Bling working hard to get the ultimate bling.. The Wrangler NFR!

Even the best laid-out plans are subject to change, especially in rodeo.

When Sarah Rose McDonald and her boyfriend Wade Whatley left Brunswick, Ga., last May, they fully expected to be back home in August. McDonald was second in the world standings with $53,374 and the reigning Rookie of the Year had her sights set on her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualification.

Their journey took them as far north as Livingston, Mont., and as far west as Reno, Nev.

Bling and Rose hanging out at Cody
Bling and Rose hanging out at Cody

They won money in Cody, Wyo., and Livingston, Mont., over the Cowboy Christmas run over the Fourth of July. Then they cashed in at Nampa, Idaho; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Ogden, Utah. A big check from winning the championship at the Days of 47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City, Utah, added $8,385 to McDonald’s earnings and it was back to Cheyenne where she had qualified for the finals.

Then it was time to head back southeast with some rodeos along the way. They placed in every round in Dodge City, Kan., and headed to Sikeston, Mo., where they were again in the money. Now it was time to make some decisions. McDonald’s success has come aboard her phenomenal horse “Fame Fling N Bling” that she calls Bling. She had a young mare with her that she had been seasoning that was for sale, and planned to go home and get her back-up horse Rose and spend more time close to home before heading to Las Vegas for the NFR in December.

Sarah and Bling being interviewed at the Cody Stampede
Sarah and Bling being interviewed at the Cody Stampede

Being third in the world standings put her in solid position for her first NFR qualification. She didn’t need to be competing for one of the top 15 spots, but the rodeo trail was calling. And, spending a little time in the southeastern part of the U.S. influenced her.

Bling getting some love from Sarah after winning a check in the first round at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Bling getting some love from Sarah after winning a check in the first round at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“To be honest, it was so hot.” McDonald said. “Bling acted so drained being back in the humidity and wasn’t eating like she had been. It made the decision pretty easy.”

They went to Louisiana to drop Hottie off at her new home and friends from Georgia met them with Rose. With Rose and Bling loaded in, they turned around and headed north. Next up was the Champions Challenge in Cody, Wyo. And, since they didn’t make the trip to Brunswick, Brunswick came to them.

McDonald’s parents, Mike and Carol McDonald, and sister, Brook Williams, flew into Billings, Mont., to be in Cody with them. They spent three days in Cody shopping, trying out all of the restaurants and of course took a little time out for the rodeo where Sarah and Bling finished fourth.

The McDonalds photo is of her parents Carol and Mike with Bling
Carol and Mike with Bling

“We had so much fun,” she said. “It was awesome to have that time together.”

Sarah and Wade plan to spend the next month in Idaho, Washington and Oregon before heading southeast again. She is following nearly the same path that she did a year ago where she won money at Ellensburg, Walla Walla, Puyallup, and Bremerton, Wash., as well as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She is trimming her schedule a bit this year.

“Last year I was playing catch up so I hit pretty much every rodeo we could,” she said. “This year I’m entering lighter with no extra hauling and Rose will get to run a lot more.” Their last rodeo for this year will be in Omaha, Neb., where she earned enough to get the Rookie of the Year title last year.

Deciding where to go is a challenge for McDonald who had never seen any of these arenas prior to 2014. Now when she gets somewhere new, she spends time watching other events, observing the arena set up and studying the dirt.

“The dirt can’t always be perfect all the time,” she said, “especially in big outdoor arenas. That’s been an adjustment for us, because prior to this we made most of our runs in small indoor pens where conditions were more consistent. I know what Bling likes and doesn’t like and what rodeos to enter now. I’ve learned a lot and that’s important.”

McDonald is excited about qualifying for her first NFR, and is hopeful that Bling will excel in the Thomas and Mack Center for that reason.

