By Jolee Jordan
Springfield, Missouri—Nature versus nurture is a big debate amongst the scientific community—how big a role does genetics play in success or failure? Can a good environment outpace genetic predisposition?
That question is virtually mute when it comes to talking about Jacie Etbauer. Etbauer has a good dose of the nature side of the equation. Her father, Billy, is a five-time PRCA World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider who made 21 appearances at rodeo’s Super Bowl, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) and is one of pro rodeo’s most beloved champions.
Her mom, Hollie, is a champ in her own right, a winner of a pair of National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) pole bending titles as well as a star collegiate track athlete.
But the genetics are not out dueled in this particular athlete by the nurture side. Hollie and Billy raised three children, staying together on the road when Billy was still competing and even now as the kids are growing up and turning to their own competitions. Homeschooled, the kids were always taught to be humble and respectful, just like their folks and fans would be hard pressed to find nicer, more genuine people on the rodeo road.
Since Billy hung up his bronc saddle for good, the Etbauer name has become closely associated with barrel racing as Hollie and the kids have all taken their turns in the spotlight aboard horses raised and trained by the family itself.
The Etbauers set up their breeding and training operation in the mid-1990s with the purchase of the stallion No Whistle, a son of the thoroughbred Away From Holme out of a Tonto Bars Gill bred mare. They soon raised another stallion to take over breeding duties, Whistle At The Babes. The bay is a product of pairing No Whistle with Fols Debbie, another half-thoroughbred mare with Jet Deck lineage on the dam side.
Adding PC Frosty Bid to the line-up injected some Sun Frost into their lines.
“They’re natural athletes and really easy to train,” says Hollie of the horses they’re raising. “They’re fast and you can rope, run barrels, anything you want with them. They are super smart and athletic.”
When the name Etbauer appears on the contestant list at a pro rodeo or jackpot barrel race, you can bet there is a little “Whistle” in the pedigree of the horse they are saddling.
“We raise 10 to 14 colts a year,” notes Hollie, adding that they aim for May babies after the grass has started to grow and the weather has warmed up. In the winter months, the clan stays busy running Embryo Transfer Services, providing recipient mares to breeders.
“We have about 250 head and starting in January, we are checking mares five or six days a week,” Hollie says. Their service involves providing a mare cycling close enough to the dam to allow the transfer of the embryo without issue. “The vet is here about every day and it doesn’t slow down much until maybe June.”
“We’re glad to see July roll around, put it that way,” she laughs. “We figure we lived through it again.”
Jacie is the middle child of the Etbauer clan, sandwiched between brothers Kord and Treg. At one time, it was common to find Hollie, Jacie and both boys entered in the barrel racing at the major shows around their home in Edmond, Oklahoma, often running multiple horses each.
They not only show up as a family, they often win as a family too. In fact, Jacie is the 2013 AQHA Youth World Champion, a title she claimed by just a scootch over her brother Treg. That title came aboard Whistle Bugs. She’s also been amongst the top 30 at The American Semi-Finals Rodeo, a non-sanctioned event that often features the best of the WPRA among the competitors.
As they’ve grown up, the boys have turned to activities outside the barrel racing arena. Kord is 21 now and runs a guide service for hunters of waterfowl called Woodsman Waterfowl; he also works behind the scenes for the television show, Buckventures, a job that takes him across the country. Treg is 16 and an avid team roper. Both boys are over six foot tall.
“My family is tall, I’m the shortest one,” says Hollie, “so I guess they grabbed the cherry genes in the height department from my family. They rode steers when they were younger but just got too tall for the bronc riding.”
With all three kids driving now, Hollie is no longer the taxi driver but she says she didn’t mind it.
“It makes you worry,” she admits. “I liked it better when we were all together.”
“But I love watching them grow up and sprout their wings.”
Not surprisingly, Jacie continues to fly in the barrel racing arena. She turned 18 last year, earning her WPRA card quickly.
“Billy and I had talked about it and unless you’re going to try to make a run for it and have the horse power [to make a run for Rookie of the Year], you might as well just get your card and go on with it,” she says. The plan for 2017 was to hit the road a bit, letting Jacie and their horse herd get more seasoned, playing it by ear to see how far they would go.
A second place finish at the tough rodeo in Claremore, Oklahoma over Memorial Day was a promising start but a bad reaction to a vaccine right not long after the win had Jacie’s mare Spirit sidelined for most of the summer.
