Hectic. Mayhem. A blast.
That’s Cowboy Christmas in a nutshell. Richmond Champion uses those words to describe the series of lucrative Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events around the Fourth of July holiday. Champion is a bareback rider from The Woodlands. He’s qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo three times.
“For roughstock riders, it’s the epitome of being a rodeo cowboy,” Champion said, referring to cowboys who ride bucking horses and bulls. “Sometimes you’re entered three rodeos in a single day. You’ll hit 10 or 11 rodeos in seven days and by any means of getting there: all-night drives, sleeping on an airport floor, crammed into a little prop plane with six buddies and barely making weight with all your gear.”
The 2018 Cowboy Christmas featured 30 rodeos spread out over just 12 days from June 26–July 7. It was and always is a frantic pace of travel and competition.
It’s not just the guys who ride bucking horses and bulls that feel the rush; it’s timed-event cowboys and barrel racers, too. They know it’s a great time to make a lot of cash, especially if they have any hopes of qualifying for the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale.
A year ago, tie-down and team roper Caleb Smidt of Bellville had the most earnings over the Fourth run with $30,199. Trevor Brazile, the 23-time world champion of Decatur, set the record for most earnings with $39,993 while competing in team roping, tie-down roping and steer roping in 2011.
The more opportunities there are to compete, the better the chances to earn money, which is vital. In rodeo, dollars equal points; the top 15 contestants on the money list at the conclusion of the regular season advance to the NFR, and the contestants in each event with the most money won at the end of the campaign will be crowned world champions.
“I start game planning my entering for the Fourth around my horsepower,” said Tuf Cooper, a four-time world champ from Decatur. “You don’t get much rest. I’m the kind of person that needs a lot of sleep, but that week, I usually average four to five hours of sleep and function just fine.
“It’s the adrenaline of the go-go-go. It’s the opportunity that you get that gives me the extra energy to keep going. That week is important for the entire summer. You can win $35,000 to $40,000 if you do well.”
But it takes considerable planning. Like many timed-event cowboys, Cooper will have multiple rigs on the road to capitalize on opportunities. He expects to make up to 25 runs over the Fourth.
“I’m going to send one rig for the main course and another one out for the appetizer,” said Cooper, the youngest son of eight-time world champion Roy Cooper. “I’ll borrow somebody’s horse for dessert.”
But just as much planning goes for the roughstock cowboys, just in different ways.
“You don’t get much sleep, and you will miss a few meals,” said Champion, who won $1 million at The American in 2014. “As long as you’re drinking water, you’re good. That beer at the end tastes really good, though.” —Ted Harbin
Ted Harbin is a longtime journalist who spent 22 years in the newspaper industry before focusing on rodeo. He owns Rodeo Media Relations and TwisTed Rodeo and is one of just eight individuals to be honored with media awards by both the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. He lives in Maryville, Mo., with is wife, Lynette, and their two daughters, Laney and Channing.