“She really likes smaller pens,” she added. “She’s been amazing and has surprised me at how she has taken to rodeo life and even big arenas. That’s the hardest thing in the world to do, send a horse full out into an arena when the conditions aren’t optimal. But, you can’t safety up and win and I certainly can’t safety up on her. She wants to run full out and give it her all every time, so that’s what I need to let her do. Sometimes it’s just not worth running and sometimes I have to believe in us and trust her.”

There will be no safety runs for this pair in December in Las Vegas. And, once again the family will be watching and cheering on the dynamic duo.

A steer head on a unicycle was used to simulate a bull coming after a student.

No clowning around in this classroom.

When NFR bullfighter Dusty Tuckness and Barrelman Justin Rumford get together – things happen in and out of the rodeo arena.

They put their heads together earlier this year and thought it would be cool to have a bullfighter and barrelman school together. Tuckness had successful schools in the past and having the two together made sense and gave future rodeo stars the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the business from two of the best.

Tuckness and Rumford hosted the first ever school of this kind on July 5 – 7 in Wyoming in conjunction with the Cody Night Rodeo. It was important for them to do it there for two reasons. One, it is where both of these guys got their experience and start and two, it gave the students an opportunity to work and be critiqued by their teachers.

Sessions started with a classroom involving all of the students.
Sessions started with a classroom involving all of the students.

Growing up in Meeteetse, Wyo., Tuckness started riding bulls when he was eleven years old. His father was a bullfighter and is still a barrelman. Hanging up his bull rope for a pair of cleats was an easy decision. Being close to Cody, he went to work for Maury Tate and Tate’s Mo Betta Rodeo Company who produce the Nite rodeo.

Tuckness is a five-time PRCA Bullfighter of the Year and has been selected for the NFR for six consecutive years. He is well respected among bull riders, his peers and everyone that knows him.

Rumford also grew up in a rodeo family. As stock contractors, they expected him to learn every facet of rodeo. He did that and also competed in steer wrestling. When he blew out his knee, he helped the rodeo team at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. Then he was a truck driver for Beutler and Son Rodeo.

The arena was kept busy throughout the school.
The arena was kept busy throughout the school.

Eventually, he did a three-year stint at the Cody Nite Rodeo gaining the experience that has earned him the PRCA Clown of the Year award for the past three years and a trip to Las Vegas last December to work the barrel at the NFR.

When they contacted Tate and asked him about having the school there, he decided they should add bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding to the roster. He brought in NFR qualifier Heath Ford to teach the bareback riders. World champions taught the other events, Dan Mortensen in the saddle bronc and Cody Custer in bulls. Each of them spent many nights perfecting their crafts when they were starting their careers by riding in Cody.

Nearly 40 students gathered around to get advice from all of these champions. The school started with a talk from each of the instructors before they split off into their individual disciplines.

“My rookie year, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with my uncle (five-time world champion Bruce Ford).” Heath Ford said. “He taught me how to enter and how to compete. I love rodeo and I want to pass all of that on.”

NFR qualifier Heath Ford went over student’s equipment with a fine tooth comb
NFR qualifier Heath Ford went over student’s equipment with a fine tooth comb

Rumford spent time with his students in a classroom environment and put them through tests that would prepare them for real-life experiences they would have in an arena as a clown and barrelman. Tuckness started his students with physical fitness routines daily, then put them through the paces with bullfighting simulation. Other NFR bullfighters that were on hand for the school included Cody Webster, Darrell Diefenbach and Aaron Ferguson.

6 time world champion saddle bronc rider showing a future star the correct foot placement
6 time world champion saddle bronc rider showing a future star the correct foot placement

The highlight for all of the students was getting to participate for three nights at the rodeo, then get valuable advice. The bullfighter and barrelman students all got a turn in the arena giving them an opportunity to work in front of a live audience and be seen by Tate who hires all the personnel for the Nite Rodeo.

Tate has been putting on the Cody Nite Rodeo for over 10 years and was one of the first stock contractor to hire Tuckness and Rumford. He also has a passion for rodeo. A former competitor, Tate, his wife Nikki daughters Cydni and Hadley make their home in Apache, Okla., from September to June.

