Here Comes Christmas in July: PRCA’s “Cowboy Christmas” can make or break a year
June 30, 2014
It is too warm for sleighs and you won't be seeing any jolly red elves, but ask any rodeo cowboy or cowgirl about the month of July and they might admit it feels just like Christmas.
"There are so many big rodeos going on at the same time," said PRCA Hall of Fame saddle bronc cowboy Dan Mortenson about the period nicknamed "Cowboy Christmas," which unofficially starts with the Reno Rodeo at the end of June and extends through the Fourth of July (and even through the rest of July, according to some). "Some of the biggest rodeos of the
summer are packed into a ten-day period."
Every year, Cowboy Christmas bucks its way onto the scene with a forecast calling for a blizzard of Benjamins. Millions of dollars in total prize money is offered in dozens of PRCA rodeos just from July second through the eighth. Although the amount is about half the total up for grabs during December's NFR competition, it is enough to put contestants in position to qualify for a spot in that coveted end-of-year championship.
"If a guy gets hot and gets on a roll, he can really clean up during that time," Mortenson described in an interview while he was still competing. "I've talked to guys who have won $30,000 in one week."
One of the big venues during the frenzied rodeo season is Colorado's Greeley Stampede, which offers nearly $300,000 in stocking stuffers alone. With such an enticing purse, the Mountain States Circuit rodeo attracts many top-ranked contestants to its 9,500-seat arena.
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But it is just one of many profitable rodeos taking place in a short period of time.
"It's great for the contestants," offered Jim Bainbridge, the PRCA's senior public relations coordinator, when discussing Cowboy Christmas.
Bainbridge pointed out how bareback cowboy Steven Dent earned $22,194 and roper Rhen Richard amassed $20,769 during 2012's July Christmas season, with Greeley's first-place checks helping them reach those totals.
"They have 32 rodeos over the course of a week with over three million dollars in prize money," he added. "You can make or break your season with one great week.
"It's absolutely essential that you do well over the Fourth of July runs," agreed successful Colorado barrel racer Christy Loflin while she was on the road to a 2014 summer rodeo. "Cowboy Christmas actually should be all of July, because you are busy all of July. It's a pretty solid pack of rodeos. You've got to just take every run and make it count."
While Cowboy Christmas traditionally wraps up shortly after Independence Day, it's not the end of impressive paychecks and historic rodeos within the Mountain States Circuit region. If they are good boys or girls, contestants can extend their merry season with more buckles in plenty of regional rodeos, including the prestigious Cheyenne Frontier Days starting
the third week in July. Whether its competitors past or present, it's safe to say every competitor's dreams include a Cheyenne title.
"Cheyenne is huge," stated Josh Peek, a popular Colorado steer wrestler and tie down roper. "If a guy can have good luck at Cheyenne, that can (get) you almost to Vegas, because you're talking about winning almost $20,000 at one rodeo. There's a lot of prestige in being able to do good at Cheyenne."
Including the Mountain States Circuits' Greeley and Cheyenne, those large July rodeos are key to a cowboy or cowgirl's championship hopes, and a successful summer can pay off big as they navigate the highways or crisscross the skies to enter as many as they can cram into their calendars.
"That's when you make a majority of your money," explained four-time PRCA world champion Bobby Mote about the frenzy of paydays. Mote has first-hand experience after picking up nearly $30,000 during the beginning of July 2009 on his way to one of his world titles. "We'll be somewhere special pretty near every day and have chances to win money every day. That's the most fun time of year, in my opinion."
His friend and fellow bareback competitor, Ryan Gray, held the same opinion.
"We go to more rodeos in the month of July than we go to from January up until (June)," Gray revealed. "We're going nearly every day and it's pretty fun. If you win Cheyenne or win Greeley, that's a pretty big paycheck, so they're important rodeos."
While it isn't December and the North Pole is nowhere close to any rodeo arena, it looks like Cowboy Christmas in the month of July really might be a cowboy and cowgirl's most wonderful time of the year. ❖