A gray rope was curled in his left hand, his right on the reins.
His boyish face didn’t show the years so characteristic of a seasoned cowboy – but that will come in time.
At only 18 years old, Jace knows what he wants to do with his life.
He wants to continue the family tradition – more than 100 years worth – of working cows and farming.
Jace wanting to stay on the ranch wasn’t a surprise to his dad Garry Rothlisberger.
“He talked about it before,” Garry said, adding that cowboying is something “you don’t see that much anymore.”
When Jace’s grandfather, Edgar, bought the property 102 years ago, he wasn’t alone. His brothers also bought ranches in the area.
“This is the only block that is left,” Garry said. “All the rest of them are sold off.”
The ranch is still owned by Garry and Laura Rothlisberger.
A cowboy tradition
Growing up on the farm west of Beeville, Jace learned early on what he needed to know to be a good hand.
Part of that was riding horses and roping cows.
“I started (riding) when I was in diapers,” he said through his southern drawl. “When I was 3, I started riding on my own. It was just natural.”
It wasn’t long before he picked up a rope and practiced roping from the ground.
At 12 he was roping cows from horseback.
“People can tell you how to do it but it doesn’t work until you figure it out for yourself,” he said.
“The biggest thing is you learn how to handle a rope while standing on the ground.
“Then you have to learn how to ride. Then you can put it all together.”
Father and son
Eventually Jace joined his dad in the arena and started competing in team roping.
“I would go to ropings with him when I was little,” Jace said. “When I started roping I started (competing.)
“Normally we both head so it is hard to rope together when you both rope the same end.”
On a side note, the header ropes the head of the steer and the heeler aims for the hind legs.
In competition, the riders with the best time wins the match.
“When both horses face each other, that is when the time stops,” Jace said.
Jace learned his roping techniques from his dad.
“He was always a header and he pretty much taught me what to do,” Jace said. “There are guys out there that heel a lot better than what we do so we will head for them.”
Will Handy, who was saddling a horse on the Rothlisberger ranch that morning, said that roping is a part of life on this ranch.
“We are either roping steers somewhere or working cows.”
Jace taking up roping wasn’t a surprise for him.
“Ever since he was a baby he has been around it and that was all he wanted to do.
“It is part of him.”
Will complimented Jace’s ability saying, “He is pretty solid.”
Winning the roping
Through years Jace has won a variety of prizes including the coveted saddles both at Beeville ropings and in Dinero.
Even with his experience, Jace still gets nervous before a roping.
“I still get nervous now and again roping for big money,” he said.
So what does he do to calm himself down?
He just clears his mind.
“When you go to thinking, you go to screwing up,” he said. “You just close your eyes and rope.”
At the competitions, Garry and Jace will often be competing against each other.
“At this point it doesn’t matter,” Garry said. “As long as he gets better than me, that is all that matters”
Back on the ranch
The custom of working cattle on horseback isn’t as common as it once was as many ranchers are now using four-wheelers.
“Four-wheelers ain’t always easy to get around in the brush,” Jace said.
Garry is used to hearing the question, “Why not use a vehicle to roundup the cows?”
His answer is simple.
“I guess it is in our blood,” he said with a similar drawl in his voice.
Working cows on horseback is disappearing and so are the seasoned cowboys.
“There are not many who still work cows on the ranch like they used to, on horseback,” Jace said.
“Most of them are just team ropers. That is all they do. They sit in an office all day and rope on the weekend.
“Nobody grows up on a ranch anymore. Everybody lives in town.”
Garry agreed with his son.
“It is getting harder and harder to find cowboys to do it,” he said. “It is a dieing breed.
“It is the way we were brought up. It is in our blood I guess.”
A graduate of A.C. Jones High School, Jace heads off to Texas A&M Kingsville this fall to start on his agricultural science degree.
“It is real general so you can go into a lot of fields,” he said adding that you won’t ever find him making his living behind a desk.
“I will guarantee that,” he said.