Reining Afficionado Brad Ettleman: He Knows How To Silence The Noise

Friday, April 30, 2010
Posted by

As a child Brad Ettleman didn’t care if his little pony knocked him to the ground by heading to the first long hanging branch she could find. If Patches went through a stream and decided it was time to take a bath, no matter. For Brad it was all part of the fun and the challenge to make his Shetland a better behaving pony. But truth be told he loved to then tell the dramatic stories to his friends and schoolmates. And unbeknownst to him, it was all a preparation for the challenges he would face throughout his life.
“I loved every second of it and I didn’t care. She had a saddle and bit and we had wide open spaces.” For the young lad it didn’t matter if he stayed on her back or ended up on the ground. It was all good as far as Brad was concerned. 

Now, years later Brad’s focus will be more along the lines of perfection as his watchful eye is ensuring the reining competition at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is minus the mishaps. He won’t have to worry about low hanging branches or pools of water in the indoor stadium where the reiners will compete. After a successful test event in July of 2009, he’s pretty much figured out the lay of the land, what worked, what didn’t and what he can easily change to make it all better.

If what the reiners sampled at that test event is any indication, there’s a lot to look forward to. Much of that has to do with the fact that Brad has the background to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed, and this is because his background and experience bode well for where he is today.

In 1994, he graduated from Sidney High School in Iowa out of a class of a little over 30 people and as a result of that got an excellent hands-on education. From 1994 to 1996, he went to the University of Northern Iowa for his Freshman and Sophomore years and then to Colorado State from 1996-1999 to finish out his college.

Surprisingly his majors were in Anthropology and Equine Sciences, which Brad explains as the “study of people,” which is something he has to deal with a lot. His studies educated him about the horse and the fact that “we would not have been where we are today without horses. Man’s cultural journey has always been tied to the horse,” he explained.  

From August 1999 (just out of college) through April of 2007 he had the prominent position of National Western Stock Show Horse Show Manager & Event Coordinator and Producer of Equine Events. Then in 2007 he started his own company called HorsePower and that same year was hired by the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

In addition to his stock show duties, Brad’s list of credentials include being president of the organizing committee for the Denver CRIO and president of the organizing committee for the 2006 FEI World Reining Masters Finals. He has also overseen numerous World Championship events in multiple breeds and disciplines and the USEF National Reining Championship for the last three years.

Growing Up with Horses

“I can’t remember the first time I was on a horse because I was too young,” he admitted to me on a busy Saturday afternoon as we chatted at the Kentucky Horse Park. “I was born into a family that has strong Quarter Horse and rodeo traditions. My father (Leo) was a national  finals qualifier in High School rodeo and went on to become the National President for the High School Rodeo Association in later years.   My mother (Patsy) has always had horses in their life.”

For Brad, horses were just part of the fabric. While other kids took their dogs for a walk, he went walking on horseback.

“I was born into a family that already had horses. I grew up with horses and was fortunate to have some great Quarter Horses in my college years that really took care of me.  I’ve always had them in my life,” said the guy who was born on April 9, 1976 and now lives in Denver, Colorado.

Brad comes from a family of six.    He has an older brother Bill (born in 1974) and a younger sister Beth (1982) and brother Brian (1978). Beth works with Brad and handles all the scoring and musical product for their events.

Brad explained that growing up was all about catch riding as his brother’s horses would get passed down to him and his horses passed down to his younger brother and sister. The horses and ponies would be shared. His brother Bill rode a horse named Budweiser, while brother Brian and Sister Beth eventually had Patches and Stormy - who was true to his name.

“It was like hand me downs and before you know it you are on a big horse. Budweiser was my first big horse. He was a little dun Quarter Horse who was not very tall but had a beautiful color, like the color of a light beer. Plus I got to ride all the others. I’ve probably ridden a good 20 horses over my lifetime.”

