Team Cavender’s Ethan Winckler

by Lisa Scarborough
A bull rider in a rodeo arena attempting to stay mounted on a bucking bull as spectators observe.

“Don’t try to prove your haters wrong; try to prove the people who believe in you right.” These are good words of advice from 17-year-old Ethan Winckler, an Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association member from Winnie, Texas. Ethan, the youngest of three brothers (Tyler, 27, and Korbin, 21), remembers always looking up to his brother Korbin; being only three years older, Ethan had to do everything Korbin tried his hand at. From sports to riding sheep and calves, no matter what Korbin was doing, Ethan cried and begged his parents, Keith and Shantell, to let him have a go at it too. Ethan says he was the kid who always cried to go to the rodeo, but once he got there, he was crying again, but for a different reason..he was scared! His folks never forced him to ride, but he continued getting on sheep and then calves. As he got older he worked his way up to the steers, and it was then he realized how much he craved it, and with the talent he had, he was ready for more.

Keith decided to text retired professional bull rider LJ Jenkins out of Porum, Oklahoma, to get help for his son and more opportunities to practice. Ethan recalls LJ saying, “Yep, come on!” So Ethan packed up and headed North, moving over 7½ hours from home to pursue his dream. Ethan and LJ created a bond and Ethan ended up staying in Oklahoma for nine months, becoming a member of the OHSRA and finishing his senior year enrolled in an online charter school. Ethan built a friend group in rodeo but quickly ran into a long buck-off streak. LJ told him to talk to Lonnie Austin (Sulphur Springs, Texas), who went right to work with him on the bucking barrel, and doing exercises to improve his form. With Lonnie living five hours away, Ethan would leave at 5 am, get to Lonnie’s at about 10 am, and they’d practice and train and get on bulls and then drive home day after day. Almost immediately, his form and riding style changed. He began winning and covering about 80 percent of his bulls. Then, on November 4th, 2023, Ethan had a little misfortune after making a ride at a High School rodeo. His landing was perfect, he said, but his knee kind of buckled underneath him, leaving him with a torn ACL, MCL, and a cracked femur bone from the impact. Dr Tandy Freeman performed an MRI and then scheduled surgery for December 1st. Dr Tandy predicted recovery would be 5-6 months.

Before leaving for Oklahoma, Ethan went to school at the Hamshire-Fannett school in Hamshire-Fannett, Texas. He was first-team all-district in baseball his freshman year, then second-team all-district in football his sophomore year. His community is a small rice-farming town between Beaumont and Houston. “It’s very marsh down here with gators and pigs everywhere.” He laughs as he tells me a story about the time he and his buddies were swimming and fishing off a boat, and a ten-foot alligator came up on them. “Oh, we’re used to them,” he says, “they pretty much go away if you leave them alone.” Ethan is no stranger to the water; he’s saved his money to continue rodeoing by working for a crawfish farmer. He drives a boat, dumps the crawfish traps, cleans the crawfish, and delivers them to places to be sold. His buddies always told him with his build, he’d be a good bareback rider, so he tried it, but he just never got into it. He’s a first-generation bull rider, and he says his want to comes from “pure passion.” Ethan’s first bull, at just shy of 16 years old, was Universal Pro Rodeo’s “Chandler’s Mule.” A bull that went to the NFR that same year, Ethan got him rode for 87 points and 2nd place at the Hull-Daisetta rodeo in Texas. Ethan is sponsored by the Lane Frost Brand and has bought himself a 1999 red Ford conversion van to travel in, complete with a full-sized bed for sleeping on the road. He’s looking forward to the new Lane Frost movie coming out. He and his van are featured in the movie, and they’ve been out to film at the place where Lane Frost built his arena.

Ethan takes care of his practice bulls while recovering from surgery, down at the arena on his family’s place, and likes to visit and hang out with his friends, most likely eating a nice hot “Cup a Noodles.” His future plans include pro rodeoing full-time with the money he’s saved from previous rodeo winnings and crawfish farming.

He says he’d like to make the NFR finals his rookie year and be rookie of the year, and he has dreams of winning multiple world titles. Ethan’s favorite Bible verse is Psalms 16:3: “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”

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