The Cody Nite Rodeo gives them an opportunity to test and season young bucking horses and bulls. That has worked well enough to have some of their bucking stock selected for the NFR.

“When I look back at the history of this rodeo and this arena, I’m amazed,” he said. “There is no other place in the world that gives rodeo people an opportunity like this one.”

1992 world champion bull rider Cody Custer talking about the fine points of bull riding
1992 world champion bull rider Cody Custer talking about the fine points of bull riding

Legends like Freckles Brown and Tom Ferguson and Chris LeDoux all spent time at the Cody Nite Rodeo which started in 1938 and has run continually from June 1 to Aug. 31 since. The highlight of the season for many fans is the Cody Stampede held over the Fourth of July, sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.

It’s a long way from the Cody Nite Rodeo and the Cody Stampede to the NFR, but a road that many contestants and contract personnel have been on. With the addition of the school after this year’s Cody Stampede, they are providing more opportunities for anyone interested in becoming a rodeo star.

I think that Buffalo Bill Cody who had so much influence on rodeo and this area would be proud.

Cowboy Christmas – the good the bad and the ugly

Celebrating our nation’s independence began July 4, 1776 when our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence.

Who knew that the celebration would grow into the busiest and most lucrative time of year for cowboys and cowgirls as they travel across North America giving people a chance to include a rodeo in their festivities.

This year, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association sanctioned 32 rodeos that paid nearly $3.7 million over the holiday, known as Cowboy Christmas. The week officially started on June 29 and finished July 5.

There were some rodeos in Canada that counted as part of the celebration so not only were contestants warming up the U.S. highways, they were also traveling across the border to the North.

The Ponoka Stampede in Alberta, Canada was the highest paying rodeo included in Cowboy Christmas at $447,885. Even though they aren’t celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the rodeo usually coincides with our Fourth-of-July. This year, Ponoka started June 25 and ended July 1. The big winner there was saddle bronc rider Cody DeMoss from Heflin, La., who was also the big winner of the week.DSCN1463

DeMoss collected $17,720 in Ponoka and earned a total of $22,791 to increase his lead in the world standings to nearly $20,000 over two-time world champion Taos Muncy.

Second high money winner was reigning and two-time tie-down roping champion Tuf Cooper from Decatur, Texas, who earned . Cooper had the bulk of his success in St. Paul, Ore., Greeley, Colo., and Prescott, Ariz., averaging over $5,000 at each of those rodeos.

He also earned checks in Red Lodge, Mont., Ponoka and was the champion at the Molalla (ore) Buckeroo Rodeo. Cooper’s schedule was pretty easy according to him. He started in Ponoka, on June 29th, was in Greeley, Colo., the next day. July first found him at Livingston, Mont. Next was a short trip to Red Lodge, Mont., and Cody, Wyo. From cody he went to St. Paul and Mollala, Ore., then back to Greeley for the finals in the afternoon and over to Oakley City, Utah that night. He finished Cowboy Christmas in Prescott, Ariz., on July fifth.

Some people thrive on the challenge of getting to as many rodeos as they can over the Independence Day celebration. Others plan their schedules carefully figuring out the easiest way to travel. Cooper did some of both, he got up at the right times at the right places, was able to ride his own horse at all but one and drove most of the time. The three-time world champion is no stranger to pressure and thrives on a challenge.

Tuf in Greeley (c) Dan Hubbell
Tuf in Greeley
(c) Dan Hubbell

“The worst part about Cowboy Christmas is that it’s over,” Cooper said. “It’s absolutely the best opportunity in the world. There are so many great rodeos over that week. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

Much of Cooper’s success came aboard an 11-year-old mare named Topaz. Topaz is owned by Circle Star Ranch and was trained by James Barton in Texas.

Tuf in Greeley (c) Dan Hubbell
Tuf in Greeley
(c) Dan Hubbell

Travel is a necessity for rodeo contestants and how they get from place to place varies. One thing is consistent for all contestants during Cowboy Christmas, the time spent getting from place to place far outweighs the time spent at a rodeo.