The most memorable of them all for Brad is Charlie, a sorrel Quarter Horse gelding who had a big blaze down his face. “He was the one I was most successful on in Quarter Horse classes and ultimately was World Champion at the Youth World Championship Show, one of the highest honors for a Junior Rider.

In college, Brad did catch rides on Sunny and they did really well in the Futurities. He even won the Iowa Futurities on the sorrel Paint whose flaxen mane and tail made him stand out among the other horses.

Nowadays, the junior rodeoing, pleasure classes, and the array of other competitions he competed in are just a memory and it is the ribbons and trophies that remind him about life in the fast lane. After his life took a new direction behind the scenes he opted to not compete because he realized it would be a conflict of interest. So, now it is that combined with a few other learning experiences that have brought him to ride on the trail when he wants to enjoy the pleasure of riding.

Magnum Refund is the horse he now praises for bringing some peace and joy to his life. The five-year-old, chestnut Quarter Horse was born on tax day. His daddy is the well bred Magnum Chic Green and his mother is Elatha. “All of his siblings and his mother are in Germany,” Brad explained, but Magnum Refund was bred and raised at 6K Ranch in Colorado.

Magnum has a much deeper meaning to Brad and those that are closest to him are thankful that Brad is able to still appreciate his “horse” time. They are aware of his nearly five year battle with cancer and the years it took to win that battle. And with his fifth year anniversary just this last Thanksgiving, he has reached a milestone.

Now instead of talking about his competition successes, Brad talks about the scenic beauty he uncovers on every ride and the joy his horse brings him.

“He is just the nicest horse I have ever owned. He is so athletic and smart. We can just be friends and he even gets to have days off. We go on trail rides, maneuver around trail obstacles and go over  anything a horse is able to,” explained Brad.

All those skills that great reiners have, Magnum portrays but in a useful on the trail way. He’ll spin around to head in the opposite direction if the space is tight. He’ll gallop full speed ahead and put the brakes on in a sliding stop if confronted with the unexpected. He’ll do a peaceful canter, bold gallop and change of lead when changing direction. Magnum knows it all and Brad appreciates his talent in a non-competitive atmosphere.

Surviving Cancer and Moving On With His Life

As a cancer survivor Brad has much to be thankful for and he doesn’t hesitate to show his appreciation for still being alive. It was in November of 2004 that he was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer when he was just 25 years young.   That was the beginning of a three year battle to survive and he did whatever it took to get to the other side.

“I did everything. I got into a clinical trial and did surgery, radiation and chemo.” He fought the battle with the same vengeance he had demonstrated in the competition arena and was surprised with how many people fought that battle with and for him. “It was remarkable how those in the horse industry totally rallied to my side.  It’s truly a group of amazing people.”

Despite the smile that now glows under his red hair, there were a lot of tough times when it was really hard to break a grin never mind a smile.   “It was a taxing and trying experience, a dreadfully frightening experience,” he admitted. You are really able to evaluate your life and who you do and do not want to be with. It gives you a different perspective.”

Brad truly believes that he never would have made it through if it were not for the horses in his life. “There are times when you are not feeling well and the fatigue is a big part of it,” explained Brad.  

It was during those low times that his connection with his horses was invaluable. “Those times when I would get on my horse and have some silent therapy sessions were important to me,” he commented. "It is the silent communication but then that real sense of strength that is never in question that is what gets you through it.”

Brad had many special moments he can recall. It’s hard to get the strength and motivation when chemo and radiation are putting your body through the greatest challenge of your life but it was those times when he needed a bit of horse therapy.

It was one of those down times that he recalled going on a trail ride. It was winter and the air was cold, the scenery still and nature all around him. “It was this snow white moment,” explained Brad. “I was riding up into a clearing and everything was just perfect. The deer were aligned and the birds were landing on your shoulder. I saw an owl and a fox and the sun was setting. For me it was like a cleansing of the soul and put things in perspective because you suddenly realize that all that really matters to the horse are the appreciation they have for the little things, like that slice of hay waiting for them back at the barn.”

