Steamboat Springs Paycheck.
Then hopefully another one, and another, and another, and — yes — another.
That’s the ideal of Cowboy Christmas, the one time a year during which any cowboy, amateur or professional circles the end of June and beginning of July on the calendar.
It’s the time to make that money.
So, while the massive crowd filtered into Brent Romick Rodeo Arena on Thursday and beer and concession lines deepened, looking like a chain necklace sprawled on a table, Casper, Wyo.’s Jake Hamilton sat in a camping chair away from the fuss.
This, from the end of June to the middle of July, is Cowboy Christmas.
“It’s all you can go to,” said Hamilton, whose hobby is starting to turn into something more. “It’s as many as you can go to.”
The time marks the busiest period and most potential for profit for the cowboys. The loose term Cowboy Christmas refers to the period of time when rodeos filter through the country.
It generally starts in the middle of July in Reno, Nev., and continues with rodeos all over. The bigger rodeos include the Rocky Mountain Stampede in Greeley, the Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede in Wyoming, the Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo in Vernal, Utah, Prescott Frontier Days in Arizona, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Ponoka Stampede in Alberta, Canada.
Of course, there are others like Steamboat.
For Hamilton, the week reads like a map of the region.
Greeley on Wednesday. Steamboat on Thursday. Fraser and Granby on Friday. Breckenridge on Saturday and Sunday. Then Casper and Sheridan, Wyo., and finally, Estes Park.
“I’ll probably put 5,000 to 10,000 miles on,” he said.
Hamilton’s best five-day period during a Cowboy Christmas netted him $7,000.
It's a time when cowboys strategically plan out their path across the region. It’s not uncommon for ropers and riders to hit multiple rodeos in a day and half, even a dozen in a weekend.
There is a strategy to it.
They’ll send one trailer to one rodeo and one to another. In between, they’ll finish, hop in the car right after competing and make it to the next one. Sometimes, they’ll borrow a horse at the next rodeo.
“It’s like a rock band tour, but it’s all cowboys without the long hair and tight leather,” said Melinda Frazier, who — along with her husband, Matt — embarks on 2,000-mile weekend trips across the region chasing money. “There’s tremendous camaraderie. We compete, but we help each other all out. Whether it’s sharing a horse or hauling with each other to save on fuel.”
The Fraziers, from Riverton, Wyo., work all winter to support their rodeo habit. Matt is a high school agriculture teacher and a tie-down roper. He works as much as he can in the winter, shaping minds and working horses for the thrill of the summer.
“It’s the paycheck,” he said. “You’re going to as many as you can. You’re trying to hit as many rodeos as you strategically can.”
Cowboy Christmas isn’t limited to seasoned professionals and up-and-coming pros.
Steve Whinnery used to be a pro. He won the 2009 United States Team Roping Championships.
But now, Whinnery, who lives in Lake City, does it more for the time with his son Corey.
Since Corey turned 18, the two take Cowboy Christmas as a time for bonding.
And of course, for those three magical weeks, a cowboy can earn some money.
“You can do as many (rodeos) as you want,” Steve said, “as long as you want to look out that windshield.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com