natures took over. Robert took over ranch duties, Wanda took care of the house and Billy and Dan pitched in wherever needed. There were few squabbles and Wanda and Lyle had confidence in their children’s work ethic and ability to get things done.
“They always had their chores to do,” Beverly said of the kids. “And I knew that they would have them done. Robert had the idea that you feed your animals before you feed yourself. They didn’t have a lot of time to get into mischief and it didn’t hurt them any.”
Robert was the first to take off on the rodeo trail and initially traveled with Deke Latham who qualified for the 1986 NFR and finished fifth in the saddle bronc riding before he was in a fatal automobile accident.
Robert lost his friend and traveling partner and it took him a while to pick up the pieces. When he put them back together his brothers and eventually Deke’s brother Craig were pursuing their dreams together. Craig became an adopted member of the Etbauer family and his mother Joyce Reclusa considers all of the Etbauers her family as well.
That relationship continues today. Craig is the head coach at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell and Robert is the assistant coach. That’s where these two along with Dan went to college. Dan still lives in the area and Billy and his family are in Edmond, Okla.
When the boys first took off rodeoing by themselves, Beverly would anxiously wait for their return despite the mountains of laundry, extra cooking and more housework. But the joy of having her family together far outweighed the work. And then before she knew it, she was sending them off again.
“I said a lot of prayers,” she said. “There isn’t anything else you can do. Hopefully you raised them to be responsible and they know right from wrong. All you can do is thank the man upstairs that everything went well. I still pray for them every day.”
The next generation of Etbuaers are now competing thanks to the positive influences of their family. Robert’s oldest son, Trell, is a five-time Linderman award winner. His son Shade is headed for his second College National Finals Rodeo this month competing for Robert and Dan’s alma mater. And, Beverly and Lyle will be in the Casper Events Center cheering him on and spending time with their oldest son.
“We never in a million years dreamed that things would have turned out the way they did,” Beverly said. “When they were little if you’d have told me that I would be doing what I was doing, I would have never believed it.”
While the accomplishments in the arena have stacked up for the family, what may be most important is the legacy they have outside of the arena. Robert and Billy have been inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. All three brothers are also in the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
“They’ve all just done beautiful,” Beverly said of her four children. Beverly and Lyle have nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “They are all so busy now. I just wish they’d all show up at one time so I could do their laundry.”