It was that day, that moment that changed his perspective on life forever.

Living Brad
Brad Ettleman will admit that night time is his best time. Although he gets up by 6:30 or 7:00 (more likely 7:00) wakeup time isn’t his favorite part of the day. And unlike others, Brad has no caffeine in his diet, so that means no coffee to wake him up in the morning.

Wakeup for Brad is a nice hot shower. Then he spends time getting caught up on email and will generally find time to skim through a newspaper.  Breakfast is a granola bar or a banana and a glass of water.

A few years back Brad started his own company which he calls HorsePower because to him it signifies the strength and power of the horse, harnessing the power of potential.   Brad feels that name “lends itself well to what we do. We are a full scale marketing firm which also includes event management and advertising campaigns.”

The company has what Brad refers to as “beautiful offices” in downtown Denver where he usually arrives by 8:00 a.m..   He likes to spend the first two hours organizing his desk and going through his inbox. “Around 10:00 a.m. I meet with staff members and then after that I often have a lunch meeting and then outside meetings in the afternoon.”

Since Brad tends to get more “stimulated” as the day goes on, he often stays fairly late to ensure he is on target with his work. He stays in the office until 8:00 or 9:00 and at some point will grab a light bite to tide him over. Once home he takes pleasure in putting together a light but tasty dinner.

“I enjoy cooking and especially grilling,” he commented. While his meals vary, lately he’s been working on improving his guacamole, to rave reviews. His other latest endeavor is making paella. The hours he spends trying new recipes just fly by.

Understanding Brad

It was good to hear about the fun times in Brad’s life and so we continued along those lines and talked about the person he is and the people and happenings that have helped shape him.

Brad admitted that his father “is one of my best friends. Through his experiences as president of an organization that puts on events with the National High School Rodeo Association I could bounce ideas off of him and for me he is a sounding board.“

Yet it’s more than that for Brad who appreciates his dad’s “great parenting style. He knew when it was time to let us go and recognized the transition from being a kid to being an adult. He let us go do what we wanted to do but was there to support us by stepping out of the father role.”

When talking about his mom it is all about her warmth. “My mother has a big heart. Everyone who meets her loves her.” Brad’s parents are divorced and his mom has built herself a little farm in Iowa. “She influenced me in a traditional sense through her passions. Her love for horses is strong and I gained that from her. She understands how to protect and care for people and a lot about what goes into it.”

It is the basis that his parents gave him that helped him move into the many aspects of the horse world that he now focuses on and ultimately opened the door to being named Reining Discipline Manager of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which at the moment is his highest priority. It is Brad’s job to oversee everything that is related to reining from the field of play, to the officials, scheduling and organizing; everything from start to finish.

Brad admits that it is the interfacing with other disciplines that can often provide the greatest challenge. “You know what happens when you toss one pebble into the water and then that ripple effect,” he used as a symbolic message so that I could comprehend his point. Yet, Brad loves every minute of it.

No surprise that in my conversation with Brad we would sometimes always return back to the topic of work and horses and yet there is a lot more to the man. In addition to his love for cooking, he also enjoys music. Although not totally proficient at any instrument he likes to what he calls “banging on the piano” and plays a few other instruments, including at some point in his life the saxophone, keyboards and drums.

And while to him that is gratifying he also gets a huge amount of pleasure doing horsey things and talked about his annual horse vacation in the Black Hills where a bunch of them load up their trailers with their favorite steeds and head off to ride among the buffalo. “We all get together a build a camp and hike and climb in addition to the horseback riding. Living in Colorado I am truly an outdoor fanatic.”

When the camping vacation is over and he’s home looking for fun things to do, Brad will “take in a movie or hang with family and friends,” but he also admits to getting away from home whenever he can.