“We went to maybe 15 rodeos last year but Jacie had to ride other horses and it really knocked her fire out,” Hollie says. A highlight was having both Etbauers place at Dodge City, one of the largest rodeos in the Prairie Circuit, in different go rounds. However, Jacie’s first round check landed her in a performance in round two and the crowd noises got the better of her mount. “We figured out the crowd bothered him and we should have plugged his ears.”
Despite the difficulties, Jacie managed to claim the Prairie Circuit’s Rookie of the Year title, finishing inside the top 20 of the circuit standings.
“That was fun for her to win the circuit title,” says Hollie with the typical Etbauer humility.
Whistles Spirit is 15 this year and has returned to the form that has made her number one in Jacie’s herd.
“I’ve been riding her since I was pretty little,” says Jacie. “I think she was about seven when I started.”
Jacie notes that though she and her mom split time on the young horses, they usually ride the same seasoned horses in competition.
Spirit, like everything they ride, is a product of Etbauer Performance Horses program. Spirit is by No Whistle, now deceased, and out of Luci Belle Lee, a mare who traces her lineage back to Top Deck and Joak.
“That mare has been really nice,” says Hollie. “One of those winners. She’s just solid and has a pretty pattern. She gives her all if she’s sound.”
“She’s consistent,” agrees Jacie. “She makes the same pattern every time and you don’t have to handle her much in a run.”
Soundness issues have caused the Etbauers to miss time on her in the past, but it seems that 2018 may be the year for Spirit.
“She’s back running strong and is definitely one of our main mounts,” Hollie says.
The Etbauers had only been to a couple of rodeos when the time came to head out to the Ozark Empire Pro Rodeo held in Springfield, Missouri on March 23-24, 2018. While Jacie was set on a fully recuperated Spirit, Hollie wasn’t sure what to run with her regular rodeo mounts off.
She elected to take the 13 year old Fols Frosty Man who she calls Fonzi. He is by PC Frosty Bid the striking buckskin who carried Hollie to The American Semi-Finals and Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo. Fols Frosty Man is a maternal half-brother to Whistle at The Babes, sharing the same dam, Fols Debbie.
“I didn’t really have anything so I decided to try him,” she explains with a laugh. “I didn’t realize when I entered but figured out it was a small indoor pen and he is really a free runner. I thought maybe I could go bounce him off the walls.”
Fonzi has spent much of his time in the last year as a heading horse, one of the “main” heading horses on the place. His barrel racing time has been limited as Hollie struggled to mesh with him.
“He’s been the hardest one for me to train because he has no natural rate. There is nothing else like him on our place; he’s good minded but I have never had good timing on him.”
Because she had to look up Jacie’s number for Procom when she entered, Hollie ran before her daughter in Springfield. They followed Angie Galliher, who ran first that night and took the lead in the rodeo.
“I had gotten to ride up in the alley enough to see the first girl. She ran a roan horse and made a pretty run,” says Hollie. “I think they were winning it with a .5 and she ran a .4.”
Hollie made her pass through the pattern and stopped the clock at 14.31 seconds, moving the leaderboard again.
“You could have knocked me off him with a feather,” she laughs. “I was just hoping not to be embarrassed but he made the best run we’ve ever made. It was shocking.”
Turning right back around to watch her daughter, Hollie didn’t enjoy her spot in first for long as Jacie moved Mom down the list with her run of 14.24 seconds.
“It feels good,” Jacie says simply of earning her first pro rodeo win. She picked up $1,034, good enough to land her eighth in the Prairie Circuit standings. Hollie was 13.31 in her $887 second place finish.
“It’s a rare thing that hasn’t happened at too many rodeos,” laughs Hollie of both placing in Springfield. “We never seem to have luck at the same rodeo so we were surprised.”
“It was good.”
Both Etbauers are now in the running for a berth to Duncan, Oklahoma’s Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo to be held next October. It’s a sentimental event for the group: that’s where Hollie met Billy way back in 1992, before he claimed his first PRCA gold buckle.
For his part, Billy has encouraged the ladies of the Etbauer family to hit the road.
“He says we have to get out there and stay gone. That we have to go out and live it to make it happen.”
“We spent more time seasoning last year. We’re ready,” says Hollie, noting they’re planning on hitting the road in the summer once the breeding season winds down. “I think we’ll try to get out there and knock heads with them.”
“I’m looking forward to running every day,” Jacie says. “I just love running barrels. The more I get to run, the happier I am.”
Hollie echoes the sentiment.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do [than rodeo and raise and train horses],” she says. “I like what I’m doing.”
For more information on the Ozark Empire Pro Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.ozarkempirefair.com/p/events/376.