Every night at the Cody Stampede, there would be a group of cowboys that competed at Red Lodge, Mont.; then made a fast trip to Wyoming. Red Lodge’s rodeo started two hours earlier than Cody’s, giving contestants plenty of time to make the 63 mile trip in a perfect world.

That worked for the most part, unless there was a re-ride or something to slow Red Lodge’s rodeo down. And considering the roads between these two towns go through the mountains and are two lane highways it was often a photo finish. Bareback riders, saddle bronc riders and bull riders came to Cody already taped up and nearly ready to get on. A lot of the time, the livestock was already loaded when they arrived.

That was the case for Chuck Schmidt who got bucked off in the saddle bronc riding at Red Lodge, made the quick trip to Cody to compete at his last rodeo over Cowboy Christmas.

“I’ve had a terrible Fourth,” Schmidt said. “I hadn’t won a dime until I got to Cody.”

Chuck Schmidt being interviewed after winning the Cody Stampede
Chuck Schmidt being interviewed after winning the Cody Stampede

Schmidt had plenty to smile about after getting off of his last horse. He rode Frontier Rodeo’s Tip Off for 87 points to win the rodeo. That was worth $8,657 and moved Schmidt to fifth place in the world standings. He is hoping to qualify for his second Wrangler NFR, he was there in 2011.

The Fourth of July was full of misfortune for NFR qualifiers bareback rider Steven Peebles and bull rider Josh Koschel. Peebles had the winning ride at Livingston, Mont. Just after the eight seconds was up, his hand came out of the rigging, he flew off the back of the horse and landed hard on his back. That broke some ribs, which punctured an artery. Peebles’ traveling partner Brian Bain took him to the hospital in Livingston, then he was transported to Bozeman and eventually to Billings. His lungs were filling up with blood fast and it was Bain’s insistence on getting him to the hospital that saved Peebles’ life.

Koschel tied for first in the long round at the Greeley Independence Stampede and qualified for the finals on the Fourth. That was where tragedy struck. Koschel came off early and the bull stepped on his leg, fracturing both the tibia and fibula near the ankle. Koschel was just 15 miles from his home in Nunn so much of his family was on hand to see the accident. They were also at the hospital for his surgery.

Other cowboys felt the full effects of Cowboy Christmas and the Justin Sports medicine team was busy keeping them together. They had staff and volunteers at Greeley, Colo.; St. Paul, Ore.;Prescott, Ariz.; Springdale, Ark.; Cody, Wyo.; and Oakley, Utah.

It’s a busy time of year for rodeo that barely slows down for the rest of the summer. So here’s to the communities that play host to these events and all of the sponsors and fans that support them.

Making education a priority

Through the years, college rodeo has been a stepping stone for contestants moving up into the ranks of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.

For others the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) is more than a stepping stone, it’s a chance to get an education. And for a few dedicated competitors, it’s an opportunity to do both.

Joe Frost
Joe Frost

Such is the case with bull rider Joe Frost and bareback rider Tim O’Connell who both qualified for last year’s Wrangler NFR. Both were in their senior years of college, Both had already been successful college rodeo athletes having competed at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) three times.

Joe Frost
Joe Frost

Frost earned the NIRA’s bull riding title in Casper, Wyo., in June of 2014. He an O’Connell both spent the summer break going to PRCA rodeos, then headed back to college in the fall. Frost, from Randlett, Utah, went to Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla.  O’Connell’s home is in Zwingle, Iowa. He attended Missouri Valley College in Marshall.
College rodeo is made up of 11 regions. Schools in each region host 10 rodeos. Contestants gain points for placing at those rodeos and qualify for the CNFR based on their regional standings. They can qualify as individuals or as part of their respective school’s men’s or women’s teams.

