Eagle County native following the rodeo rainbow
EAGLE, Colorado – Like lots of kids raised in western Eagle County, Jesse Echtler and has been riding and roping since he was tall enough to see over the saddle horn.Jesse is chasing the rodeo rainbow, with his adorable wife Samantha and their beautiful daughter Riata along for the ride. It’s a great life and they’ll ride it as long as it lasts, they say.Rodeo is a dream, they all know that. But Jesse comes from a long line of dreamers. His parents, Alan and Debra Echtler, front the local band Airborn and they’re playing Friday night at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.”After I spent my life making a living at music, I couldn’t very well fault him for making a living in rodeo,” Alan said. “It’s time for him to follow his dream.”Jesse had the good sense to convince the beautiful and delightful Samantha to marry him. They met at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where Jesse was competing on a rodeo scholarship. She graduated Texas A&M, 45 minutes away. Their toddler daughter, Riata, is one of the cutest kids south, east, north or west of the Pecos. Alan, her grandfather, points this out and insists he’s completely unbiased in these matters.Riata, by the way, is Spanish for rope.”Jesse named her,” Alan says smiling.We don’t want to tempt the fates or anything, we’re just saying, but Jesse and his team roping partner, Phil Schuman, are winning Cheyenne’s Frontier Days after the preliminaries earlier this week. They’re headed back to the Granddaddy of ‘Em All for Sunday’s finals. They’ll be back in Eagle Saturday.Between Eagle and Cheyenne they’ll be in Rock Springs, Wyo.; Monte Vista.; Burlington; Steamboat Springs; and a few other rodeos along the way. They’ll travel thousands of miles this week, as they do every week. All the hundreds of rodeo cowboys and cowgirls competing in Eagle this week will do the same.
The young Echtler family collects its mail in Huntsville, Texas, where they settled after college. Samantha and Riata are up for two weeks to visit Jesse’s family and be with Jesse. They’ll travel with Jesse while they’re here, every minute and every mile.”When we’re here, we’re traveling,” Samantha says smiling.When he’s not in a rodeo or doting on Riata and Samantha, Jesse trains horses and does what needs doing.These days, he and his family are doing something pretty good. Alan and Debra, aka Riata’s grandparents, have a place in Huntsville and run the horseback riding operation at Huntsville State Park, the final resting place of Sam Houston. Just look for the three-story-tall statue of Houston, and you’re there.Sam Houston was president of the Republic of Texas, and governor after Texas became one of the United States of America. Sam Houston did NOT say, “Never ask a man where he’s from. If he’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, he’ll be embarrassed.” Texas author Dan Jenkins said that. But that’s probably what Houston meant. The city of Houston is named for him. The SoHo section of New York City (SoHo for “south of Houston Street”) is not.Anyway, millions of people live in Texas and most consider it a holy pilgrimage to visit Sam Houston’s final resting place. Many will want to see some of it from the back of a horse. That will bring them into the Echtler family sphere, which can be a pretty warm and welcoming place.Roping their dreamsOn Wednesday night, Jesse is competing and Alan is pacing during the mutton busting. Team roping is next and Jesse is up soon.Like so many rodeo cowboys, the first animal Jesse rode was a sheep during mutton busting. Little kids ride hysterical sheep as long as they can. There were no helmets back then, and it was amusing until his ear was torn half off.”They had to sew it back on,” Alan says, shaking his head and smiling at the memory. Jesse, obviously, got right back on.Finally, it’s Jesse’s and Phil’s turn. Their steer bolts straight for the opposite end of the arena, faster than Harry Reid fleeing the Rush Limbaugh Fan Club. They fly after him in a flurry of mud and muck, ropes swinging over their heads. Tons of horses and riders careening across the rain-soaked arena with one goal, all muscle and sweat and determination.The first rope flies at the fleeing steer, and misses. No time. No payday. They’ve traveled hundreds of miles and spent a young fortune to be here. They’re out in less than four seconds. That’s rodeo reality. Cowboys in timed events get two tries, so they have another shot Friday to qualify for Saturday’s finals in Eagle.Jesse, Samantha and Riata rolled into Eagle about 5 p.m. Wednesday, just before Jesse had to ride. He rode into the warmup arena holding Riata in front of him in the saddle and Samantha strolling alongside. Cowboys watching grinned ear to ear.Thursday morning saw them battling colic. Not Riata. Schuman’s horse. The afternoon saw them chasing the rodeo rainbow toward Rock Springs, Wyo.Another road trip. Another ride. Another go-round.It’s a great life, and they’ll love it while it lasts.
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