“I am a huge fan of international travel.  I have been to as many places as I can go to: South of France, Uruguay, Buenos Aires. It makes you so much more self aware and well rounded when you travel and see how others live,” he admitted, “and then you can apply what you’ve learned and seen to every part of your life.”

Yet Brad has discovered so much about his own life by having had a chance to see how others live. “This life you have built in your head can be completely shattered once you’ve traveled and seen how others live,” he noted.

Brad tends to look at that learning curve in a positive way and even considers his bout with cancer to have been a stepping stone to where he is today. “My life has been a pretty upward and positive momentum ever since college. Sure there have been some slight divets along the way but never what I would consider a low point.”

I found that to be a pretty profound statement coming from someone who has gone through the test that cancer places on someone both mentally and physically but for Brad he’s always felt in his gut that “I would always land on my feet. It’s just a general feeling  that I am lucky to have,” he revealed.  

Part of the reason for that confidence is the people who have come in and out of his life. While his father has always been a strong influence there are others he is thankful to. One friend is Gail Klapper, who he rents office space from and the breeder of his horse Magnum. “She and her family own 6K Ranch and she is an excellent lawyer,” explained Brad. “She really is a mentor I look up to in a lot of ways.”

Dr. Jim Heird is another one of those milestone people in his life. Brad went to college at Colorado State University and Dr. Heird is the head of the Equine Sciences Program there. “He has helped to guide me through my career,” noted Brad adding that Dr. Heird is “always quick to get back to me and when we talk in just 30 minutes we can have a quick and efficient conversation. He’ll give me suggestions about things that should and shouldn’t be done.”

Brad uses Dr. Heird as an example that his education never ends and even though his college days are over here is a man that is “still there to be a teacher to me.”

There was one more person that Brad wanted to remember. “Tony Moscoso is my best friend and co-owner of the company.”   Brad admires Tony’s very positive outlook on life; more than anyone I have ever known. He always finds the best way to get the job done. He is a very dynamic man who brings a lot of light into other people’s lives.”

Finding Happiness in the Little Things

When Brad talks about lighting up his life he is most proud of the business he has created after first working for the National Western Stock Show, where he focused on managing the horse activities. He found that to be a life lesson. “It’s easy to have tunnel vision and so that was great to learn the diversity. It opens your eyes to the fact that each discipline has its own beauty and redeeming qualities.

“Once I had done all that I could do there it was time to move on. By then I had gotten involved in the USEF and FEI, hosted a big World Championship as a side project and kept taking steps towards advancing and expanding my outlook.”

Still today, much of what brings joy in his life relates to work. “At an event that I am organizing, when I watch young athletes put all their energy into reaching a goal and then achieving it, that makes me happy. To see tears of joy coming down their faces is a source of pride for me.    I am constantly telling people to watch for moments like that because we are here to make things happen.”

Brad finds sadness in situations where he sees “something that could be so good and people allow their egos to get in the way. When I approach an event, “the self” should always be checked at the door. It is not about us. Yet so often people try to influence for their own personal gain and that behavior is obvious and it is never productive. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for that.”

Brad puts a lot of effort into doing things right and feels that others see him as a person who is organized.   “That I am somebody who is willing to do whatever it takes to get anything done and who people enjoy working with.”

Brad is hoping he will have an impact on the “advancement of the horse and events that I believe in. Hopefully that will be the legacy I leave behind.”

Brad noted that when it was time to open the doors to his own business he was ready and so I took that moment to ask him how others could go about getting to that level. Brad pondered for just a moment before saying, “For me the opportunities just presented themselves so it is hard to replicate that. The biggest lesson though is to really think about whether you want to do this or not. It takes a certain type of person and passion.”

Brad explained that someone might set out on a similar path as he did and if they find it not to be an exact fit then it could be a “stepping stone to the next level. In the end you need to follow your heart because people know what is right and wrong. It’s important that you silence the noise so you can travel down the trail that will lead over the bumpy logs and through the swift moving streams until you find the clearing where everything is just perfect!”