Tim O'Connell  (c) Dan Hubbell
Tim O’Connell
(c) Dan Hubbell

At the time of last year’s CNFR, O’Connell was eighth in the PRCA world standings and Frost was outside of the top 15. When the regular season ended in September, O’Connell was fourth in the world standings, Frost was 11th and they were both headed to their first NFR and they were both still in college.

It wasn’t like they were just juggling classes and their PRCA rodeo schedule, they still had college rodeos to compete at.  Then when December and the NFR came around, they each had finals to deal with.

Frost finished the season as the reserve world champion bull rider. O’Connell was successful at the NFR as well, finishing the season in 8th place. A quick holiday break and they were back to school, then the winter building rodeos and spring college rodeos.

Frost graduated in May with a Bachelor’s degree in ag business. O’Connell has one more semester to complete his Bachelor’s in public relations with a minor in business. Along the way, he also earned an Associate degree in fire science and his welding certificate.

Tim O’Connell with his rodeo coach Ken Mason (c)Dan Hubbell
Tim O’Connell with his rodeo coach Ken Mason (c)Dan Hubbell

“College and college rodeo have always been a priority for me,” Frost said. “Graduating was a goal I set a long time ago. Not achieving that goal wasn’t an option.”

Frost finished third in the bull riding at this year’s CNFR. O’Connell left Casper with the bareback riding title setting a new record for the highest total on four rides at 331 points. The record had been set by eight-time NFR qualifier Ryan Gray in 2004 at 330.

Another college rodeo standout that fans are watching in the PRCA is Clay Elliott who won the title for Panhandle State as a sophomore and will be going back to school there this fall. The Nanton, Alberta, resident is currently 12th in the world standings and has the potential to qualify for his first NFR. Clay has a busy summer schedule and then will return to Oklahoma and hit the books.

“Why wouldn’t I get an education,” Elliott said. “For me, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Rodeo will be there after I’m done with school. If I can compete at both levels and keep up with my studies, I  will. If I can’t, I’ll have some tough decisions to make.”

It takes hard work and dedication to succeed in any rodeo arena at any level. Succeeding in the classroom along with that adds another element to any rodeo contestant’s schedule. Progressing through the levels of the sport provides an in-arena education that is invaluable. I applaud all of the rodeo athletes that have used college rodeo as a stepping stone.

It’s all about the Bling.

Sarah Rose McDonald, her boyfriend, Wade Whatley, and two horses left Brunswick, Ga., on May 14th for a road trip that many would think was a summer vacation.

Sarah Rose McDonald, her boyfriend, Wade Whatley and Bling.
Sarah Rose McDonald, her boyfriend, Wade Whatley and Bling.

First stop, Claremore, Okla. This was the first rodeo that Sarah had entered since March. Her mare Bling had a real vacation getting some much needed R & R after a busy winter running in the buildings. Bling was more than ready to rodeo. They finished fourth there and headed to Fort Smith.

That was just the beginning of a journey that eventually took them to Utah where they really did get in some vacation time between rodeos. The dynamic duo won rodeos in Moab and Delta and placed at Cedar City. As of June 25th they are second in the world standings behind Nancy Hunter.

Sarah’s personal journey to becoming one of the nation’s top barrel racers this year started when she was just a kid. She grew up in the country on a farm where her grandfather and uncle (Steve McDonald) always had horses around. Her mother rode and Sarah started riding as soon as she was big enough to put a leg on each side of a saddle.

Her older sister had a western pleasure horse and soon Sarah was riding it and making it go faster. They started competing in pole bending. Every Saturday they loaded up horses and went somewhere to ride and compete.

She would come home from school and ride every day. Her uncle and father made sure that she  had something to ride and that the horse fit her ability and took her to the next level. Her favorite was a palomino mare named Flicka. When Sarah was nine, Flicka died from West Nile disease.

Her next horse was one that her uncle had just traded for, a big gelding named GC Highly Motivated that they called Jerry.

“He taught me so many things,” she said. “I learned a lot just riding him, like what to do to control my horse. Some days, I’d get on him and he’d be hyper, so we would just lope around the field. I always had a chance to win on him and I got really competitive.”

Bling and Hottie enjoying their time off.
Bling and Hottie enjoying their time off.

Jerry helped her win many titles including the 2005 National Barrel Horse Association World Championship. The McDonalds still have the 19-year-old horse today and he is teaching Sarah’s niece the same lessons.

In high school, Sarah played all sports, but kept riding every day. Her uncle, who is a horse trainer, always had a lot of horses around and she helped him by riding, learning from each horse that she rode.

Steve’s best friend Larry Ammons started spending time at the farm and took an interest in the horses. “If you around my uncle, you have to be into horses,” Sarah said with a laugh.

Steve and Larry went to Brian and Lisa Fulton’s production sale in 2007 and they came back to Georgia with a yearling mare named Fame Fling and Bling. She came from the Western 37 Ranch in Potter Valley, Calif., and is by Fulton’s great stallion A Streak of Fling.

That mare that Sarah calls Bling became her project. After Steve got her training going, Sarah started her on barrels and they won the first show they went to.

“We knew she was awesome and really smart,” Sarah said. “We didn’t run her that much and didn’t pressure her. We wanted what was best for her and really took our time with her. “

ATV rented for Sarah’s birthday.
ATV rented for Sarah’s birthday.

All of that time and training has paid off. Sarah’s experiences riding different horses and patience with Bling are coming to fruition and her summer has started off great. And in between rodeos, they did have a little vacation time in Utah. While in Moab, Bling and Hottie – a young mare that McDonald is hauling – got some well-deserved rest. Wade rented an ATV and for Sarah’s birthday they toured around in the canyons.

“Utah is so beautiful,” she said. “It’s been really awesome so far. I love getting to see new sights and so far my summer has been great.”

Vacation is over as they are now at the Reno Rodeo and gearing up for the “Cowboy Christmas” Fourth –of-July rodeo run.

Rodeo is a family affair when talking about the Etbauers

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.
Etbauer family photo
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. etbauerbros (2)

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.
Beverly and Lyle Etbauer
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.”    etbauercowboyhall (2)

Connecting through Communities

I got involved with rodeo because I love animals and the Western lifestyle. I’ve stayed involved because of the people.

I constantly see the generosity and compassion of these people and am proud to be part of the rodeo community – and it is a community. I think a lot of that goes back to agriculture heritage and being part of rural communities. I know not everyone in rodeo has that background, but after they are involved, they soon learn that if they are going to thrive, they need to be part of the community.

Sean Mulligan at the 2011 NFR – (c) Mike Copeman
Sean Mulligan at the 2011 NFR – (c) Mike Copeman

On May 9th, Wrangler NFR qualifier Sean Mulligan hosted a steer wrestling jackpot in Coleman, Okla., to raise money for a scholarship given in the name of his friend Levi Wisness. Sean had help from Will Cook who provided steers and put up part of the added money. He secured the U Cross Arena and raised more money from sponsors and the Wisness family. When it was time to enter, he had $8,000 in the pot.

Steer wrestlers from around the area came to play. They were drawn into four-man teams for an incentive and to sell in a Calcutta. 1999 world champion steer wrestler Mickey Gee got his auctioneering license in March and volunteered his services.

When it was all said and done, Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo qualifier Ace Campbell won the jackpot and over $4,000. An additional $4,000 was raised for the scholarship and a silent auction raised $4,400 for rodeo publicist (and my coworker) Julie Mankin who was seriously injured in an auto accident.

Not bad for a one day event put on by cowboys. It reminded me of all of the volunteers on our rodeo committees and how important they are to the communities they serve. All of the big winter rodeos are part of livestock shows encouraging youth in their agriculture pursuits and raising lots of money for scholarships along with giving back to their communities.

Communities that host rodeos are very loyal to support us and we should never take that for granted. I applaud every volunteer on every rodeo committee. They work tirelessly to put on events that largely started to as benefits and ways to give back.

Cowboys and cowgirls are very good at taking care of their own. Case in point, the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund has given over $7 million to 1,100 injured rodeo contestants in the past 25 years. Cindy Schonholtz, president and CEO estimates that 99% of the donations to the fund have come from the rodeo community.

When Sean Mulligan was approached about hosting a steer wrestling jackpot, he saw it as an opportunity to give back and remember a friend and fellow competitor in Levi Wisness. This is the second year the event has benefitted the scholarship.

Levi Wisness who finished 17th in the PRCA world standings prior to being diagnosed with cancer
Levi Wisness who finished 17th in the PRCA world standings prior to being diagnosed with cancer

In 2006, I had the idea to start a scholarship to honor my friend Shane Drury. He was a college champ and NFR qualifier in the bull riding who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. Through numerous surgeries, treatments and come backs, Shane kept his fans involved with updates that reminded us to keep smiling and live our lives to the fullest.

Shane was at the College National Finals Rodeo that next June to present the first award. Cancer took him from us the next October. Corey Navarre rode at the PBR World Finals with stickers on his helmet honoring Shane that said “Nothin’ But Try.” The scholarship was renamed.

Today the Nothin’ But Try scholarships honor Shane Drury, Levi Wisness, Betty Gayle Cooper and Lee Akin. They are given to members of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) who have faced adversity but refuse to give up. It is about how these people lived – and in Lee’s case – are living their lives.

Levi Wisness was the NIRA steer wrestling champion in 2003. He graduated from the University of Wyoming and represented the Central Rocky Mountain Region on the board of directors. He was a talented athlete who was on track to qualify for the NFR when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery and treatment were successful and he was deemed cancer free. His unexpected death in 2008 was a shock to all of us.

Levi’s friend and traveling partner Dane Hanna volunteers for the jackpot along with NFR saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell. Last year, the duo roasted a pig and donated it for lunch taking donations for the scholarship. This year, rain kept them from doing that but they were both an active part of the event.

“Levi would have loved this,” Hanna said. “He was the friendliest guy I’ve ever known. When we were traveling it would take us an hour to get out of the gas station. He just loved everybody. Kids, adults, it didn’t matter he took time to visit with them all.”

Cambpell, who graduated from the University of West Alabama in 2012 with a degree in business administration qualified for the CNFR two times. He saw the Nothin’ But Try scholarships presented there and was glad to be part of the jackpot.

Team Sundell -- Pictured left to right are J.D. Struxness, Ace Campbell, Wade Sundell, Sean Thomas, Dane Hanna and Sean Mulligan. Sundell was the team buyer for the Cosequine Team Incentive which included Struxness, Campbell, Thomas and Hanna. The second annual Nothin’ But Try Steer Wrestling was organized by Mulligan. Hanna and Sundell also volunteered for the event.
Team Sundell — Pictured left to right are J.D. Struxness, Ace Campbell, Wade Sundell, Sean Thomas, Dane Hanna and Sean Mulligan. Sundell was the team buyer for the Cosequine Team Incentive which included Struxness, Campbell, Thomas and Hanna. The second annual Nothin’ But Try Steer Wrestling was organized by Mulligan. Hanna and Sundell also volunteered for the event.

“This was a great event,” Campbell said. “The weather probably hurt it this year, but it should just grow. The cool thing about it is Sean does it all to benefit others.”

Mulligan has already started planning for the third annual Nothin’ But Try steer wrestling jackpot. He and his wife Bryel both graduated from the University of Wyoming and love that they can do something to support education while remembering a friend.

“Levi’s family really got behind us and that means a lot and lets me know how much this means to them,” Sean said. “I couldn’t do it without the support of sponsors, friends and Bryel. I just want it to keep growing and raise more money.”

If anyone wants to support the Nothin’ But Try Scholarships or the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, drop me a note I’ll be more than happy to let you know how to support these worthy causes.